E. E. Cummings masterful sonnet, “next to of course america i,” curls and twists like an unspooling ribbon as it forgoes punctuation to replicate the ramblings of a nervous speaker who indeed has something to say, something worth hearing. Mulrooney’s poetry also omits the aid of punctuation leaving the reader to contemplate the short curl of text on the page. On occasion, such as in the poem “porch,” it’s clear enough to follow the observations, but the observations remain unpondered like incomplete thoughts, as if one is overhearing one side of a conversation and not to conclusion.
we had to screen out the impertinent flies
otherwise the deck of a steamer is much the same
these warm nights and oh I’ve dropped my lighter
there it is in the moonlight
bright as can be
However, few of the poems are accessible like “porch.” They toy with surrealism or verbal juxtaposition without an entry point. Without a forward to explain his process, Mulrooney trusts the reader to enjoy possibly the sound of them when read aloud. It’s difficult to tell really. Most poems resemble found poetry or possibly erasure poetry in which a given text has the bulk of words removed and the remnants pushed together to create a new meaning. With the text squared off and no punctuation, it’s hard to tell the process at work here and harder to grasp.
By far the longest poem in the collection (at a mere fifteen lines) is “Russian dancer”. This poem is lengthy enough to successfully tell a tale or set a full scene. Indeed, it’s reminiscent of the surreal short stories of Donald Barthelme, and nicely so. More often, the poems remained cryptically short, perhaps to tap into a haiku-like simplicity. In “Buson,” the three verses do reflect the rules of haiku with the first and third stanzas practically standing just as well alone and achieving a beautiful image and observation:
on the temple bell
as one ceased from flight resting
the wee butterfly
for that is one who
pardon me Billy Collins
rests on tradition
as long as the bell
is not struck by the hammer
This poem is quite unique in this collection, with only its disruptive second stanza reflecting the other poems. Most present a puzzle to sort out for the understanding. Few opened themselves even with repeat readings, and even with trying to recite them aloud in different ways. There are truly masterful enjambments throughout the collection, but frustratingly few keys to understanding. And if this is Flarf, or found poetry, or erasure poetry, then I wish I’d spent less time trying to make sense of them.