Murmur

by Laura Mullen
Futurepoem Books 2007
Reviewed by Jason Schneiderman

8

 “All the possible / Interpretations already in the works.”

mullen cover

You know how when Belle and Sebastian sing that Bible Study and S/M aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, and you’re all like, “oh come on, S/M and the Bible totally go together.”  Well, Laura Mullen might complain that Murder Mysteries and Language Poems aren’t everbody’s cup of tea. 

*

Laura Mullen is really smart.  Laura Mullen is a really good wrier.  This book is a disorienting exploration of the Murder Mystery genre blended with an exploration of those who love the Murder Mystery genre.  How does one explain wanting to read about bodies washing up on the shore?  Wanting to read about mutilated bodies and necrophilia and decaying corpses?  “It actually happened, of course, But not (ever) exactly like…”

*

The speaking voice in this book is never stable for long.  As soon as you’ve settled into the voice of the mother, the murderer, the corpse, the daughter, the detective, it’s time to move on.  Every prose/poem stanza/paragraph ends in fragmentation.  “The report should include the actual bottle or broom handle, he muses, not just a list of items forced” for instance.  The voices of the book keep dropping off a cliff, disappearing just as you get used to them.  It’s not quite a collage or a quilt, but the overall effect is remarkable.  A disorientation you get used to, like being inebriated.

*

For a while my husband has been watching endless cop shows about sexual predators with incredibly convoluted desires.  As the cops track down the pervy perps, they keen a chorus of “What kind of a sicko thinks of these creepy scenarios?”  “What kind of a sicko wants to see this kind of thing?”  Hey guys, it’s the writers and the audience.  Laura Mullen knows this better than I do.  She wrote a whole book about it.

*

I want to hear more about the mother and the daughter.  The mother hates her life, and the daughter hates her life and her mother for making her live that life.  The mother escapes into Murder Mysteries, but then we’re inside the Murder Mystery, and then the mom is gone.  Get it?  It’s better than identification.  It’s being.  Our attention shifts to her attention.  It’s brilliant. “In early anatomy illustrations the dead often reach down and part their own flesh, exposing secrets they seem no longer impressed by or still can’t face.”  (62).  The mother wants the daughter to accept the tedium of the domesticity of womanhood, even as she teaches her to escape into the exciting extremity of the Murder Mystery.  “He put the bodies in an acid bath.  How did the night pass?  We must have had homework.”  (62).  The daughter (young Laura Mullen?) may or may not be writing the book, but she is certainly speaking the book.  Or she is holding the book together.  All of these quotes were in a footnote.

*

The book is long for a book of poetry, short for a murder mystery.   

*

Futurepoem makes gorgeous books. 

*

In “Narration: Lecture 2,” Gertrude Stein asks “Is that prose or poetry and why.”  Laura Mullen answers, “both.”  The first sections of the book feel more like prose poetry—and when she gets to the conventional poetry (left justified, line breaks, etc), it gets really gross.  “When she laughs / A bright bib of blood gleams wet / Down the front of her black dress.” (128)  The conventional poetry section is entitled, “Killer Confesses to Unspeakable Acts” and the murdered wife is alive/dead/imagined/decayed/abused/loved.  The section comes with an epigraph from Gertrude Stein:  “There’s no such thing as being good to your wife.”  Is Stein including herself as having a wife, or excluding herself from heterosexuality?  Mullen raises a similar question.  If the killer is generated by her imagination, or for her imagination, then is she killing or being killed for? 

*

My favorite passage is the opening of the book.  “The roll of double-strength paper towels is printed with images of trees, she notices, tearing them apart as she uses sheet after sheet in the effort to swab up the mess.  With any luck, she’s thinking bitterly, well be getting burgers in Styrofoam packages stamped with palm fronds and the rapidly vanishing species of the rain forest.”  (no page number, it’s in the front matter, before the pagination starts—you can’t even count backwards to it, or it would be on page negative ten, and obviously there is no page negative ten) 

*

Emotionally engaged.  All risks pay off.  Eight stars.

*