Review: “PowerPoint Eulogy” by Mark Wilson

Zoë Wells

With offices opening up and the end of the Work-From-Home year in sight, there might never have been a more relevant book to read than PowerPoint Eulogy, one of Fly on the Wall Press’s latest publications in its “Shorts” series, and artist Mark Wilson’s first poetry pamphlet. Then again, there might never have been a worse time to read it. It is a perfect reminder of everything we left behind in the four walls of the office: the strange darkness and banal evil that’s been stewing, waiting for our return.

I finished it a month ago, and I haven’t been able to write a single, corporate nonsense email since without feeling like I’m being kicked in the gut. It’s just that good. Consider yourself both warned of and whole-heartedly recommended this book.

PowerPoint Eulogy is a poetry collection that opens with a piece of prose. The single page story forms an introduction to the rest of the collection, as well as a much-needed explanation and preparation for what we’re about to witness. It explains that we are in an office, with a group of employees surrounding the eponymous PowerPoint eulogy. “Three hours have been allotted to mourn the death of someone they [the employees] had all grown to tolerate over the years. Three hours of corporate jargon and indiscernible platitudes to celebrate the life of a seventy-year-old man who no one really knew well. (…) His pathetic life has been distilled into a hastily-made PowerPoint presentation, complete with outdated animations.”

The man is Bill Motluck. And so the scene is set: dour, depressing, but also has that kind of so-grim-you-have-to-laugh-but-mostly-out-of-awkwardness quality to it, like watching The Office, or going on a date with someone who is really into The Office.

Motluck was a strange, slightly off-kilter little man, and the rest of the collection pans out as a series of vignettes in verse, each one titled as a different “Slide” in this presentation. Some discuss Bill; many cover his coworkers, each their own miserable, familiar tableau. “Slide 11” covers a woman who “would often come into work drunk / On those days, she thought the blinking cursor / On her computer / Was her dead mom trying to talk to her”. Or “Slide 25”, which covers a woman who “would leave notes on top of everything”, with reminders that range from the familiar (speak quietly) to the deranged (cry quietly).

“To wait your turn at the printer
To speak with inside voices only
To quit at everything you’ve ever tried
To use the designated toaster fork when prying bagels loose
To keep crying to a minimum, where possible”

“Slide 25”, Mark Wilson

But over the course of the collection we start to form an idea of what the character of Bill Motluck might have been like while he was alive. Painting a portrait of Motluck through the way he interacted with others, affected them, or just seemed to exist, painfully, in the periphery of everyone else’s lives, is a fantastic way of building a narrative. Because by the end, Motluck feels like someone you know, but not really – just vaguely. You’d talk about him the same way you talk about 90% of your coworkers. You can remember the key moments, like when he “shit himself again”, or a strange incident where he brought someone else’s child into work for a day, but because we don’t really get to sit in his eyes, he is always just a reflection. You never really got him, but I guess, well, he was there.

Reading PowerPoint Eulogy left me stumped as to who to compare Wilson’s debut with. I can say, in complete honesty, that I’ve never read a poetry collection like it, though expand your horizons to prose and there’s a lot of common ground with the work of Alasdair Gray or Muriel Spark, particularly Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye. It’s that kind of dark, sardonic, political humour that’s actually dark and sardonic, instead of grotesque or offensive and using the cover of darkness to avoid criticism. And to achieve this in poetry – a form notoriously hard to be funny in, and if you doubt me I challenge you to name five funny poets without using Google – is an achievement that should not be understated.

Wilson has perfectly captured the office humdrum. PowerPoint Eulogy is one of the most deeply awful stories I’ve ever read, in the absolute best way possible: enjoyable to read, funny, brilliantly written, and yet terrifyingly relatable and miserable. If you’re excited to be going back to the office soon, pick up PowerPoint Eulogy and remember exactly what it is you’ve left behind. Or maybe just leave a copy on the desk of that one slightly weird co-worker, the one who microwaves fish, gives you shoulder massages, stares at you during meetings. You know the one.

PowerPoint Eulogy is published by Fly on the Wall Press, available now:

About the Contributor

Zoë Wells (she/her) is a Swiss-British writer and poet based in the UK. She is currently studying towards an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester, having previously received her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Warwick. She is working on a debut historical fiction novel, alongside a poetry pamphlet, and has had her short fiction and nonfiction published in a number of magazines. Find her on twitter at @zwells_writes or visit her website.

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