John Mulrooney’s Spooky Action is reviewed in Harvard Review Online

Spooky Action by John Mulrooney is reviewed by Michael Rich in Harvard Review Online.

“Glowing taillights of cars idling by the Gloucester shoreline on New Year’s Eve open John Mulrooney’s Spooky Action, the first collection published by the fifty-seven-year-old. Gloucester’s drawbridge is raised, vehicles are stopped, and on the threshold of January, all is at a standstill. Away from holiday revelers, Mulrooney describes a devious and blundering humanity “underfoot / of strange angels,” isolated in automobiles, waiting. An uncertain future looms, while the past has already been spirited off like “lost luggage.” As Mulrooney writes in “Cantata for Mitrovica Stars”:

Your passport only
shuttles you between
never was and yet to be.

Spooky Action carries the burdens and insight of middle age: time devours all, and memory—always fallible—is no balm for the inevitability of facing oblivion. Meanwhile, in the treacherous narrows between past and future, the poet is tethered to former selves with nothing in common but a single body. His consistently deadpan tone throughout Spooky Action gives readers cause to proceed warily and with acutely engaged attention in order to parse his meaning. Yet readers suspect that Mulrooney’s irony—complicating and even undercutting his poems’ impact—serves to safeguard his own innate tenderness, to deny, if necessary, the sentiment encoded in the work.

The sentiment Mulrooney’s poems express frequently appears already voided by its own double—its own ironic nullification, doubled images, doubled identities. Sometimes their manifestation is fleeting and mundane: when automobile headlights sweep a passing train’s window, Mulrooney ponders the death of poet Gerrit Lansing commingling with their reflection. Other times, this doubleness is interior, emotional, and unsettlingly personal. In “Entanglement at Solstice,” Mulrooney writes:”

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