A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Dean Rhetoric

Bio: Dean Rhetoric is a working-class poet currently living in Manchester. His pamphlet, Cancer [+Pop Punk] is available now via Broken Sleep Books. His debut full-length collection, Foundry Songs, is due out February 2023.

Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most now and currently?

Dean: I started writing short stories and song lyrics when I was about 13. I was mainly influenced by lyricists, especially Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz who wrote the songs for one of my favourite bands, Bad Religion. I loved J.D. Salinger as well, and Stephen King. The usual.

Now I mainly admire poets like Natalie Shapero, Ingrid M. Calderon-Collins, Wayne Holloway-Smith and countless others who are currently/have been on the Broken Sleep Books roster.

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Dean: I had to write an essay for my Religious Education class at school. I couldn’t remember what the theme of the essay was meant to be, so I just scribbled out some random story about dogs forming a cult and enslaving humans.

I got in a lot of trouble over it, but every time a teacher read out a few lines of it they’d burst out laughing. I was failing every class apart from English Lit, so I think it just all clicked.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?

Dean: That would probably be the friends and peers who are comfortable enough with me to give honest feedback on drafts and things like that. I think every poet should have at least one mate they can rely on to push them a little further and say ‘you can do better than this’.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your work? Have any travels influenced your work?


I grew up in Hereford and lived there until I was about 25. My forthcoming full-length collection Foundry Songs has been hugely influenced by growing up there, and my 8 years there as a foundry worker.

I live in Manchester now and have always considered it home. I can’t really afford to travel. I’ve had one trip abroad my whole life. But I was fortunate enough to go to Edinburgh a few years back for the Fringe Festival to do a few gigs and they certainly inspired some poems.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Dean: Probably my poetry pamphlet, Cancer [+Pop Punk], because it was such an experimental idea and I’m proud of the fact that all my royalties go to a charity that supports young widows. It was rewarding to see how others interpreted it.

In fact, Colin Dardis wrote a really insightful review of it for you, which meant a lot to me.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Dean: I’m not good at relaxing but if I want to let off steam or enjoy myself, I’ll either watch pro wrestling, take a long walk, watch a film, or write. I’m probably happiest when I’ve got nothing to do but write.

Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza/lyric from your writing?

Dean: I feel like a right big head posting lines I’ve written that I think are good. There’s a poem in Foundry Songs called ‘Me and my Big Fuck-off Nose’ where I describe my septum as:

Swollen to the point of Agoraphobic sundial

I’ll cringe that I even answered this at all, but let’s go with that one as it’s the last poem I looked over when proof-reading.

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or song that always come back to you as an inspiration?

Dean: I mostly listen to punk rock, Motown, film scores, and the usual cliché stuff that poets listen to. Joanna Newsom is great too. I return to Automatic for the People by REM a lot, and it plays a huge role in Cancer [+Pop Punk].

And yes, I’m aware that REM isn’t punk pop!

Q9: Do you haven recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc. that you would like to promote?


As I said above, Cancer [+Pop Punk] is available now and can be purchased here. I don’t want to guilt trip anyone into buying it, but if you don’t purchase a copy, it basically means you hate charity.

Foundry Songs is my debut full length and its due out February 2023.  I worked very hard on it, and it would be great if people grabbed a copy.

And just to promote some other people, I’ve recently been reading Obligate Carnivore by Stuart McPherson, Salt & Metal by Sallyanne Rock, and The Whimsy of Dank Ju-Ju by Sascha Aurora Akhtar. They’re all fantastic collections that I highly recommend.

Review: Cancer [+Pop Punk by Dean Rhetoric (review by Colin Dardis)

Twitter: @dean_rhetoric

Review: Cancer [+Pop Punk by Dean Rhetoric (review by Colin Dardis)

Cancer[ + Pop Punk by Dean Rhetoric Reviewed by Colin Dardis

Given the ubiquity of cancer in our lives – we all know someone who is being treated for it, survived it, died from it, or indeed we may be dealing with it ourselves – it is natural that poetry should attempt to make sense of it. Of course, it is often not the disease itself that we need to try and understand, but the impact of it on our lives.

The tone in this, the debut pamphlet from working class poet Dean Rhetoric, is all at once challenging, unaccepting, disbelieving and mocking, running a gamut from “Define inoperable”, to “Meet the lump in combat” to a quickfire list of contemptuous comparisons of ‘fighting’ cancer to various styles of wrestling. Rhetoric’ poems encapsulate the sheer helplessness that cancer put us through; that whatever we do or say in our offers of help, it is not enough, was never enough to keep someone alive. As the title Cancer [+Pop Punk] suggests, dripping down through all of this is a litany of cultural references and quotes from various pop punk bands, plus a healthy dose of REM. (this reviewer will leave it to others to debate if the mentioned bands are indeed pop punk, given the preciousness of some gatekeepers in the punk community; this is a literary review, not music journalism.)

The music being the formative connection between the author and the deceased in question, Rhetoric weaves the narrative of loss and vulnerability through allusions to Green Day, Weezer, Dillinger Four, etc. Such is the lasting impact of their songs, that it takes over the form of the work. There is not so much a lyricism in the writing here, as a song-like structure, the poems presented visually on the page between musical staves. This presentation bleeds over, threatens to take over the poems, morphing lines into sing-along chorus with plenty of fa fa fa, la-la, doo doo, di da chanting. This is a defence mechanism: if we can express our distress and despair as quasi-nursery rhymes, perhaps the truth will not hurt as much.

Fruits and vegetables
seeds and antioxidants

[her stomach line tore though, fa, fa, fa!]

The smell of shampoo makes
her cry uncontrollably

[the cancer took her hair away, fa, fa fa!]

Similar to the Internet myth that Emily Dickinson wrote all her poems to fit the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, Rhetoric pushes the reader into singing along with his work. Those of a musical slant will be tempted to reread the page and attempt a tune of their own. Yet despite all this music, all this setting of song and lyric, there is much left unsaid. The unease of not knowing the perfect words; “specific words you need to avoid | to not talk about the cancer”; the ever-presence of someone’s absence: “It’s getting loud outside and your silence has everywhere to be.” Pop punk fills these silences, but music can only achieve so much. Rhetoric realises their shortcoming, listening favourite songs that are “always accusing me of changing the subject”. Parallel to all of this, the trials of cancer continue without words.

        under neon lights where halos
        hang their laurels
        onto IV drips
        as mothers scream
        and swallow truths
        as hard to chew as hospice food
       and stumble out of swaying rooms
       no medicine improves
       and if these walls could talk
       they wouldn’t.

 We find out in the closing sequence that takes a trip through REM’s Automatic for the People that sixteen years have passed between the initial acquaintance and the death of the friend. The reader is never quite sure to the extent of the pair having been romantically involved or not, merely because the author appears unsure as well. This is not to stray into the realm of the unreliable narrator; rather the work is also a study in the uncertainty and tenderness of teenage relationships. There is already much fragility at play: the consensual removal of clothes, and then later, a kiss unrealised; the admission that “you hated me towards the end”. What seemed possible in 1998 is repeatedly cut off by the brutal reality of 2014’s treatment and subsequent funeral. It is only then that we find out that the death of an ex-partner of nine years is “not a good enough excuse to leave work”, the poem hitting us with the simple facts: no window dressing, no persiflage, just like news of a diagnosis.

All author royalties from the sale of the collection go to WAY (Widowed and Young) for the bereavement support of others, so you can be assured that with your purchase that you are supporting a worthy cause. The quality of the poems, Rhetoric finding an original and engaging way to approach and navigate anguish, is a bonus worthy of applause.

Cancer [+Pop Punk] is available from Broken Sleep Books, pp42, ISBN 978-1-915079-87-9