Monday, December 7, 2009

Map of the Folded World

Anyone willing to use the awkward verbal acrobatics of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ("There are known knowns, etc.....") as the epigraph for their book ought to be commended for both their bravery and originality. Map of the Folded World, John Gallaher's third full-length collection, and first published by The University of Akron Press, does just that; but it deserves so much more than just our kudos or commendations. It deserves our unswerving attention. Because in Gallaher's hands, a worker's daily commute becomes a flowing landscape "[w]here one can lament / the trailing of the idea, amid fewer thoughts / and comfortable scenery." And in "The Danger in Plans," childlike superstition gets confronted with unforgiving, if sympathetic, sarcasm and wit:

If you are just funny enough,
if you can just run fast enough,
no one will ever die.

Do you remember that?
And are you better now?

The tone of these poems is always warm, the diction simple, but the work still follows a logic all its own, one we've never quite heard before in the long history of the written word, even if it's an instantly recognizable path we're walking on some Sunday afternoon wearing our favorite hat and comfortable slippers. Take the opening of "Minneapolis Is a Fine City":

Or maybe you love me and then you don't,
or never did, or I you
and I quietly lose your name
among the bridges and news.

Or, better yet, consider this extended metaphor from "Caution to the Wind":

It's somewhere there in your big book
of spy rules, that maybe you'll never know who did
and who didn't, and you'll have to deal with not knowing
waiting out in the car with the radio on....

Has anyone ever articulated better the silent and paralyzing grief of uncertainty? The astonishing thing about this book is that Gallaher does this at every turn of the page, poem after poem. Most often, his work recreates the fluidity of thought in our everyday inner monologues. You get the feeling so many of these poems are collages of overheard dialogue compiled in an itty bitty notebook stashed away in a pocket. A series of scribbles penciled in handwriting only Gallaher could claim to read. But his poems shed light, too, on the unique logic of intuition. And, because of this, his poems are difficult to classify, and all the better for it. It's rare to run across essential reading anymore. When it comes to poetry, however, Map of the Folded World is nothing short of essential. Each of his first three books has bettered the one before. And we're left to wonder just not just where Gallaher can go from here, but, really, where he can't go.

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