Inspired in part by the 1998 crash of Swiss-air Flight 111 offshore of Nova Scotia, Jacob McArthur Mooney’s second collection examines human tragedy and the limits of community. Folk undertakes an intelligent effort to reject humankind’s insistent denial of mortality and instead faces the reality of tragedy head-on.
Mooney displays an unsettling poetic grace as he reconstructs the scenes, sites, artifacts, and emotions associated with the crash that left 229 people dead. As he writes in “The Vector Field,” “perspectives were flattened / in the neighbours’ rushed retellings. And everyone wanted / to pause for their portrait. Everyone wanted / to figure.” The implications of the disaster are skilfully explored, in the process revealing the limitations of intellectual or mediated accounts of human tragedy by prompting readers to focus not on the crash itself, but how it affected various “folks” in its aftermath.
Mooney is not content merely to engage in an explication of theories of chaos versus normalcy, however. The reader is prompted to take on the position of Edgar Allan Poe’s mariner in “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” who, after the sinking of his boat in a vortex, survives only because he stops to observe the way the vortex works. Mooney demands that we observe the vortex of crisis, that we make “the decision to / bend with the wind.”
The collection also challenges notions of identity as singular or self-contained, employing myriad voices that problematize simple identifications with neighbourhoods or nations. As he writes in “Riddles for Lester B. Pearson International Airport,” “everyone / is nationless. Everyone’s a nation. / Everyone has something to declare.”
Folk is a complex journey of retrieval that acts not only as a bridge to the past but as a kind of inventory of the past. It asserts itself as a poetry collection to be remembered by folks far and wide.