2 out of 4 stars
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The Word of Mankado is the first published collection of poems by Roger W. Ranchino. The title of the book is a bit of a puzzle. A google search throws up a place called Mankato in Minnesota, close to where the author was born, but that is the only reference. The book has no introductory notes or foreword, so the author does not explain the meaning, nor is Mankado mentioned again in the text.
The book runs to seventy-nine pages and contains fifty poems. The back cover describes this collection as ‘a journey of self-reflection and truth.’ As if to emphasize that fact, the first poem in the collection is entitled ‘Me.’ It is almost as if the author is setting out his writing agenda or manifesto. The first stanza is as follows:
I feel the need to write
My memory on the line
I’m more than just a picture
I’m thoughts of summertime
It is an appropriate manner in which to start this collection because that is the way the book continues, both thematically and technically. Thematically, this poem is typical, in that the majority of the poems feature the poet analyzing his own feelings, his own situation, or both. Topics covered include the passage of time, parenthood, children, death, and illness. The result, unfortunately, is that this could not be described as an uplifting collection. The ‘I’ in these poems – and one must be wary about always reading poems as autobiographical - seems to be an individual weary of life, someone who believes his happiest days are behind him. In the poem ‘Special’ he writes:
My appearance holds the years
Have a wife and some kids
It’s sad to think the best times
May be something I already did
In this same poem, he tells the reader that he is 45 years old. That sounds too young to me to be getting so maudlin, but perhaps the writer was having a bad day. There are one or two poems written in a lighter vein. The poems ‘Miss Mastercharge’, ‘Honeymoon Horror’, and ‘Mowing’ are three of the poems in which the writer attempts to insert some humor into the collection. Humor is an individual thing, obviously, and not everyone will find these poems funny, but at least they are an attempt to lighten the mood a little.
Technically, every stanza of every poem in the collection is written in the same 4-line format with the same ABCB rhyme scheme. Sometimes the rhymes are full matches, at other times they are half-rhymes. The rhythm and meter of the lines seem to be randomly assigned. In truth, there is more craftsmanship and design to be found in the lines inside a greeting card.
The cover tells us that the book ‘reaches for the thoughts, laughter, and tears inside all of us.’ In my view, it doesn’t reach far enough. I am giving this book two out of four stars. It is not a book I enjoyed, but it is error-free and has an interesting cover. It has no sexual or religious content to offend anyone. The themes of the book are such that it is probably more suitable for young adults and upwards. People who like their poetry plain and unpretentious may find this collection of interest.
The Word of Mankado
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