For someone who doesn’t want to be identified as a poet, Ian McLeod certainly seems to be at home using poetry to express his varied powers of observation. In the introduction to his collection Bilge Pump of a Turgid Mind, McLeod seems uncomfortable to be compared to poets. That’s his prerogative, but it’s a relief that he at least acknowledges a love of writing poetry. It would be a shame, if poems as good as the ones in Bilge Pump were written by someone going through the motions, answering the call of people who say things like “You write really good poems, so you should put together a book sometime.”
McLeod should know that however he compares himself to those who do identify as poets, the work he presents here would be right at home with the best of them. McLeod understands poetry, understands the myriad of ways in which it can be expressed, and moves through a number of those ways with fearlessness and one literary hook after another. There’s a touch of madness and manic sincerity to poems like “anger” or “Icing the Body Electric”, but it’s a touch madness and manic sincerity that McLeod is definitely in full control of. The poems weave, stagger, scream, and chuckle to an invisible audience of millions, but they never fly completely off the tracks. That’s the secret of great writers like McLeod. They can move in and out of wildly differing voices (the piece “Lysdexia” is a considerably different trip than “beach trip”) with an unwavering sense of technique about their craft. Bilge Pump of a Turgid Mind drives home again and again the point that even as McLeod switches from one topic to another, he never loses sight of what needs to be done to tell the story in the best way possible.
Every poem in Bilge Pump of a Turgid Mind is worthwhile. Whether McLeod is simply recreating a memory that’s been nagging at him lately (“October 30th”), or indicating his constant awareness of the journey that’s brought him to his current place in the world around him (“Society), no single poem is without some degree of merit. There isn’t really a singular narrative to take from this collection as a whole, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. Ian McLeod is a writer who simply had a head full of opinions, images, memories, and ideas, and a willingness to use poetry in as many different ways as possible to explore those things. Bilge Pump of a Turgid Mind is the result of that open-mindedness. It is all at once hilarious, troubling, charming, and even inspiring.
If Ian McLeod writes another collection or two with this kind of philosophical weight and writing talent, he may have to get used to people including him in the company of poets. “Poet” may be a limiting term to some, but it should definitely be a part of McLeod’s resume as a writer. Ignoring the quality of these verses would be a shame.