Book - A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent

Susan Omand goes exploring countries that do not exist as she reads the poetry collection A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent by Gregory Mahrer...

A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent charts a territory built of speculative histories, indeterminate landscapes, and mock narratives, all of them at the threshold linking exterior and interior worlds. Their logic is highly grammatical and slyly confounding, perfectly clear and drawn from dream. It is here, "between / what is occluded and what has elapsed," that Mahrer's ambiguous, disordered subjects begin their journeys.

After a long and stressful day I quite often relax the mind with the gentle rhythm of poetry. Last night was no different but, rather than falling into the warm embrace of well known stanzas, I felt I wanted to try something new and happened across a pre-release review copy on Netgalley of A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent by Gregory Mahrer.  This poet and his work weren’t familiar to me but I was intrigued by the title, the cover and the concept, so I gave it a go, not knowing quite what to expect.

What I got was a poetry collection in three sections, each section preceded by an abstract artwork in black and white that somehow manages to set the tone and engage the brain to deal with the wonderful imagery, this time in words, that awaits. I say this because these poems are not quick and simple to read so you do need to concentrate on them but if you love words and the creative and surprising use that they can be put to, you will enjoy these poems. The language is complex, requiring a good vocabulary, and the description is challenging but very rich and highly rewarding, especially if read out loud (even if it’s in your head). To give you a couple of my favourite examples:

With every collapsed perpendicular the fettered world
Grows more fragile, an accretion of woollen weather and yellow boots


The air must have been thick with insects and smoke:
neither breathable nor nameable, a series
of black guesses that enters the lungs.

It’s not only the words themselves but the physical layout on the pages that serve to make you consider the poetry. Red City and Whiteout are two such works that almost dot the words around the page, in a similar way to blackout poetry if you know the style, making you search in the gaps and read it in a totally different way than if they were word after word, line after line. This staccato effect, especially in Whiteout, made it sound like fragments of conversations heard in passing as you walked through that street in a snowstorm.

It certainly lives up to its title too as travel we did, from hot sand to deep snow, through streets of unknown cities, fields and forests to great tracts of ocean and the thoughts and words of the traveller that accompanies you, every poem different from the last as you explore the Lost Continent and, in some ways, yourself.

As a final note, if you’re not in the humour for heavy academic interpretation of the poems, ignore the Foreword by John Yau as it manages to look indepth at the language used without bringing anything at all to the poetry itself. But that is one small niggle among a collection of works that I am very glad to have stumbled across and I will travel back through this Provisional Map of the Lost Continent again and maybe lose myself along the way.

Image and synopsis - Netgalley

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