Give Edward Mullany a point-and-shoot camera. Let him walk around and take snapshots of things. Then let him take that set of pictures and turn them into gifs. This, for me, is the M.O. of IF I FALTER AT THE GALLOWS, a book of poems that makes me aware of the matter inside words and how that matter can be made to loop again and again until you feel something approaching laughter, or even something that breaks this asymptote, sprays into uncharted colors.
As with every book of poems I’ve ever cracked open to review, I’m talking about EVERYTHING IS QUITE and EMERGENCY ROOM WRESTLING, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My blood runs thick with prose. Poetry is something blowing in the wind, some fabric resembling a handkerchief that needs to just blow and blow and blow. To read poetry is great, but to try and decipher it is like putting your hand on the handkerchief and steadying it, ossifying it, turning it into something bony and brittle. I will not analyze poetry, I simply refuse to do something so cruel. Prose, maybe, but poetry, never.
Having said all that, like some giant disclaimer for my ignorance regarding the Meaning of Poem, I will now say the following: Edward Mullany is the perfect diving board. He is springy, he is flat, he is hanging over ideal swimming water, not a swimming pool, but a calm tropical ocean that will encrust my skin with salt. I carry his book with me and think about how many writers he has impressed, how many he will impress, and I know he will be, at worst, one of those obscure wordsmiths who is remembered for his influence on bigger writers who happened to strike a collective note – Ping! But behind that ping will be a man named something that no one quite remembers. Edward what?
At best, Edward Mullany will be lauded for his beautifully looped gifs until the end of time.
I’m not trying to flatter the poet, who understands what it means to be obscure:
A MINOR POET
comes home, just
like anyone. Hugs
his daughter, if he
When I read this poem my imagination becomes a video camera that captures a door opening, a man walking in and bending down to hug his daughter, and his eyes closing as his mouth seems to dissolve into something grateful. Then that scene loops. Man opening door. Man walking in. Man bending down to hug his daughter. Man smiling. And it still doesn’t end. No. It somehow becomes more elemental. Door. Man. Daughter. Smile. Door. Man. Daughter. Smile. Looped again and again. Like I said before, gifs, Edward Mullany has mastered the art of writing gifs. His poems are tiny packages of infinity that bury into your soul and replay over and over until you either smile, or laugh, or push beyond into something indescribably human. Here’s another:
At the top
of a dune
in the desert,
man appears, only
to be pushed
in the back
to tumble down
the dune by
I love this one. I can see the bearded man, his feet somersaulting and spraying sand into the air, as he tumbles. Everything I need to know about this scene is written in ~30 words. That’s it. So parsimonious, so respectful of each component of language. This poem is both weightless and massive. What about this little gif:
On TV, a woman
with a shiny
face smiles and waves.
Imagine a woman on TV smiling and waving. Then the scene stops and loops back to the beginning. A woman smiling and waving. Freeze. Back to beginning. Smiling and waving. Only it’s really impossible to know when exactly it loops. The woman could be smiling and waving forever, or maybe she’s only doing it for 2 seconds.
It must be my mindset, but these poems soothe me.
There’s also some black humor in Edward Mullany’s poems. Like this one:
TO THE WOMAN WHO JUMPED
IN FRONT OF A TRAIN
I am wearing a yellow
dress, and I am walking
with you toward a gate above
which is a sign only
one of us
It took me 2 or 3 reads to fully lodge this poem into my brain matter, but once it got in there I kind of snorted and read it aloud for the benefit of all those around me. One person in the room shouted, “MIND THE GAP!” in Korean.
All this talk makes me wonder if every injury is somehow associated with not being able to read the signs all around you. This could be a strong case for becoming a polyglot of more than just languages, but everything around you.
But is this poem really something I should laugh at? It conjures the tragic end of Anna Karenina, which didn’t make me laugh, at least I don’t recall laughing. But for some reason I laughed at this poem. And I also kind of laughed at this one:
THE STREETS OF JERUSALEM
A truck now
past the spot
where a leper
Inappropriately, I laughed, and then I felt bad for laughing, like I shouldn’t laugh at this, it’s not funny, lepers are not funny, the places where lepers once stood are not funny. I think my laughter had more to do with me all of a sudden thinking about a tiny spot in a way I’d never thought of before, a historical spot, a biblical spot, that is still there, and has seen the times pass, from lepers to trucks. That’s life.
Edward Mullany was approached with skepticism, and he happened to win me over, one little nugget at a time, until I felt satisfied with the state of things, and a mite peculiar.
MY RATING =