Jul 2, 2014

You're Going To Miss Me When You're Bored by Justin Marks (BarrelhouseBooks, 2014)

For many of us, we did what we thought was best: got an education, got a job, started a family, and bought a house. But what many of us discovered is that our identities were pulverized in the process.  Between its title, You’re Going To Miss Me When You’re Bored, and the book cover that shows a tiny amount of battery life remaining on a cellphone, one gets the impression that poet Justin Marks is (like most of us) a bit exhausted. Both the title and the book design are charming and both acknowledge what busy fucking people we are – including those of us with a family and who work full-time, a demographic this book is a strange homage to. In a country that sees boredom as a disease, one wonders if the person addressed in the book’s title will ever find the downtime to miss the poet.

One senses that the speaker, who appears to work in front of a computer all day, spends most of his time craving genuine connections with the world but that the world rarely gives in. The difference between the young and the old is that the young still think it’s the world’s burden to change rather than theirs.  But as you get older, one strikes a bargain with modernity and learns to shrink the scope of their expectations, and each poem feels like the ruthless negotiations of that contract. This compromise is never done lightly and it would be a mistake to see the poems as portraits of giving up. On the contrary, it’s sort of brave to accept that the world cannot meet your deepest needs and write into that void with such candor. Besides, Marks's poems seem less disturbed by this actual deficit and more by its depth and ubiquity.

Marks’s speaker examines the spectacle of everyday loneliness and chips away at the rock of artifice he's chained to. And he does this with great humility and determination. Some might find the poems lacking in ambition and contain what Donald Hall called long ago “genuine modesty”, but in fact there’s nothing modest about Marks's humility because it’s born from a hard-wired (and therefore inescapable) yearning for honesty.  When Marks writes “I want to write a poem where I drop all pretense and simply talk/as straightforward as I can” it’s because he’s fed up with trying to eek meaning out of a society that seems designed to be meaningless, or trivializes meaning with the blitzkrieg of glitter. Later in the poem, he recollects that

When I was five I was almost hit by a truck while crossing
the street on my bike

but something told me to keep pedaling, hard,
a voice, I guess,
                though it sounded an awful lot
                                like mine.

Which almost makes me believe something or someone is
looking out for me. Or was.

                Most of my friends
                                are getting divorced.

My cat wakes me every morning at 4 by hooking her claw into
my nostril to let me know she wants to eat.

Religious and spiritual people say that reality is just an illusion
and I can get with that, but who’s to say there’s anything better.

In just a few lines we see the movement from the enchanted to the disenchanted and one senses throughout You’re Going To Miss Me When You’re Bored that Marks doesn't need a full-on reinstatement of magic in his personal and professional life, but a little would be nice, and it reveals an interesting conundrum most human beings struggle with: the longing for something more than this, a feeling Marks captures with this amazing line: “I’m bored with the truth”. This simple claim also yanks us back to the title - the concept of boredom - and one can’t help but wonder if the “you” in the title is Marks talking to himself.

YGTMMWYB has given me hours of reading pleasure and I take the book places to puncture whatever illusion happens to be seducing me at the time.  Amicable, funny, disturbing, and wise, Justin Marks is a poet who is "A person in perfect/disguise of a person." Like all of us.

-John Ebersole

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