Working in education, you only have to open your eyes in order to see the gender imbalance that exists in this industry. As part of the superstructure it is also assumed that the same distribution of power exists in other industries, a fact that is mirrored in the pay gap that still exists in a number of vocations.
In schools, the teaching staff is dominated by women while men seem to seek and succeed in earning positions as heads of department, deputies and principals. This creates a “boy’s club” mentality at top level. Interestingly, something I read last year said that a woman trying to integrate herself into this environment will often adopt a persona that is hyper-sexual.
But, I digress.
It is the boy’s club mentality and the notion that men can get away with disgusting behaviour because it’s accepted that “boys will be boys” that I find myself coming back to repeatedly. Maybe it’s because I’m a father to a young boy I don’t want perpetuating those behaviours (and to a young girl I don’t want to be the victim of that mentality). Maybe it’s because, as a teacher, I’m in a nurturing role looking after hundreds of today’s youth. Maybe it’s because I used to be a dick and I’m trying to make up for the crap I got up to when I was younger.
Anyway, it is this theme of toxic masculinity that drew me in to Shane Cartledge’s chapbook/zine, The Man Place. As a disclaimer, Shane and I are part of a poetry group on Facebook and he put a call out asking if anyone would be happy to read his zine and write a few comments. As far as I know, Shane and I have never met so expect what I write below to be unbiased.
Firstly, I didn’t like every poem. But, are you meant to? I can’t think of a single collection of verse where I’ve enjoyed absolutely every poem.
What I did like is the variety. The zine opens and closes with a haiku, there’s a poem that looks like it’s a villanelle (and I’m too lazy to look up the form to confirm), and there’s a variety of free verse structures – including this one which is my personal favourite:
While this is my favourite full poem, the lines I keep coming back to are from another. “The Girl With the Ice Cream Eyes” has a neat little twist in the ‘zero fucks given’ ethos. It first appears as…
and comes back later as…
It reappears in that poem too but I don’t want to spoil it here. It’s a poem that gets pretty dark too. It’s unsettling, but that’s the whole point. The zine is described by its author as an unpacking of “the shortcomings and problems with masculinity” that includes “themes of sexual assault and sexual violence”.
That said, it’s not going to be your lighthearted holiday read that you digest while sipping cocktails by the pool. This is dark, bedroom poetry that you hide from under your doona, that you use like a razor blade to slice through your centuries old misconceptions.
It won’t be out until next month (I’ll post details in the comments when I get them) but, if you see this zine around, do yourself a favour and pick it up.