Review: A Modern Don Juan by Andy Croft/N.S Thompson (Ed)

moderndonjuan3Tales of the fictional libertine Don Juan have been told many times and date as far back as the 1630s with Tirso de Molina’s play The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest. Over generations he has transformed into the hero-villain of countless plays, novels, poems and, of course, Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787). But it is Lord Byron’s epic satirical poem (1819-24) that has become most synonymous with the exploits of the legendary lothario. In this latest outing, 15 poets, including T.S Eliot prize winners George Szirtes and Sinéad Morrissey, give the tale a thoroughly modern setting, as skunk-puffing night-club DJ Donald Johnson stumbles from one romantic disaster to the next in a “drunk arcadia”. Along the way ‘Donny’ is transformed into everything from a Brussels Eurocrat to a reality TV celeb. His travels take him on a swanky yacht, into prison and most surreally, into outer space. When he heads into Europe he finds the Greeks need help with austerity rather than independence, though this is nothing compared to the pain he receives from a ‘holistic’ dentist…

Co-editor of the collection, Andy Croft, brings Donny into the ‘unheroic age’ where celebrities are fodder for the unforgiving gossip pages of tabloids, and fame is as transient as ever: ‘how quickly reputations all unravel,/From Cameron and Clegg to Jimmy Saville.’ He discusses our obsession with superheroes and warns that to understand the world of economics you need more ‘than someone in a mask from Marvel Comics’. This humour is brutally contrasted with social commentary on modern warfare, where returning soldiers face a very different battle as they adjust back to ‘normal life: ‘‘but there’s now twice as many in the can/ As there are serving in Afghanistan’.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but in this case you can. It’s a beautiful illustration by Martin Rowson that sees Byron’s ancestral home of Newstead Abbey replaced with a metropolitan cityscape and, of course, he’s on his mobile phone, no doubt lining up local conquests on Tinder. But it’s more relevant to judge a book by its readers. Five Leaves, the publisher, offered the book first ‘on subscription’, harking back to the way books were often sold in Byron’s time, demonstrating that there are many people out there who were eager to see this hapless seducer have one more outing.

 £14.99, Five Leaves

This review was originally published in the Morning Star on 20 December 2014

See Andy Croft’s poem about ‘Byron Clough’ in issue 5 of Dawn of the Unread


Beeston Poets is a joint venture between Nottinghamshire Library Services, Nottingham Poetry Society and Five Leaves Publications that brings well-known poets to Beeston Library. It follows on from the ‘Poets in Beeston’ series which started in 1983 and ran successfully for the next two decades. Of all of the roles that a library fulfils (keeping you warm, free internet access, reading LeftLion), perhaps the most important one is bringing authors and readers together, and thereby strengthening the library’s civic role through literature as determined by the Public Libraries Act of 1850. With the demand to shed 28 per cent from all budgets by 2014, drawing people into libraries has never been more important.

Over the years Beeston Poets has drawn in the likes of Wendy Cope, Carol Ann Duffy, UA Fanthorpe, Roger McGough, Ian McMillan, and Adrian Mitchell – all of whom were celebrated in the Poems for the Beekeeper anthology in 1996. This year visiting poets have included Jackie Kay and Neil Astley and will be concluded by Andy Croft on 8 December.

Andy Croft has written five novels and forty-two books for teenagers, mostly about footy. But he is perhaps best known as the brains behind the unconventional and radical poetry publisher Smokestack Books. His own collections include two novels in Pushkin sonnets, Ghost Writer and 1948, and when we say written entirely in Pushkin Sonnet we mean everything, including the foreword, contents and acknowledgements. The Pushkin Sonnet is basically a technical device used by obsessive smart arses, which in Croft’s hands reads like intellectual slapstick.

Andy will be reading primarily from 1984, recently Nicholas Lezard’s Paperback of the Week in The Guardian. It’s a comic novel straight out of an Ealing comedy set during the post-War London Olympics, and includes Russian spies, London gangsters and useless poets. We guarantee it will be the best poetry reading you’ll ever go to, though tickets will likely have sold out by the time you’ve read this.

Andy Croft, 8 December 8th. Tickets are £7 (£5 concessions) and can be obtained from Beeston Library, Foster Avenue, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 1AE.