Justin Marks

You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored


reviewed by Tony Mancus

I can’t type the year without thinking we live in the future and the cover of this book is part in parcel of that future, which is now. Justin Marks’s second full-length collection, You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored is the first book of poems out from Barrelhouse. And it seems to fit right in line with the aesthetic they’ve established – possessing a sort of biting, culturally astute humor that’s very self-aware. The poems perform as though they are not going to try and break your brain or heart yet somehow they manage to do that as you’re pulled through the book.

The title is printed on the cover in a very computer-y sans-serif font set above the image of a low battery icon. All of this appears on a black background with a thin rounded frame in warning orange. It all resembles a high contrast screen view on a tablet or iPhone, given the rounded edges. The combination of the title, image, and color scheme set a definite the tone for the book.

There is a steady humming low-energy source here, and when it finally goes dark it will leave us all alone with ourselves. We are not going to receive pyrotechnics from this book, just the low light of a phone running out of juice in the dark. In fact, I don’t know what pyrotechnics in poetry would look like, or what Justin Marks dealing with explosions would look like either. No, no, wait. Justin Marks would likely be played by the kid with the matches in “We Will Continue to Self-Censure” who says: Matches are dangerous. And the pyrotechnics would likely show themselves in the slips and turns he’s built for us to glide through in the poems housed here.

Elisa Gabbert in her micro-review of On Happier Lawns (the second section of this book which had been released as a chapbook by Poor Claudia in 2011) calls some of what Marks does “man poetry.” This term isn’t meant to be limiting, but to describe a very straightforward subject-verb-object style, driven by an “I”. And this definitely exists, threaded throughout the meat of this book (pun maybe grossly intended here). In fact, the opening poem in the book establishes itself within this style and harkens back to the longstanding tradition of men standing in their windows observing nature. In this poem though, the setting is New York and the element of nature, a horse, immediately disappears. It’s only a distant sound that has passed and then the speaker states that all promises have been broken – the promise of the city, the promise of nature, as well as the promise of the poetry of men who look out of windows – that’s all broken. It is from this position we begin.

Gabbert also goes on to say that Marks writes lines that resonate, some of which have stuck with her for years. For me, though I’ve not been with this book for years, this assessment resonates with lines like, “the self is a copy to sell The concept | and the form | A bladder completely emptied | into a beautiful urinal” and “My greatest motivation | is fear of my children | dying”

What I find really engaging with these poems is that Marks can somehow manage to be direct and deflecting at the same time. He builds line by line into a space that doesn’t let me get to where I wanted, but that was often much better than where I had expected he was going in the first place. I really admire Marks’s capacity for using language that is direct. One complaint is that there are moments where this feels a bit too bare – that the effort to strip things down to pull away from artifice has stripped away a good portion of the art, but that may work for other readers. I think the poems are strongest when the speaker is being frank, but where that frankness is slightly deceptive.

There are two moments that work to expressly illuminate the artifice that lies at the heart of the “I” here. The first appears on the second page of “Voir Dire” – which badly translates into “To see say” and also refers to the oath jurors take to tell the truth – where the speaker states, “I’ve always been swayed | by the belief that the maker | should not be able to see | himself in his art. I see | nothing but myself.” And later, in the final section “They’re There” – which seems to point at us as readers being in existence as an audience as well as the homonymic play toward the palliative phrase offered to wounded children, possibly creating a weird patriarchal relationship between “author” and “audience” – when the speaker states, “I could handle anything, | any tragedy that might befall me | if I could be its narrator | The creator |Such and so who has left | the conversation”

The narrator here appears as both god and absence; the speaker in these poems seems to be wholly sincere throughout and that fabrication is what makes the artifice in this book so productive and telling. The list of references at the end of the book would make you suspect that much, if not all, of the content referenced throughout the book comes from the man who lives at the center of this book’s surroundings. A city that creates and trods on dreams. It seems completely bare and honest and yet it’s that ‘seeming’ that is the trick. Marks is able to speak through the poems in a way that works to eschew the crafted and crafty nature of his language, only to club us over the head with the things some of us think we want from poetry – love, a person to miss us, friends, sweet and sour memories, a family, the apocalypse, ourselves in someone else’s mouth – all of which may or may not be the stuff of our lives already and all of which is exhausting and filtered through a voice that is both approachable and off-putting.