Philistine Press, the publisher of Violence Is The Answer (a short narrative chapbook by an author known only as “Mr If”) describes the book as its “most controversial” publication. Controversy is one of those slippery concepts the definition of which can be difficult to pin down. Having read the collection however I can see what they were getting at.
Violence Is The Answer is about the relationship between the narrator and two of his friends: Nettles and Marilyn. The first poem sets up the situation neatly and plainly. Here is the gist of events:
“Nettles is away fighting in Afghanistan.
I am in England having sex with his wife.
In our own tried and tested ways,
The pair of us are proving
That we are men.”
The poems that follow chart the course of the affair, and become increasingly filled with rhetoric about the war, soldiers and depression. The first person perspective and the introduction at the beginning suggest that it is written from personal experience, though as the author remains anonymous this must simply be taken on faith. All that can be said is that it very much “feels” real, and so for the purposes of this review I will treat it as such.
The poems and short prose segments are plain spoken, honest to the point of being blunt. But there’s nothing blunt about the emotional articulation of the collection. Mr If struggles to express feelings that are clearly deeply-held. His actions and choices are repellent, and his views will no doubt offend, but at no stage did I feel I was being asked to accept any of it. Indeed, the narrator seems almost helpless in the face of what he sees as the truth of the world.
The promised controversy rears its head in the final quarter of the collection. In a poem titled “People just don’t want to hear this” Mr If verbally abuses a charity collector and then goes on to blame everyone and everything for the war. He provides no answers, and acknowledges that his viewpoint is one that many people might find abhorrent. But he also makes clear that this is what he genuinely feels and believes; he’s not trying to make us agree with him, but instead simply recording his own inner conflict for us to see. Violence Is The Answer is a memoir much more than it is a tract.
The collection ends with an account of how the affair between the narrator and Marilyn began. It’s an interesting choice, providing a suitable close to the book without actually resolving anything. As in life, there are no neat endings, just a big, complex, tragic mess.
Violence Is The Answer says some terrible things, but it’s one of the best chapbooks I’ve read in a long time. It is intimate, honest, and completely open. Having read it, I feel as though I’ve met and talked with the author in person, and though I didn’t actually like him as such, what he had to say was powerful, intelligent and shocking. Some will enjoy this book, and many more will simply be offended by it. Either way it gets a reaction.
Violence Is The Answer is available online for free from Philistine Press at www.philistinepress.com.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.