Alphabet Soup-9781838163303

Alphabet Soup

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Alphabet Soup is a poetry anthology which the author Jon Kaufman likes to refer to as 'rhyming polemics'. And as a collection of polemical poems, it is an extremely sharp and thought-provoking piece of work. Alphabet Soup, the lead poem, is a light-hearted survey of the author's favourite books, plays, films and TV, but beneath the frothy surface there is a serious underlying theme that might best be described as 'humanity, warts and all'. Outwardly, Alphabet Soup offers the reader an eclectic mix. But there is a clear and distinct narrative, and it's one that defines itself as much by what is left out as by what is selected. Of the five hundred or so entries, all have some claim to reflect an internationalist humanism as well as a sense of global inclusion. Admittedly, Alphabet Soup might be considered a tad Euro-centric and indeed, Anglo-centric, and that would be a fair criticism. But there are enough 'significant' entries within the poem to highlight the internationalist pretentions of the author. From the Indian sub-continent there are the novels from Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie and the inspiring films, Salaam Bombay and Lagan. From the African continent and its diaspora, we see a diverse collection of voices including Ayaan Ali, Marley and Tosh, Chimamanda Adichie and NoViolet Bulawayo. From East Asia we hear the voices, amongst others, of Ai Weiwei, Tash Aw, Jung Chang and Ma Jian. And while for some readers it may simply be a case of casually scrolling down to see if their favourite books, films or songs are included, for the more discerning reader, there is an opportunity to salute and marvel at the growing diversity of our contemporary human culture. The second part of the collection is more overtly polemical. That can be a two-way street. On the one hand, polemical poems offer the author and reader a direct assault on the ingrained status quo. And who can but argue that the current status quo needs a proverbial stick of dynamite under it. The downside, of course, is that polemical literature of any type is invariable devoid of nuance and subtlety. Guilty as charged. Some of the pieces attack like a wild man with a sledge-hammer. I think of Ethnic Cleansing and Shooting in the US of A. (And just in case there are any readers out there who have a propensity to take things literally, it is worth underling the obvious fact that these two poems are sharply satirical pieces and absolutely should not be seen as an incitement to hate. Quite the opposite.) Other pieces do have elements of subtlety and reflection in them, elements that are lurking just below the didactic surface and that with a little digging will magically reveal themselves. Taken as a whole, this collection does not offer up some easy-going family fun. Instead it presents a sharp political discourse that challenges our current retreat into national and religious narratives. Read this collection only if you are prepared to leave your insular ideological comfort zone.

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