Randall Mann

Professor Jeff Franklin Recommends the Poetry of Randall Mann

June 21, 2021

In our series Wonderwork, CU Denver students, faculty, staff, and alumni recommend one book, podcast, television show, film, etc. that deserves more attention. Our ultimate goal is to promote a more diverse and inclusive book and media culture. June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, so our focus will be on works by LGBTQ+ creatives or about LGBTQ+ issues. Nominate your favorite Wonderwork by emailing cudenvernews@ucdenver.edu or posting on social media with #CUDenverWonderWork. 

Randall Mann writes gorgeous, daring, dazzling, challenging poems. Some are explicitly about being a gay man. Some speak to the experience of what it has been like to be gay in the U.S. over the course of the last 40 years, aware of and responsive to that history, often elegaic. Some are about other subjects and are just damn good poems.

collage of Randall Mann book covers
Randall Mann’s books of poetry include Complaint in the Garden, Straight Razor, Breakfast with Thom Gunn, and A Better Life. He has also written two books about craft: The Illusion of Intimacy and Writing Poems.

I once heard the American novelist John Gardner say something to the effect that in order to write politically one must first write excellently. Only highly skillful writing succeeds in conveying the importance of its social or political perspective. Plenty of poets are explicit about their identity and the emotional suffering it has entailed, and plenty of poets bluntly offer a social or political commentary, but few write poems that are both beautiful and thought-provoking, making masterful use of the tools that the history of poetry makes available. Randall Mann does.

Reading one of Randall’s poetry collections, you find lines that snap, rhymes that surprise and make you laugh, humor that’s double-edged and self-reflexive, social critique sans ideology, and pacing that’s breathless—like eating a box of chocolates in one sitting, no wish to stop.

Here’s one short example, his poem “Modern Art” from Breakfast with Thom Gunn:

After seeing the satyrs in the Cadillac, I hailed
a cab: Gold’s Gym, pretty please, and step
lively. So, one can still be a man and take step
classes? I grunt at the pec-deck: I am hailed

by the neckless as the queen
of a raunchy country. (It’s a myth,
btw, the size of my Nikes.) Fuck myth:
Give me a man, some hot ghastly queen,

any day—now. If I shave
my chest and my yes and my happiness,
will I find someone, some happiness?
Just as I start to peak, I’ll shave

my head, instead (think Full Metal Jacket).
And throw on a cultish animal jacket.

Randall has a new book out this year, A Better Life, or, better yet, bring him to campus to read from it.

Jeff Franklin, PhD, Professor of English

Jeffrey Franklin grew up in Chattanooga, TN, though for over 20 years he’s called Colorado home. His collection of poems, Where We Lay Down, is due out from Kelsay Books in August 2021—preview it at JeffreyFranklin.com. His previous poetry collection is For the Lost Boys (Ghost Road Press, 2006). His poems have appeared in many literary journals, including Crab Orchard ReviewHudson ReviewMeasureNew England ReviewRattleShenandoahSouthern Humanities Review, and Southern Poetry Review. A manuscript of his received the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and his poetry has appeared in Best American Poetry. Since 2000 he has served as the poetry editor for the North Carolina Literary Review. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Florida and works as a professor of English at the University of Colorado Denver, now teaching mostly the history of the English novel and critical theory. His recent scholarly books are The Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire (2008) and Spirit Matters: Occult Beliefs, Alternative Religious, and the Crisis of Faith in Victorian Britain (2018), both from Cornell University Press. He lives in Denver with his lifetime partner, Judy Lucas.