Book Review: Map of the Folded World (John Gallaher)

Book Review: Map of the Folded World (John Gallaher)

by THEthe Poetry Blog Editors on April 2, 2010

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in Poetry and Poetics,Reviews & Interviews

Easier Than Learning Klingon

Jason Crane reviews John Gallaher’s Map of the Folded World

In the realm of wrong answers, someone

always has the radio on.

– “I Will Sing the Monster to Sleep, & He Will Need Me”

~

I’ve been watching the middle seasons of Stargate SG-1 again. If you’ve never seen the show, the premise is that there are Stargates that allow instant travel between planets. You step into one and step out into a completely different landscape.

To get around the problem of having to invent new languages for every race of aliens encountered, the producers cut the knot this way: They explained that a particular race of evil aliens had captured many humans from earth and sprinkled them throughout the galaxy to use as slaves. So most of the folks you encounter are human. And most of them speak English, albeit with some interesting variations in dialect.  And no, that last bit doesn’t make any sense, but it sure is easier than having to learn Klingon.

Which brings me to John Gallaher’s Map of the Folded World (University of Akron Press, 2009).  Gallaher has managed to create a language all his own using English words. Reading his poems, I felt like I’d arrived on some other world where the linguistic building blocks were familiar, but the physics of assembling them was completely different, surprising, otherworldly.

Map of the Folded World gathers momentum as it goes, and traveling through it I was quickly swept up into Gallaher’s deft use of language, not really needing to know what something meant so much as to hear how Gallaher had opened up the possibilities of the words by putting them next to one another in surprising ways.

I don’t feel it’s helpful to quote sections of his poems (even though I began this review with my favorite line from the book) because his poems are so dependent on wholeness. To remove any piece for study under the microscope would be to miss the point. Gallaher is sculpting, constructing, imagining, transporting the words. And while I’m sure these poems would be captivating individually, Map of the Folded World is a book; it is held together by the strength of Gallaher’s imagination and by the cascading wash of the language through the volume’s entirety. By the time I reached the end, I felt almost as though I could speak the language, as though I could understand what some of the natives were saying, and maybe even try to carry on a rudimentary conversation of my own.

All of that said, though, it’s worth giving you a chance to experience Gallaher’s linguistic achievements for yourself. Here’s the entire poem from which I quoted above:

~

I Will Sing the Monster to Sleep,
& He Will Need Me

In the realm of wrong answers, someone
always has the radio on.

Someone is eating, and someone
walking about the room, in the dim café
which ends in a distant range of snow-capped mountains.

There are vanishing people
meeting at the diving board off the window sill,
and a cloud pierced by windows.

There are a lot of things you don’t get to decide.

At first, the evenings were filled with stories, music,
or both, with a beige floor
shaded here and there with red.

And then the children are walking across the gravel
in the dark. Always small footsteps
in any manner of realms.

And they quiver like the moon.

Let’s look for them awhile, and see what we find
beside the intimidating tower at the summit
of the gently rising square.

There will be water in this pool soon.
And we’ll know what happiness is.
There’s time, and figures

moving among the arches.

We will take some questions now, they’ll say.
Please raise your hand.

~

I love clear, narrative poetry. For me, this is not that. What it is, instead, is something equally valuable and maybe more rare — a transformative experience that occurs through nothing but the careful placement of word blocks on a landscape of Gallaher’s own devising.

Highly recommended.

—Jason Crane

Jason Crane hosts the online jazz interview show The Jazz Session (http://thejazzsession.com) and writes poems at http://jasoncrane.org. His first book, Unexpected Sunlight, is forthcoming from FootHills Publishing.

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