Jeff Mann is arguably the Dean of not just the bear and the leather gay Appalachian authors, but them all. His Loving Mountains, Loving Men memoir explicitly staked out that claim in 2005, but his reputation was already there in knowing regional circles well before that and has only enlarged since. Raised in Covington, Virginia, and Hinton, West Virginia, educated at W.V.U., he has taught creative writing at Virginia Tech for decades and lives the small-town life in Pulaski, Virginia, with his husband. The title of this book of poems well expresses the confluence of forces that defines Jeff’s life: Redneck expresses the macho, the outlaw side, and Bouquet expresses the nature poet’s softer side. Jeff majored in forestry – what other field embraces the botanist and the lumberjack? Perhaps, like me, Jeff has been drawn to his “outlaw” students on a relatively unpolitical campus where the “alternative” kids are rare. Those of us on the left used to attract them, back in the days when we also attracted the fundamentalist preachers who abhorred strip mining. Now, sadly, the Trumpsters have made deep inroads in both constituencies. We desperately need to elevate and expand the voice of Jeff Mann. That “outlaw” consciousness is pissed at the cops and the establishment that lacks respect for redneck lives and limits their livelihoods. They also lack respect for the lives of gay people and Blacks – the natural allies of rednecks. These poems express much more than the themes of “outlaw” music. Yet part of their power is that they lay the foundation for a profound consciousness that is desperately needed. There is a universality in these poems than shines through the marginal status of the impervious hillbilly and the proud queer in them.
Maple Shade, New Jersey: Lethe Press, 2020. 103 pages. Trade paperback.