You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored by Justin Marks
Barrelhouse Books, February 2014
71 pages / Barrelhouse
The typeface in which You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored is set seems to be a suspicious hybrid of Cambria and Times New Roman. It is frightening how much this frightens me—long enough to keep me from reading any of the book for a couple weeks after I got it in the mail.
Then again, I wanted the thing for its cover, which on the astral plane must be somehow connected to Ikea’s new bookbook commercial. That a simple low-battery symbol printed on paper can cause the kind of anxiety it does in me is a testament to simple, visonary design.
That’s just where the poetry starts. FYI.
A 6-page poem starts this thing out. “Voir Dire.” At first, I’m hesitant. The poem does the thing where it switches narrative strands rapidly, like a tic. You know what I mean:
Amusement park rides,
even children’s corkscrew
make me nauseous.
Mothers yell at their children
and their children cry.
The limits of my linear mind.
I sometimes believe everything
I’ll ever do or say
is already inside
I worry that I’ve seen this before, and I worry that it’s a trick, an easy way to make poetry cool, by canny juxtapositions that carefully avoid cohering into the kind of cogent narrative that could be reacted against.
But me being an asshole about it doesn’t last long. Because I like this. It is friendly poetry. It speaks to the reader. It doesn’t try to confuse. It does its best to lay bare truths in plain language. It is vulnerable.
Vulnerability is the opposite of a trick.
Let me refine: Marks’ poetry is friendly even in abstraction, even with less-grounded language. If he says,
circuits Ancient conjurings and obscure
geometries Screens so lovely
If I have a true self it is you
it is in openness, as if his dream were laid bare to us. I recently gave up on a book called Apprehend that I’ve had on my proverbial nightstand for over a year. I couldn’t read it, though I tried five or six times. It felt like the poet was stiff-arming me, trying with all her might to keep me at a distance—hiding.
Justin Marks is not hiding.
“On Happier Lawns,” the second section, consists of 19 sonnets (well, they’re 14 lines at least) counted off by Roman numerals. For me, the poems work as vehicles for the interesting phrase, the canny one-liner. If you’re me, you read openly until you come upon a line that resounds, spiking your attention: “ontological bowling” (II); “My inner strength / is my money” (VII); the delight of coming upon the title of the book in the last line of XI; “The ring is a hole I slide / my finger through” (XII); “The difficulty of being a ‘person’ / is ‘sincerity’” (XV); “The menstruating sky” (XVII).
The poems are compilations of these sorts of phrases, rhythmically organized, with three-space breaks instead of punctuation to separate them.
I am still learning how to read poems like these.
“I want to write a poem where I drop all pretense and simply talk as straightforward as I can,” the two-pager “Naïve Melody” begins. It occurs to me: maybe the use of the slightly-too-large, unsettlingly default-looking font is an intentional component of the book’s aesthetic. A sort of laying bare, as opposed to the close-to-the-chest, spectacled design of many books of poetry.
Corroborating evidence includes the blurb from Wayne Coyne (of The Flaming Lips!): “Justin Marks has a problem. He’s a poet who hates poetry, which is good for us. You see, we want lies. That’s where the art is.”
“Pink Clouds of the Apocalypse,” a.k.a. section four, has the strange effect of helping me to understand the earlier sonnets. Marks’ “Clouds” share an aesthetic sensibility with “On Happier Lawns,” with the simple exception that each of the later poems is longer. Still it’s amazing what a difference this makes: where fourteen lines can connect apparently disparate phrases into a sort of aesthetic unity, anything upwards of that becomes difficult to bind psychologically, to see as a poem, and so they have to be read as what I would call “swathes”—navigated, instead of read. I did a lot of back and forth on these, stopping and starting and backing up and starting again, rereading lines different ways, skipping others. Like I said, I’m still learning to read poems like these.
Yet they are still friendly. At the very end of the section, you get these seven wonderful lines:
To all my ex-girlfriends I just want to say, isn’t it weird
we ever fucked What I mean is
what the words mean
Inappropriate touches and silly
sentimentality Pink clouds
of the apocalypse A battened down light Night-night
on the night-night
The lines come together to weave a rich picture of nostalgia combined with regret, which I am starting to think might be the only adequate way to think about the past. We can identify. Each phrase is a piece of a collage being assembled in our mind’s eye. Here, the picture comes together beautifully.
Section five, “Interruption is the Rhythm”: diverse poems, different formats, and a quote from Wayne Coyne (!!) transcribed from a press release about the Flaming Lips’ album The Terror in 2013:
But the terror is that without love, life goes on. We go on.
No in-text attribution, though. Only a note in the very back that “Poems in this book appropriate material from” no fewer than 57 listed sources. Which makes you wonder: maybe the poems’ frequent pastiche-like form is a pastiche, not only of Marks’ words, but of others’.
Then again, maybe all writing is only that.
If there’s a takeaway from You’re Going to Miss Me, it’s something like what Justin Marks says in his “why should I read YOUR book?” piece on HTMLGIANT:
It’s about trying to be a grown up and how much that fucking sucks. It’s about choosing a life and then having to actually live it (auto correct tried to change “live” to “love”). It’s about making decisions and having to live with them, which also fucking sucks.
It’s about disillusionment. Chasing a narrative. Not catching it. Trying to be funny (and being funny) in a landscape of dark, sometimes insipid words and thoughts. Doing your best. Trying to be honest when it’s close to impossible.
Which may be why in “They’re There,” the last section of the book, a long poem without even asterisks to divide each portion from the next, page 63 got me:
I used to think the way I dressed
Now it’s just the way I dress.
I tell my shrink I feel old
——–and about my alcoholic friend
——–to shoot his wife.
——–Give him a hundred dollars.
——–Call it a night.
This is the friendliness (colloquial speech, short words, this is for us to hear), the form (the rhythm! ah!), and the sadness (mixed with a humor that pulls us back from the edge) all together. “They’re There” is my favorite poem in the collection. It also has “confused robots and crying dinosaurs.” It has “A person in the perfect / disguise of a person.” It has a bird shitting on the speaker’s head (“you can see / how fucked I am”), and it has “The loneliness is unbearable.”
Justin Marks is not hiding.
I want to read more poetry with a heart like this. Big and warm and frightened and open. Hopeful and pessimistic. Alive.