Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: Folk, by Jacob McArthur Mooney

This is another one of those entries I hesitate to label a “review,” since Jake’s a friend and somebody I see around a lot at various literary soirees here in Toronto. Instead, let’s call this a public service announcement: in case of mental torpor or a persistent inability to see the world in startling new ways, please read Folk by Jacob McArthur Mooney for immediate relief. It really is that good.

The poetry collection is broken into two sections that are loosely focused on air travel: the first explores the September 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of St. Margaret’s Bay, NS, not far from where Jake grew up. (I, too, was in Nova Scotia at the time, working as a magazine editor in Halifax.) The second is comprised of a suite of poems set around Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Of course, the works engage with a lot more than just their assigned subject matters; Folk is really an examination of the impact of the big on the small, what a monolithic event (the crash) or place (Pearson) can do to the psychology of character.

The great strength of Jake’s writing is the way it assembles a series of seemingly discordant images or ideas to create first a mood and then a reflection in the reader’s mind. Take, for example, the poem “Sin of Omission,” originally published in a recent issue of The Walrus: it begins with the arrival of a priest to a church in small-town Nova Scotia:

The priest
was Haitian and unpopular, sent
from Halifax to lift the
church’s sinking numbers
Someone made a joke about
Someone made a joke about
how he choked on certain words

But then it switches gears to deal with the prominence of the Swissair disaster:

… On the Sunday
of the crash, he
decided not to mention it, just
Those people
in the ocean, those people
are not us.

Here lies a double strangeness for the parishioners – the foreigner conducting their Sunday services and the foreignness of having a major catastrophe happen right outside their door.

Throughout Folk, we see examples of mild, everyday discordances butting up against larger, more grandiose forces. This idea extends from the very opening salvo, a poem called “An Introduction to the Geographer’s Love Song of His Life,” which details the machinations of a fictitious island state, all the way to final piece, “Vectorfieldfolk,” which states: “That no one made us ready for the speed the earth was moving,/ something kept us sheltered from the spin.”

The beauty of these poems stem from their subtle wisdom, and their cloak of portent.

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