Friday, April 22, 2011

Folk by Jacob McArthur Mooney

Folk is the second collection of poetry by Canadian author Jacob McArthur Mooney, following The New Layman's Almanac in 2008. It is divided into two sections, one rural and one urban. The first section focuses on the residents of St. Margaret's Bay after the crash of Swissair Flight 111, while the second takes place in the residential area surrounding the Toronto airport.

Water courses through the first half of the collection which includes poems such as "Station and Vicinity" which begins with:
"Every night in winter
a forgotten million snowflakes fall
on the ocean and so all
they learn about is water."
you really get a feeling for the town and the people, for what it is like there, but the result isn't overly poetic, at many times it feels more like telling a story than poetry. For example in "A Surface Normal (Five Points in the Life of a Wave)", Mooney writes:
"That October, on the fourteenth floor
of a brand-new building that I swear
was somehow haunted, I toss a penny off the balcony
and lose it in the jet stream. True story."
and yes, the reader can imagine the moment, and Mooney has captured it concisely and crystallized its simplicity, but it lacks the richness and depth that makes poetry truly move me as a reader, and it feels that in many of the poems this is something Folk has not quite achieved. Of course, this is not universally true, "The Mourner with the Alabama Plates" is still straightforward but manages to be haunting in its portrayal of grief, as a person comes to see where their loved one died, Mooney writes that "Grief / is a compulsion. Walk up to the dead / and lay your body on their bodies/ until you share a central chill."

I felt the second half of the collection had a stronger political voice to it, as well as a more poetic and lyrical tint, like in "The First Wave of Malton Housing Units Fail" which begins with the lines "It begins with believing / your warped and weakened want the best for you despite / their bad intestines. Their guttural melodies / burping through the night. Problem pumbing. Poor cement. / Houses erected to lend credence to the headlines / harnessed to the land. The Development Story. / The Immigration Angle."

The theme of the second half of Folk, a section filled with individuals looking for a home of some sort, is epitomized in "Riddles for Lester B. Pearson International Airport" where Mooney ends with:
is nationless. Everyone's a nation.
Everyone has something to declare."
It is a section about urbanization, about property and privacy and urban sprawl and the connection, and disconnection, between people. In "Monica and Brandon Gate", Mooney writes:
"The weather waned that March,
folded back the snow to show
a whole city of dead birds,
slumped forward on their silence like
a growth of cheap new houses."
The sprawl of cheap houses reappears in Mooney's repeated references to Malton, Ontario. In, "The Earth is Round: Six Approaches to Malton, Ontario", he writes that "The harvest lasted some four hundred / straight seasons, bales of self-sufficient towns sucked up / by the whirligig urban unfoundry." connecting the traditional (harvest) with the changes in the name of progress which have occurred. The second half of the collection stands in stark contrast to the first, with its ocean breeze and familiar neighbours. I definitely preferred the imagery of the second half to the first. Even though Mooney is writing on a less emotional topic, his imagery felt more developed and profound.

Ultimately, the potential of Mooney in the collection Folk is apparent, but at times so is the fact that he is a beginner, still finding his poetic place. Although his voice is memorable, it often lacked the richness and depth I craved to find beneath his words. Overall, Folk is an interesting and perceptive collection, but Mooney's poetry tended to be too straightforward and cold for it to be emotionally moving as well.

Release Date: March 29th, 2011
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book

1 comment:

  1. Great review. As an aspiring poet, it's really interesting to see the process at work as another poet (published, even) struggles to find their voice. I'm a very emotional person so it's intriguing to me to read poetry by authors who tend not to be emotional. It may not resonate with me, but there is certainly much to be learned from it nonetheless.


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