The Manchurian Mandate by Joseph Fulkerson is a pocket-guide manifesto for stringed-up puppets of political corruption wanting to maintain or break the status quo. The title of the collection itself considers this, as well. A Manchurian is a person used as a puppet for political gains, while a mandate can be seen as giving the puppet imaginary authority to act in certain ways. This reads like an encyclopedia for all the anarchist phrases your grandfather grew up spouting. In such current heavily-influenced political times, this chapbook helps us ask, who are the Manchurians? What are the mandates using us as puppets, as political leverage to act a certain way? These answers can be positive or negative. Fulkerson’s tone is more on the negative side of the scale, evoking “a smear campaign doused/ with counterfeit creativity”.
While labeled as a continuous "long poem", the excessive white space preceding and succeeding the snippets creates pause and space which breaks up the stream of conscious-like quality of this poem. As a reader, the use of white space does not effectively convey continuity. Each section fits perfectly in the center of the page, like little parables we can consume one at a time. One could perform bibliomancy, open any page, and not miss a sense of what the subject matter contains.
This collection can be considered as poetry for beginners, containing flowery alliterative language without substance, and sometimes high diction which does not feel accessible to laypeople. The Manchurian Mandate may be an example of why people find poetry confusing and impenetrable. The short stanzas structured throughout stir up classic tropes and cliches. Each page rings with the themes of politically-charged, condemning and often crude sentiments. Many snippets read similar to character descriptions, where readers can consider who fits these evocations, who is “succumbing to razor tongued/ lies, like livestock lining/ up to receive the brand”, or if we prescribe to the mindset how “we can know no loss but our own/ feel no compassion save/ for that which we reserve for our own kind”. Other snippets read as if the speaker is yelling on a soapbox which cannot be penetrated or connected with, someone who you'd pass by on the street without stopping to listen.
This poetry is not for me. Personally, I like my overtly-political poetry more complex with the utilization of rich language, CA Conrad-esque, with accountability beyond the reader; and less John Locke's philosophical airy pathos without innovation. While this is full of emotional nerve, there is a lack of physical action that I could not get into.
The Manchurian Mandate is, however, recognizing “planet wide escalations activating the Manchurian/ Candidate in all of us” which may be a sign of hope. Whether we are cogs in the machine or utilize “blind eyes glaze milky white/ with the cataracts of indifference—” is up to each one of us, individually. Will you recognize the “fables told by campfire/ [which] were made to be disproven” and disprove them? Or will you sit idly by in silence?