Saturday, February 22, 2014


Being laid up with a pulled back, as they say, has given me the opportunity to catch up on a lot of reading. I have stacks of books on my night table (divided into three piles: the smallest being fiction, the tallest nonfiction prose, and in the middle poetry). Most that have been sent to me by authors or publishers or friends.

I don't have a photo for the cover of John Clarke's TRAIN STORIES, because it isn't on Google and my back is too bad to try and use my copy machine etc. I can only type a bit at a time and not much, but this little book doesn't demand much. It's printed by the author, or published by the author I should say, and is a small selection of stories about John's riding the rails for a while when he was younger.

There's only a few collected here but since the last one is TRAIN STORY #49, I'm assuming there's a much larger manuscript they came from. If so, I would love to see that published and available to readers everywhere someday. Because this little book is a gem. The writing is pure pleasure, as Clarke simply describes, but perfectly, what it was like when he decided with his friend, another John, to hop freight trains and then did it, to experience the romance and challenges and fears and excitement and etc. of that old practice that so many songs and stories and novels and movies have portrayed.

None quite like John Clarke's version though. It's humble, which means realistic, but also bright and precise and inviting. These TRAIN STORIES were a delight to read, and moments, images, realizations from them will stay with me forever. What more can you ask of art?

Here's a sample of what's so good about this little book, it's John's reaction to his father's fears and warnings and worries and admonishments about John's decision to take this trip with his friend, catching rides on freight trains:

"In my mind, I was already gone. I felt sad and strong. I wanted him to say, 'have a good trip John, be careful, be great, I know you are, tell me when you get back what you found, tell me really why you're going, I want to know,' but, that's something inside of me, not him."

[PS: John Clarke is the lead singer and songwriter in a band with my oldest son Miles, BELL ENGINE.
PPS: The best thing I found on the web about John and his TRAIN STORIES (and other art) is here.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,
I can't tell you how thrilling it was to hear from Miles that you'd read and written about one of my small collections of train stories. You were right in assuming they come from a longer manuscript… over sixty STORIES in total, recounting a twenty day trip back in the summer of 2000, the first of many for me. I made fifteen or so books a little over a year ago for friends, xmas presents, printed at home and bound with staples and spray mount, each with four or five stories, the stories chosen with the recipient in mind.
Your appreciation of both the writing and the trip itself touched me. And encourages me. Thanks, man. Thanks.
I hope you're feeling better, up again and mobile. See you soon.

Lally said...

thanks John, my pleasure...and yes I am mobile again pretty much...