February 25, 2009

Review by Ted Gilley

by Andrew Mulvania

Backwaters Press
3502 North 52nd St.
Omaha, NE 68104-3506
ISBN 978-0-9816936-3-7
2008, 67 pp., $16.00

Andrew Mulvania’s present-day Arcadia lies in the southern part of the United States, just as the Arcadia of legend lay, similarly isolated, in the Peloponnesus of Greece. Rural Missouri, while less remote, nevertheless qualifies as the kind of place out of which genuine, if obscure, legends might arise. In Mulvania’s hands, the life of small towns and a family farm, conducted in a somewhat somber pageant of narratives balanced by near-perfect lyric elegies, carves a chapter into the black earth of southern literature with the sureness—and occasional unsteadiness—of a horse-drawn plow.

The poems of how-to and make-do, of fishing by lamplight, of picking blackberries, exploring creaky barns, of county fairs and country characters in church basements, are rendered at length in unrelenting, determined detail. One’s pleasure in reading about the childrens’ Halloween celebration (“All Hallows Eve, Solid Rock Baptist Church”) is diminished by the lack of pleasure the poet seems to feel in describing it; the poem has the timbre, pacing, and studied affect of a dutifully delivered sermon. In poems of similar tone, such as “Osage County Fair” and “Putting in the Garden,” Mulvania takes such pains in description, you wish he’d move along a little more smartly, only to discover in the end that description was the point. Is that ever enough?

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