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April 14, 2009
Dr. John Gallaher's new book of poems, "Map of the Folded World," has recently been published by the University of Akron Press. Gallaher, an assistant professor of English at Northwest, is the author of two previous collections, "Gentlemen in Turbans, Ladies in Cauls" (Spuyten Duyvil, 2001) and "The Little Book of Guesses" (Four Way, 2007). In 2005, he won the prestigious Levis Poetry Prize.
A kind of interior travelogue of suburban and small-town America, "Map of the Folded World" records everyday journeys through houses, yards, patios and small-town streets and along Midwestern rivers and highways.
While Gallaher's previous book, "The Little Book of Guesses," as the title suggests, sets forth imagined scenes and supposed causes and effects underlying contemporary middle class life, "Map of the Folded World" describes what it's actually like to navigate the sometimes disturbing, sometimes comforting landscape of intimacy, loss, joy, family, work and community.
"A lot of things change when you name your baby something different," Gallaher said. "Names mean a lot, and to call a book "The Little Book of Guesses" sets one up to say, 'Here are some guesses as to what interior states, or happinesses and sadnesses, there are in life.' Whereas this book, calling itself 'Map of the Folded World,' already has map and world going on in there. And you can take the idea of a folded world however you want. You can either say, 'Oh, it's a folded up travel map, so it's a folded up world.' Or you can say folded as in kind of the poker sense, like 'I fold,' -- a busted world."
While "Map of the Folded World" often suggests the vagaries of travel via a number of conveyances, it paradoxically stays quite close to home. The distance covered is largely mental and spiritual rather than geographical. In Gallaher's world, houses, streets and neighborhoods are largely interchangeable. The journey is in how these places are perceived by the poet.
"I traveled a lot when I was a kid, but I never got out of suburbia, because I moved from the suburbs of here to the suburbs of there," Gallaher said. "The neighborhoods where we live are so similar to each other, and we find ourselves thinking of travel -- being in different places -- as kind of the travel channel version of those places. But the real living versions of places aren't remarkably different from each other. So I find the elemental relationship between house and yard and family to be, in some ways, the primary travel that we really do."
However, assigning themes to books of episodic poems that can just as easily stand alone is tricky business, and Gallaher said there is probably as much artistic accident in "Map of the Folded World" as method.
"A lot of my friends write project books, but I'm not much into that," he said. "I try to write a poem a day, and then after I've been writing a certain amount of time I try to kind of distill things down. So if there is any unity to either one of these books, it's mostly chance. But there is unity in the fact that I've written these things fairly close together, so it's a little photo album of a time."
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