"Pitiless Trains"

Brief remarks at the launch of John Marcus Powell's book of poems Veil On, Veil Off (Exot Books) at Suite Bar, NY, NY, on Feb 10, 2019:

I relate to John Marcus Powell's poetry in many ways. We are both flaneurs, and we love to walk through the city and allow the city to walk through us. We are also queer, and so share a history that is far longer than the 10 years that we've known each other. And we are both immigrants to the great city of New York, and so we look back at our homes with an eye that is loving but not blind, that is critical but not cynical. I will read you one of his poems about his native Wales, and then I will say a few words about it. 



"River" is unusual in John Marcus's poetry; it is rather more objective than subjective. In his other poems about home, he inserts himself either as the vulnerable but self-aware child that he was or as the knowing, playful voice of adult experience. In "River" John Marcus dials down his mesmerizing personality in order to focus squarely on a family, a boy celebrating his fifteenth birthday, the boy's mother, sister, and brother-in-law. John Marcus particularizes the boy by describing him at that stage of puberty, "which knows/ railway bridges across rivers/ dream of being made love to by pitiless trains." What a marvelous comparison. How true and evocative. When the boy dies by drowning, it is, however, not only the boy we mourn, but all the deaths that came in the peace after the war. The death of heroism killed by bureaucratic efficiency. The loss of privacy due to an emphasis on community. The disappearance of compassion when business carries on as usual. The poem generalizes from a very particular death to speak of huge social losses, and it does so with such an easy naturalness that marks it as a masterly work of art.

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