Friday, 4 June 2010

"FUQ - Frequently Unanswered Quetions" - An Unofficial Introduction to "Entertainment" by Mr If

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.


  1. There is always a great debate around what literature is, what it stands for, and who should judge it.

    If we swerve the debate about what literature is, for a moment, we can ponder about setting up something in opposition to a canon; I read Mr If's ebook when it was posted, and wondered (as people will do) whether it was being deliberately unpoetic, deliberately provocative and iconoclastic.

    Something writers have to be wary of is purely going out to get a reaction. This is what badly brought up children do: do something... anything... to get a reaction from someone else, to feel noticed. It makes the careers of some writers; Julie Burchill has made an entire career out of it in print: drawing a reaction out of the middle class by setting up theoretical positions that are a feint - to draw the sting of opprobrium, so that she can then mock the people mocking her position.

    The creator of 'Mr If' won't care. Or rather, I hope they don't care. However, something always nags me about anti-positions. Being iconoclastic is nothing new; indeed, holy cows and the craven holy images of high modernism, the canon, 'taste', and (whisper it) ideology have long been scarce around these parts. There is very little for a rebel without a cause to go looking for, even if they could stop slouching long enough to rebel against it. When James Dean is asked 'What are you rebelling against?' and replies 'What have you got?' the iconic moment presupposes that there is something still to rebel against - it just needs to be found, pinned up against a wall and roughed up a little. Not forgetting that Dean becomes ‘iconic’ in the process of drawling these lines. Duchamps found (I imagine to his amusement and his annoyance, in equal measure) that putting a urinal in an art exhibition may cause a fuss in the short term, but pretty soon people are desperate to own/lease/sell/profit by anti-art in the same way they do mainstream art. Flash forward nearly one hundred years and two of today's conceptual artists create their own fuss by (surprise, surprise) trying to urinate in Duchamps urinal, and are stopped by security guards desperate to save the ‘art’.

    After the fuss dies down iconoclasts have often found that destroying the icons doesn't devalue the thing they sought to destroy; ironically it makes it stronger; it affirms it; it gives it added status, otherwise why would the iconoclast have tried to destroy it? In our crooked world, being attacked is a measure of status.

    And it's worth creating a debate about. So what is the reaction, word lovers? On election night in Britain this year, a politician purred into the camera 'Yes, the people have spoken, but we're not quite sure what they're saying'. The same is sometimes true of poetry, and the reaction it does (and doesn't) elicit.

  2. I must confess to not knowing the definition of the word "Iconoclast". I just looked it up, and (for anyone else who doesn't know) it means, "One who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions." It's a good word!

    I like the Mr If collection, by the way. I see it as being part of the same tradition as Charles Bukowski, Fred Voss and Billy Childish (if I may refer to such poets as "traditional").

  3. Charles Bukowski's advice to writers was: 'You don't [try], I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try'. Meaning that it isn't forced: you aren't sitting down consciously to write THE poem, or even A poem, or text of any kind. You could argue that to write sexualised confessionals is actually 'trying' quite hard - to shock, and to provoke.

  4. To be fair, I think Bukowski himself probably ignored his own advice on a few occasions. To a certain extent, his own persona was an invented one. Perhaps every poet is guily of this. Mr If certainly is.

  5. Have people read '69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess' by Stewart Home, in which pornography in interspersed with situationist critique of society and literary reviews? Mr If's poetry put me in mind of that - certainly for the former.

  6. I haven't read it, but it sounds like an interesting concept :)