By Frank Burton
Characteristically, Mr If has chosen not to be interviewed about his new collection, Entertainment. I use the word “characteristically,” although I must confess that I have never met Mr If, and in fact, have no idea of his real identity. The collection ends with a piece called “A Note to My Readers” in which Mr If playfully suggests that he is in fact a mainstream poet writing under a different name – “Andrew Motion, perhaps, or Michael Rosen.” We can only assume this is a joke.
If I were to interview Mr If, I would ask him how much of Entertainment is a joke, and how much of it is serious? Are all these stories of his prolific sexual encounters with his friends’ wives and husbands actually true? Does Mr If mean everything he says, or does he make certain statements for comedic, or – dare I say it – artistic effect? For example, how much irony is there in his claim to be the worst poet in the world, whose sole aim is to “make bad poetry into an art form”?
Perhaps it is up to the reader to decide. Certainly many readers will consider Mr If a bad poet – perhaps not even a poet at all. I very much doubt that Mr If – whoever he is – would care about such a reaction. If there is one thing we can be reasonably certain of it’s that Mr If really doesn’t care what other people think (although he obviously cares enough to conceal his identity). In Mr If’s words,
You might think it’s flimsy, and a load of bollocks,
But it’s the best I can do,
And I think it’s quite good,
So fuck you.
I’m quoting out of context here. In a way, any quote from Mr If is a quote out of context, because he will openly contradict himself, often within the same poem or prose piece. At one point, he says, “I refuse to believe that I am a bad person”. Elsewhere he calls himself “A cunt and a hypocrite.”
Some people will hate this book. Why did I agree to publish it in the first place? My answer is that I believe Entertainment is a genuinely great piece of literature. Mr If would probably scoff at me for saying so, but beneath the fuck yous, he writes about identity, sexuality, morality and the concept of literature itself in a massively intelligent way. And crucially, there is no one else quite like him. Whoever he is, this man must be listened to.
Entertainment by Mr If can be downloaded for free or read online on the Philistine Press website.