Poetry fans: You may already know John W. Marshall's face. If you haven't yet met him, say hello the next time you stop by Open Books, the city's...
by J.W. Marshall
Wood Works, 36 pp., $10
Poetry fans: You may already know John W. Marshall’s face. If you haven’t yet met him, say hello the next time you stop by Open Books, the city’s only all-poetry bookstore, owned and run by Marshall and his wife, Christine Deavel (also an accomplished poet). And while there, be sure and take a look at Marshall’s recently released book “Taken With,” elegantly hand-printed and bound in a numbered edition by Paul Hunter of Wood Works press in Greenwood. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to touch, admire, read and cherish.
“Taken With” is a long poem in 26 succinct parts that add up to an intimate first-person journey through the decline and death of the poet’s mother. As a reader, you get to tag along on their feisty trips together to the grocery store (“get me that one there and/ get me that one off of that bunch please … “) and listen in on the ominous phone call that came one day at work (“she’s not picking up John but I know she’s there”). You’re brought along to sit uncomfortably at the bedside as the nurse says “talk to her she’s on her way” and, later, feel the pressure in your chest as it sinks in: “Now she is dead all the time.”
Marshall probes for understanding in the clusters of mundane happenings that surround his sorrow: the phone calls, the frolicking dog, the delusional man who accosts him at the care facility. He knows how to tell a story without fuss, yet strums the emotional details with dirgelike repetitions of sound:
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No longer is she
my mother whose voice was
the voice in the whirlwind whose voice
was the voice of the burning bush
whose ear I’d always thought
bent to hear me.
Everybody has to go through this rite of passage at some point, and “Taken With” comforts us with that knowledge. It’s a fine piece of writing.
Sheila Farr is the visual-arts critic for The Seattle Times.