Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. André Mangeot’s Blood Rain opens with a deeply personal love poem (“Remember, too, our secret pool?”) that also introduces the natural world and it’s endangerment – one of several key themes in a book that addresses some of the most troubling man-made issues now facing us all. The second poem, ‘Bellwether’, reflects this: a subtle socio-political piece, a warning in a time of populism and radicalisation. This breadth of awareness and range is part of the collection’s appeal, giving the poems an urgent topicality and depth.
Partly inspired by the poet’s love of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, there are many sharp and sensual poems featuring landscape: a wildflower meadow, an encounter with a doe, a vertiginous ledge, ‘fast-shrinking heathlands’, ‘bell-heather and blazes of gorse’. Poems of surprise and redemption at the beauty of nature – undercut by fear of its loss.
In the second section the threats and warnings loom larger. ‘Foot and Mouth’ and the title poem ‘Blood Rain’ are darkly prophetic: smoking pyres of infected cattle and the red dust-sediment blown north from the Sahara conjure up a deep foreboding. Other poems here (‘Scrimshaw’, ‘The Gift’ and ‘Lost at Cadiz’) grapple with wars from the recent past in original and contrasting ways.
‘The Odds’, one of several striking sonnets in the collection, and a poem simply called ‘Blood’, turn their eye on extremism and tyranny. In each case the political becomes personal as the focus homes in on individuals: pawns and puppeteers in a bleak and interwoven story. The unspoken question is how we ourselves are implicated in these acts – by indifference, inaction or complicity. A moving villanelle, ‘Jerusalem’, follows the final thoughts of a suicide bomber in a form that mirrors the relentless circularity of dogma-inspired violence: “Heaven’s road is paved with selflessness and sin.”
The third section returns to the personal with elegies and eulogies to friends, fellow artists and family members. Relatives emerge as heroes and anti-heroes of various conflicts, public and private. The poet’s testing relationship with his late father emerges in a moving sequence (‘Four Dogs’, ‘History’, ‘Ash’ and ‘Euston Road’). ‘Sunburn’ resurrects another lost relationship from a memory of a shared moment high above Harlech and Bardsey Sound. While ‘The Fabulists’, also a sonnet, reflects on the adventure of travel but also of love. ‘Embarking, we are always dreamers ...’
A fourth section offers us more character portraits, sometimes in the guise of extravagant fairy tales, as in ‘Escape’ where a woman is transformed into a form of plant-goddess, perhaps a partner for ‘The Green Man’ of fable, to elude the trauma of a bullied past. Sometimes poems open-up like riddles, as in the wonderful ‘Egg’, which presents earth as ‘our blue-speckled planet, feathered with cloud.’ Overall, Mangeot’s Blood Rain is an intelligent, lovingly-crafted and necessary examination of our troubled times – a multi-faceted collection that will challenge and enchant the reader.