ZACH CHOI, ANDRZEJ RICHARDSON & JEFFREY SIMONETTI Review
Straight Razor by Randall Mann
(Persea Books, Inc., New York, 2013)
Randall Mann expresses the development of his homosexuality in the book Straight Razor. In the collection of poems he reveals the truth about himself and his attempt to find love. However, he instead finds himself in sexual encounters without any depth. Randall gives explicit, non-romanticized imagery of his experiences in order to keep the stories realistic and in touch for the readers. Despite his original desire, Randall comes back to vulgar moments that he seems to enjoy. This theme of masochism gives way throughout the three sections of Straight Razor, which allude to his failed attempts of finding a relationship with meaning.
In the first section Mann describes himself as alone after he was not shown much love by his parents for being gay. As Randall Mann tried to mature and grow, he was persecuted by his teachers and beaten by his mother. This caused Randall to have a disoriented view on love and he struggled in finding a relationship with intimacy:
Love was a doorknob
statement, a breakneck goodbye-
and the walk of shame
without shame, the hair disheveled, curl
of Kools, and desolate birds like ampersands…
A one night stand carries no intimacy nor love on any level other than physical. Randall’s search for intimacy is crumbled by how he perceives love to be a physical encounter. Mann endured emotional pain and isolation until it became a part of his life. It is clear that pleasure and pain are one in the same for Mann. In the poem “Straight Razor”, a sex scene depicts him being bound with a belt, gagged and held with a razor blade against his ear. Although the straight razor should make him feel pain:
I learned so much
The itch for mistrust.
Like the feather on the book’s cover, pain tickles him.
Section two contains the most raw and concrete stories of Mann’s sexual relations. Love to Randall is a one night stand with a last minute statement, a walk of shame that leaves the lover behind and him ready for the next. Mann uses intense vernacular and occasionally offensive language that keeps the poetry interesting. As a reader, it kept me wanting to read more. Lines like “you destroyed every hole on the block” (31), made me cringe but the conversational tone helped ease the tension and made it bearable. The passive humor in the second section plays well into the theme of failing to find love. All the one night stands and lack of care for who he sleeps with are reflected in bland tone. However the word choice is raw and compensates for the lack of emotion. Dark lines such as “I’ll meet you in front, by the STD truck” (41), become satirical but have a deeper meaning: Mann does not know how to love. He feels that if he sleeps with enough men, he will eventually find love. However, the poems show the reader that he does not care about the personality of the men. All the descriptions of men are physical, if there is even a description given. The men are described with ambiguous pronouns and in one section, given the names “X”, “Y” and “Z”.
The last section concludes with the narrator’s final reach for a more meaningful relationship. To find this attachment Mann left the constricting flatlands of his childhood in Florida and went to San Francisco in search of freedom. Mann did not find a resolve, but instead found himself at another dead end. In the poem “Hyperbole”: “I start with good intentions. . . . But what stays, like some insipid trick, is fear.” (51) Mann shows his intentions for a “fairly decent mate” (51), but he ends the night with fabricated affection and no depth. After two the sections Mann realizes he can only uphold physical relationships without his desired emotional connection. In The Lion’s Mouth, Mann describes his lackluster time in “Venice” (54) as a disappointment:
Goodbye Venice; goodbye dogfight
and glut. I left you. I left so many
anonymous denunciations in the lion’s mouth.
Mann realizes he can only have a physical relationship.
The collection of poetry in Straight Razor does not just leave subjective fragments for the reader, but it tells a story. The story of Randall Mann’s love life written in cause and effect form, where the final effect is not just a happy ending. His lack of romanticism places the reader close to his vulgar memories that he tries to resolve. But instead of finding the solution he reaches for the straight razor.
Zachary Choi: "Apart from attending Indian Springs School in Alabama, I participate in soccer and student government. I live with a blended family, and I am half Korean and Caucasian. I hope to become more open minded with these experiences."
Andrzej Richardson: "I am a senior at Indian Springs School in Birmingham, Alabama. I was born and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and moved to Alabama when I was twelve. My mother comes from Polish and Irish families. My father and his family are African American. I have patented a biodegradable plastic. I plan to major in engineering in college."
Jeffrey Simonetti: "I am attending Indian Springs School as a senior. I was born in and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I have been playing soccer for 14 years and plan to continue playing in college. As well as playing varsity soccer I am also the President of Young Republicans club at Indian Springs."