Taking Apart John Gallaher’s XXVII

John Gallaher’s autobiographical poem, In a Landscape, consists of seventy-one poems in which Gallaher lays bare his thoughts, intimate experiences, and personal life.

In his poem titled XXVII (http://pinwheeljournal.com/poets/john-gallaher/) Gallaher creates a three-stanza (in this case more like paragraphs) arc, a common tactic used throughout his prose-style poems. Early in the first paragraph, a question is posed, “Is this what thinking is like?” that acts as an inciting incident (first part of a formal narrative arc). Gallaher conjures up images of dirt and flowers, uses a cultural reference to plant the idea of “getting somewhere,” and ends the first paragraph with a question that proves that the paragraph has an arc of its own: “It’s why we’re said to come back as ghosts, right?” A simple arc: question, idea, question.

The second paragraph chooses to explore the first question regarding thinking. Gallaher hypothesizes an image: a group of people in a room, quietly thinking their own private thoughts, and he explores why that drives him crazy. The momentum is propelled halfway through with a sentence starting with and, and an “inevitable question” about the purpose of our thinking. He neatly ties ideas back in from the first stanza, probing at our idea that thinking is getting us somewhere, and that there may be a bouquet of flowers there. By the close of this paragraph, the reader is juggling, thinking, getting somewhere, and flowers.

Then, in the final paragraph, Gallaher, making sure to tie up loose ends, returns to ghosts. With brief and clear images he brings the poem into his home where ghosts are having their way, until “Halloween is over.” In the middle of this paragraph he quickens the pace with longer sentences, and lines that roll over by having one word hang on the end of a line, helping the reader “get somewhere.” His final three lines broaden the scope again to bring these “accruing” thoughts together. The reader is left with an unexpected and poignant image of Gallaher playing clarinet in high school in the second chair, wondering where their thoughts might get them.

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