Red Lipstick And Revelations By Jan Moran Neil

If this book were a tango it would be Salvador Dali, (e.g., the poem ‘Sealed in Table Bay’, with its dreamlike word associations) dancing with L S Lowry (e.g., the nostalgic ‘Bread Pudding Days’). Add to that a sprinkling of finger-snapping jazz memes, and you will have an idea of the lyricism and originality of Jan Moran Neil’s unique collection of poems. This richly textured volume sneaks up on you like a well-crafted tale – it is an intricate tapestry of abstract imagery, gritty realism and strange, filigreed lines. Broadly, the book is broken up into sections, each section exploring a different theme – travel, South Africa, (warts and all), reflections on love and loss, the pains of childhood, ageing, and remembrance – slanting a light on the moving particles of memory and its associations.

The African poems with their earthy imagery, allude to the theme of racial and social inequality in the South African Velds – possibly the most dominant part of the collection. One senses the poet’s affection in these lines, mixed with a kind of despair at the insularity of the Afrikaners. We see this in the poem entitled ‘The Ballad of Ek and Jy’.  Mixing vernacular and playful rhythms the poem relates the story of a mixed marriage. The fusion of English and Afrikaans is sardonic, and the poem harks back to an earlier piece entitled ‘Magoo’, depicting the Afrikaner’s dread of tainted bloodlines. ‘A touch of the tar’s a very base hue’. The whimsical humour imbues these lines with a wry cynicism, and an earlier poem, ‘Intruders’ reinforces the satire.  There are satisfying echoes of Mark Twain, who once declared, ‘The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.’
Throughout the book, we participate in the writer’s personal odyssey, journeying beyond the narrow confines of normality, as blended imagery and word/memory associations fuse language in shifting arabesques from Quebec to South Africa to England.  The poem, ‘God and Lipstick’ (to which the book’s title alludes) is starkly different in tone, if not in theme, to the rest of the collection. (Racism, separation, and Holocaust are also present here). In this poem, two distinct voices, one old, one young, converse without fully listening to or understanding each other. The interstices between youth and age, frivolity and seriousness, provide us with glimpses into alternate reality, which is never fully known, and where memory is never explicit, but like the number engraved on the old woman’s arm, can be inferred from what is left unmentioned. So many of the poems in the collection have this characteristic of syntactical divergence, so that we must create meaning through association, through inference, or by the use of our imagination.
It is this tension of opposites, a conflict between what is revealed and what lies hidden, that gives these poems their strange, tensile strength.  Then there is the interface of lightness and shadow, of whimsy and tragedy, that make this sinuous and stimulating book a formidable collection of word art. 
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