A debut book of poetry that celebrates one of the oldest, most venerable forms of mass transit.
Two admirable urges drive Newcomb’s new collection of train poems. The first is the author’s sense that Americans have left their vast continent unexplored; they rush off to Europe and the Caribbean without realizing that a treasure trove awaits right off the nearest rail line. Therefore, much of his verse celebrates the beauties of the landscape he sees on his own numerous rail trips. “Montana Daybreak” presents that state’s “highest hills…aglow with light. / Herons continue to sleep in the trees by a marsh / And coyotes search for prey by the smell, / Unafraid of men.” A later poem, “Mountain Winter above Stevens Pass,” gives a glimpse of one of Washington state’s gems: “Skyline Lake, frozen deader than a doornail, / Has cleared the sky of trees. / Somewhere underneath the buried, silent ice, / Hibernating frogs and cold sluggish fish EXIST.” In his nature poetry, Newcomb resembles the poet Gary Snyder, who mixes unpretentiousness with a keen attention to detail in his own celebrations of the Pacific Northwest. The second force animating Newcomb’s verse is his desire to encourage others to shift toward more sustainable forms of transportation. (The poet is also an accredited greenhouse-gas analyst.) In other words, he seems deeply aware of the fact that train travel will help people protect the natural wonders they see on their journeys. Thus, a sense of ecological responsibility anchors poems such as “Thoreau on Wildness,” which opens with Henry David Thoreau’s famous reminder, from his essay “Walking,” that “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” As that poem wraps up, Newcomb writes, “Thoreau hoped that we might have the capacity / To appreciate wildness / And to feel the connection between ourselves and nature, / But he knew from his travels / That men will change or eradicate wildness.” Train travel, the author hopes, will help us appreciate more and eradicate less.
Provocative verse set to the rhythm of the tracks.