April 22, 2009

Review: Also in Arcadia by Andrew Mulvania

Also in Arcadia by Andrew Mulvania is both a subtle and striking journey through childhood, loss and recognition set amidst the landscape of the Midwest. Mulvania, a native of Missouri, has written a collection of poems that pay homage to the people and places with keen eye for the small things that shape daily rural life. This work provides a glimpse into the past and holds its breath for the possibility of a more hopeful future.

Mulvania begins with the first of three sections entitled Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man where rural life is subtlety magicked through the eyes of the imaginative youth. This section travels through a variety of rural places: home, barn, church and county fairs and actions: harvesting, farrowing and berry-picking, as is reflected in the book’s first poem “Blackberry-Picking”;

We wanted the easy harvest,
the berries that would drop
in the bucket with a touch, the ones
left unguarded by spiders
and within reach.
But more common were those
you’d have to stretch to grab—
maneuver your hand
through an ambush of brambles,
as though reaching through
a broken window—

With a gentle, but wise voice that reflects awe and reverence for nature, rather than dominance or mastery, Mulvania shares the childhood lesson that life does not always provide the painless path. From there, Mulvania pulls back and focuses more on exhibiting child-like wonder at the world, yet maintaining the attention to detail required of any good artist.

Family, home and religious tradition are also explored in poems like "Sunrise Service, Solid Rock Baptist Church” where the narrator grounds spiritual doubt in the natural world: “I don’t know if I felt all that I was supposed to feel, /or whether I believed what they said when they said, / ‘He is not here whom you seek,’ I knew / the red fox would run the banks of Pointer’s Creek that day, /the wild iris rise up from a shroud of dew.”

The book's middle section journeys down toward death as the title Katabasis suggests. Here, a somber voice describes how frequently death has touched the narrator’s experiences with simplicity and normality. We are reminded that death most often comes not in a grandiose fashion, but in the course of daily ritual, as with the poem “Elegy for Gary Wolfe”,
The hogs must be persuaded with the shocker,
and Gary ignores his heart as it starts to pound—
the hogs must all be loaded for slaughter.

In the final section, Of Foreign Lands and People, Mulvnia pays formal homage to home, family and the great writers that have clearly shaped this writer’s voice. With detailed imagery, Mulvania eloquently invokes the spirits of Frost and Whitman, often using formal poetic forms and subtle rhyme. Just as the farmers painstakingly tend their fields, Mulvania has expertly crafted a collection of poems bright with imagery and rich in emotion. Also in Arcadia is a beautiful book that I highly recommend reading.

In fact, Andrew is a featured reader at this month's Poetsburgh, Thursday, April 23rd at 8pm at Zany Umbrella's performance space in Lawrenceville. Come out and hear him read from Also in Arcadia and pick up a copy. Don't miss it!

Review by Laura E. Davis


Andrew Mulvania is the author of Also In Arcadia, published by The Backwaters Press in 2008. His poems have appeared in an array of journals, including Poetry, North American Review, Bellingham Review, Green Mountains Review, and others. He was the recipient of a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Creative Artists Fellowship in Literature. He is currently an assistant professor of English at Washington & Jefferson College.

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