Overwhelmed by our gadgets—smart phones, iPods, iPads—many might conclude that we are defined by them, but not Justin Marks, author of the poetry collection You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored, released last month by the local publishing imprint Barrelhouse Books. True, Marks’ many technological toys loom large in his personal landscape, but in a way that underlines the emptiness of our consumer culture, and more importantly, its inability to completely define our human relationships—its blessed failure in this regard— which elude the corporate illusion of a world of voracious consumers, because they are not based on materialistic bedazzlement, but on love. And this appears to be Marks’ paramount theme—love, not glamorous love, not the love of Hollywood romance, but the love of husband and wife, parent and child, extending through years, through lifetimes, so that the poet can remark, “Raising children is boring/Sublimely so.”
But not all in this poet’s world is joyously humdrum. “Lately I have this suspicion/everything sucks,” he writes, and that suspicion wafts through many poems. “So long economy/Hello poverty.” “A Bit of Dreaming” begins with snatches of dreams, then rolls into a melancholy, free-associative meditation, “With every word I say/to my kids I wonder how/I’m fucking them up.” This parental gloom is paired with the rather desolate news from his mother that the town he grew up in is shutting down: “the drugstore gone, the post office/the schools I attended.” America is in economic ruins, whole swaths of the country bankrupt and deserted, industrial town after industrial town. Meanwhile his childhood and his children’s childhood, evoked together, suggest the continuous loss that is the nature of time itself.
The first poetic cycle, “Voir Dire,” narrates a frame of mind, that of a 30-year-old, slightly downcast, drifty fellow living in New York City. In “On Happier Lawns,” the speaker’s personality slowly discloses itself—a 32-year-old male poet who takes Xanax, drinks wine, spends much time on the computer, while “Pink Clouds of the Apocalypse” packs zingers like “Your boyfriend wants to punch me in the face/for the sex I had with you/in a dream.” Yet all are somehow of a piece, indicating that the only way to live with mortality lies in our human connections, in humdrum, continuous love.
“If I had my life to live over/I wouldn’t,” one poem announces, and this is no mere passing, existential discontent, but something more pervasive, despite catchy poem titles like “Press Enter to Exit.” For right under such titles loom lines like, “A crop duster swoops down/tips its wings side to side/as if to say, hi/One day/we will all be dead.” The consciousness of the past, the universality of loss, and the unavoidable truth that we will all die weave their somber tints through these lines, tints that mock the happyland, the hypnotic realm of illusion into which we sink with our smartphones and laptops. The only real refuge, these poems seem to say, is love, sublimely boring love.