Tuesday, July 25, 2017




Review by Doug Holder

Paul Marion uses a Walt Whitman quote to begin his collection of poems and sketches “Union River..."The quote goes, “ The United States themselves are the greatest poem.” And like Whitman, Marion takes in everything. He listens closely to his French- Canadian relatives talk with their rapid fire “Canadian, American-Franglais French” cadence, as they sat around a table discussing old Lowell, MA., with its enclaves of “Little Canada”, and “Centraville,” its tenements, and its teeming life on the canal and the river. He remembers the marginal men and women—the people we often blind ourselves to. He notices the old, gone- to- seed buildings with their dirty layers of history and meaning. He takes in our country—the plasma night skies of the West, he mixes Balanchine with Muddy Waters; he paints it all with his artful choice of words.

Marion is a native of Lowell, MA. He has written extensively about the city, and has been active in its development. He is the author of a number of collections and books, and he edited “Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings by Jack Kerouac." Marion feels Lowell is as good as place as any to understand America. In his essay from the collection, “Cut from American Cloth” he writes of the city—once know for its manufacturing of textiles, as a place that produced the “stuff of America itself; ideas and merchandise, entrepreneurs and generals, politicians and artists, religious leaders and labor champions... and a multitude of citizens from immigrants, refugees, and migrants who crowded its streets.” Of the many interesting points that Marion makes, and of particular interest to me (since my late father was an advertising man of Mad Men vintage) was the role of Lowell in shaping advertising through its patent medicine industry. 

Marion points out that pill making and bottling plants were combining with on-line printing shops. J.C. Ayer & Company published promotional material, and according to Marion the company published the “ American Almanac” that had a print run in the millions. In fact when we order a “tonic” today— that dates back to a time when a hit of Sarsaparilla could cure what ails you.

There is an ample supply of poetry in this collection. The poetry for the most part is straight forward, evocative, non-experimental—full of imagery and “things” that make it often quite delectable.

One of a number of poems that stood out for me was “Steel Rain.” This poem depicts a scene right from a nocturnal Lowell, where the mills, the canal, are transformed into a painting of dark beauty:

 One a long street
By the black canal
There's a man alone
At the railing, counting
The leaves in the flow,
Watching a slice of moon
Above housing blocks
Drenched by a shower,
The roofs all washed and
Soaked by steel rain.

Marion gets the expansiveness, the inclusiveness, the diversity, the eclecticism, and the influence of our country, and he encapsulates it in this poem that combine the art of the blues singer Muddy Waters, with the highbrow Russian ballet master, George Balanchine. Here is an excerpt from the poem “Mississippi Delta Blues, Ballets Russes,” where America, its art and culture, shows its face in even the most far flung places,

America's all over the map, its mix a staple crop.
Muddy Waters pirouettes on steam guitar, spreads the blues on canvas.
He's a rolling stone on the bayou, a boatman on the Volga.
There is a French Quarter balalaika, there's a jazz master in Red Square
There's a George Balanchine in a golden cowboy suit.

Marion's book of poetry will make you take a harder look at your own city, the landscape, the ghost tenements, the people—and you will perhaps rediscover America yet again.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Three Prominent Irish Poets: Duff, Daly, Rooney to Read at Seamus Heaney Memorial Reading--Aug 30

( Click on pic to enlarge)  Hasting Room Series-- First Congregationalist Church  11 Garden Street--near Harvard Square  7PM