Rob A. Mackenzie’s The Good News

Rob A. Mackenzie 
 
 
 
Rob A. Mackenzie was born in Glasgow and lives in Leith, Scotland. He has published two pamphlets, The Clown of Natural Sorrow (HappenStance, 2005) and Fleck and the Bank (Salt Publishing, 2012), and two full collections, The Opposite of Cabbage (Salt Publishing, 2009) and The Good News (Salt Publishing, 2013). His poems, reviews and articles have appeared in The Financial Times, The Guardian, Magma, New Writing (Granta/British Council), Poetry Review and Sphinx.
 
 
 
 
The Good News 
 
 
 
“Today you turn up
     five habits to quit for happiness:
criticism, control, complaint, excuses, expectations,
     without which you’d be happy, bland
and unbearable.
 
(from ‘Thirteen’)
 
 
Is the attempt to secure happiness worth making? Or is it simply a fast track to inevitable disenchantment? Rob A. Mackenzie confronts such questions in The Good News, his second full collection, but it’s no self-help manual. Fate, faith, travel, love, politics and death are woven into taut, affecting poems, which reveal new layers with every reading: a professional sceptic tries in vain not to become too certain of his own doubt, angels weep in Spanish into their designer coffees, and a hundred Scottish poets are enlisted to articulate the trials and tribulations of their nation at a key point in its history. The book’s central section is a sequence concerning autism’s effect on family life. Poets have written about autism before, but no one has written anything quite like this.
 
Mackenzie offers a typically versatile collection in style and form, combining an inimitable sensibility and imagination with a secure command of tone. These poems confirm his growing reputation as one of our most intriguing and alluring voices.”
 
 
 
 
“Rob Mackenzie’s The Good News truly is good news for readers of contemporary poetry. He has a wonderful ear, a wide knowledge of literature in several languages (beyond the Italian he translates from here) and a voracious appetite for the world’s frustrations and rewards. He writes with great intelligence and music, can be politically astute then immediately playful; his work is inventive, humane and welcoming. This book will surely confirm his reputation as one of the best Scottish poets of his generation.”
 
– Ian Duhig
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
The following poems are from the collection’s central section,
‘Autistic Variations’:
 
 
 
 
Torino in Furs
 
 
We persevered with mismatched floor tiles and Rai Due
          in our claustrophobic flat;

through the walls the unmistakable sound of Italian
          Teletubbies and Sesame Street,

and across the courtyard the young engineer’s CD:
          Learn English

from 1950s BBC Newscasters, phrases like ‘I’m sorry,
          this is not your shower,

it is my shower,’ decadence we brushed against otherwise
          only in the gelateria

of imagination. From antiseptic pillars and ladies furred
          for autumn strolls,

the city thrived on appearance and threat: nearly everyone
          drove a Fiat,

not usually from choice. We prammed you to the Cafe Zelli
          and on your tongue

ritually dabbed espresso, as if this could consecrate you
          bilingual more readily

than daytrips to the swing park, where you unflaggingly
          cold-shouldered any child

who approached with a ‘Ciao!’ Not that it happened often;
          even the Torinese

tots seemed to know that alien kids were best observed
          with suitable tact,

that playing among and playing with could appear the same
          to untrained eyes:

a whole city with Asperger Syndrome, which is perhaps why
          it began to feel like home.
 
 
 
 
Rai Due is an Italian TV channel.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
But Not Hyperlexic
 
 
We read, you watched, and when the time felt right
          you made your mark

on nursery, reading a book to an astonished teacher
          from start to finish,

aged three. How long you feigned an inability
          and how you learned

the intricate decoding from sign to sound,
          we never learned,

although we learned the word, hyperlexic, and why
          it didn’t apply to you,

and more likely words coding intractable conditions
          in root positive.

Half in hope and half with the desperate aspirations
          we despised

in parents of young tennis prospects, we imagined
          you a savant

decades on: the recitation of Juvenal’s complete works
          backwards in Latin

to a packed Royal Albert Hall and no one thinking
          dead language

a waste of time. But your intelligence was reserved for
          a different world;

this one demanded contact on first name terms,
          eye to eye,

to read its script. You feigned interest in learning
          the pointless dialogue.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Routine
 
 
Your hot waterbottle is liturgical, the latest ritual
          we need to follow

before you fall asleep; waterbottle by your pillow,
          waterglass on the wardrobe,

a drawn-out watershed, which elongates in silence
          or hours of to and fro –

any excuse to stay awake and see the constellations
          demythologise the dark

psalm of the sky. You aim to arrange stray mysteries
          the more unruly

the rules become, the more illegible and cracked
          a face appears

if reading it is required. But you are more difficult
          for us to read

that Proust translated into sixty-seven languages
          or gossip mags packed

with undistinguished stars, who span the earth
          like water, logged

but hard to account for, with depths and limitations
          resolutely immeasurable.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Consequential Egg
 
 
You prefer the murk of details to the vision complete,
          incident to plot,

incidental to mainstream. You like books for hilarity
          halfway down page 17,

oblivious to consequence. You don’t care who lived
          happily ever after

or how a mystery is solved, and closure is important
          only for the satisfaction

of completion. All this is why, on the number 12
          heading for your ninth

birthday party, I eavesdrop on the conversation
          behind us –

how a conceptual artist assembled a giant egg
          from ten thousand

eggshell pieces – and imagine you building an egg
          from splinters,

each selected according to your personal aesthetic,
          fascinated by the fit

they make, the gaps and incongruities, building
          patiently for weeks

until an egg the size of a bus wobbles on a tiny cup.
          How does it end?

An ending would be a betrayal. Already you have
          begun the next egg.
 
 
 
 
from The Good News (Salt Publishing, 2013).
 
Order The Good News.
 
Visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings.
 
Read Rob’s pantoum ‘The Point’ in The Guardian.
 
Read ‘Locus-a-Non’ in The Scotsman.
 
Read ‘Bladerunner’ online at the Scottish Poetry Library’s website.
 
‘Music, Memory and Subversion: Two Scottish Poets’ Second Books’, Robert Peake interviews Rob and Andrew Philip.
 
 
 
Autism links:
 
 
Visit the website of the National Autistic Society.
 
Contact the Autism Helpline in the United Kingdom.
 
Visit Autism South Africa.
 
Contact Autism South Africa.
 
Look up Autism organisations around the world.
 
 
 
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