Neil Corcoran confronts the new recklessness

Neil Corcoran

  • Manila Envelope by James Fenton
    28 Kayumanggi St, West Triangle Homes, Quezon City, Phillipines, 48 pp, £12.00, May 1989, ISBN 971 8647 01 5
  • New Selected Poems by Richard Murphy
    Faber, 190 pp, £10.99, May 1989, ISBN 0 571 15482 4
  • The Mirror Wall by Richard Murphy
    Bloodaxe, 61 pp, £10.95, May 1989, ISBN 1 85224 092 X
  • Selected Poems by Eavan Boland
    Carcanet, 96 pp, £5.95, May 1989, ISBN 0 85635 741 3
  • The Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness by Selima Hill
    Chatto, 47 pp, £5.95, May 1989, ISBN 0 7011 3455 0

For a writer who several years ago published a ‘Manifesto Against Manifestoes’, James Fenton has published his fair share of manifestoes, including a disguised one for a ‘Martian school’ to which he did not belong. The latest, ‘Manila Manifesto’, comes as part of a package with his new book Manila Envelope. To acquire the book, you must write to Manila, and it will be posted to you in a manila envelope stamped ‘Contents: Poetry’; the manifesto itself is printed on manila paper. This visual and verbal punning puts me in mind of Frank O’Connor’s account of a picture he saw in Joyce’s Paris flat: the city of Cork in a cork frame. An instance, no doubt, of Joyce’s compulsive punning, the picture can also be viewed as the manifestation of an ambiguous attitude. The visual pun depreciates the city of Joyce’s forebears, suggesting the voluntary exile’s self-justifying, cosmopolitan hauteur: but it also cherishes the place. James Fenton’s joky, vaguely self-indulgent punning on place, paper and title also indicates a more than merely joky intent. A manila envelope made in and posted from a Manila recently under the control of Marcos may contain an explosive device, particularly if the cover of the book it ostensibly contains has a savage Nicholas Garland illustration of a wild horseman wielding a bloody scimitar, surrounded by the decapitated victims of his havoc.

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