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Jacob McArthur Mooney
Jacob McArthur Mooney

Review: Poetry

A real folk hero Add to ...

"No one trusts the word nation anymore," declares Jacob Mooney in his much-anticipated second collection of poetry, Folk. But if nation no longer serves as the idea for which people transcend differences and come together, what idea does? This is the difficult question at the heart of Mooney's probing verse. His poems are subtle and intelligent, with a wry brand of tenderness, his humour sparking with a Generation Y refusal of full-on Gen-X ironic distance. Folk is timely, an important lyric inquiry into our most mundane and most charged boundaries of community.

Folk is written in two movements that open up a conversation between two Canadian locales. The first is the St. Margaret's Bay region of Nova Scotia, in the wake of the 1998 crash of Swiss Air flight 111; the second is Malton, Ont., one of "the saddest parts of cities, [which]seem to settle around their airports." Mooney's Malton has seen its successions of Polish, English, Jamaican and Irish working-class residents move on, and is now predominantly a South Asian and Middle Eastern neighbourhood.

In Folk One, the tragedy off the coast southwest of Halifax is one that "belongs" in many ways to other countries' folk but one that "lands" in the front yards of Bayswater and Peggy's Cove. Suddenly, small towns with their own banalities and backwardnesses become a staging ground for international-scale heroics.

So now the world is comng

with its cameras to document,

to register an audience ...

everyone wanted

to pause for their portrait. Everyone wanted

to figure.

Mooney observes how, under the spotlight, people reframe their own belonging, aligning themselves into camps of witness or victim, local or mourner, a water-wise heart or a heart lost at sea. Mooney traces the impact of an impact, following vectors of pain, shock and personal identity as those energies move through people, in refractions that can either bond or become the insularity of xenophobia or even racism.

From here we move to Folk 2 in Malton, a place that "melts the Toronto template, shifts boundaries and blinds the windows of my nation house." Mooney's distanced framings of "the Sikh" and of the disappearance of white-owned businesses belie a certain muted, unsettled registering of the demographic of our population that will neither offend nor hearten souls clinging to a more anglo, or even Euro, vision of who are Canadian folk. "This is where we are, and by where we mean who," Mooney writes. His work witnesses something he describes as the opposite of patriotism, a kind of bending in the wind. "He thinks he has Canadian roots," Mooney writes, "like that's something that exists."

Sonnet L'Abbé was recently short-listed for the 2011 CBC Literary Award for Poetry.

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