Photographers Unknown, The Pool Shark Lurked
Like eelgrass through a glass-
bottom boat on the Silver River,
I see the state, obscured yet pure. Derision,
a tattooed flame crackling
underneath the lewd, uncool
khaki of an amused park worker.
I was the sometimes boy on a leash,
my sliver of assent in 1984 —
as if it were my decision.
The I-75 signage, more than metaphor.
As if I had the right to vote.
The slumber parties then were hidden wood;
the tea so sweet, the saccharin
pink and artificial, like intelligence.
The science sponsored in part by chance.
I made my acting debut with the red
dilettante down the street, “Rusty” Counts,
in Rusty Counts Presents: Suburbs of the Dead,
straight to VHS. My parents phoned a counselor.
A palmetto bug read Megatrends on the fold-
ing chair by our above-ground swimming pool …
The pool shark lurked, but not to fear.
The end unknowable, blue, inmost, and cold,
like the comfort of a diplomatic war.
—Randall Mann, Florida, Poetry, October 2015
Born in Provo, Utah, in January of 1972, Randall Mann is an American poet, the only son of Olympic medalist Ralph Mann. He spent his younger years in Kentucky and Florida, a time in which he was encouraged to read a wide range of literature. In his senior years in high school, Mann’s teachers supported his writing of poetry which he continued into his college years. Mann graduated with a BA and a MFA from the University of Florida. Since 1998 he has lived in San Francisco.
Randall Mann’s poetry is mostly influenced by the English poet Philip Larkin, whose poems are most often reflections of plainness and skepticism, the 1980 Pulitzer Prize Poetry winner Donald Justice who shared his insight into loss and distance, American poet Elizabeth Bishop whose work is formed with precise description and poetic serenity, and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda whose two-volume “Residencia en la Tierra” made him a renowned international poet.
In his work, Randall Mann explores the themes of loss, expectation, brutality, attraction, and the unabashed experiences of living a gay life. He is accomplished in the formalist design of the poem and has a witty sense in where he places his line-breaks. Mann projects a wide range of emotions in his work which is emphasized by the word choice he uses to set the poem’s tone. Usually set in the countrysides around San Francisco or in Florida, his poems often reflect the contrasts between the countryside beauty and the serious social problems inside city life, which includes the spreading of homelessness and random criminal attacks against the gay community.
Mann’s collections include the 2004 “Complaint in the Garden”, which won the Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry; “Breakfast with Thom Gunn”, published in 2009 and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the California Book Award; the 2013 “Straight Razor”, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and “Proprietary” published in 2017 and a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and Lambda Literary Award.
In addition to his poetry collections, Randall Mann is the author of “The Illusion of Intimacy: On Poetry”, a 2019 book of criticism in which Mann applies his attention to language, fearlessness, and sharp wit to a collection of musings, reviews, autographical sketches, and readings on the art of poetry. Mann also co-authored the seventh edition of“Writing Poems”, which was published in 2007.
A small collection of Randall Mann’s poetry can be found at the Poetry Foundation located at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/randall-mann#tab-poems