temporarily moving in the same direction

Nov 5, 2020 poetry appreciation

I love being on trains; or I did, BC. Like everyone else in the world I’ve crossed out many trips and treats from my diary over the last 8 months, and it seems such a long time since I enjoyed that licence-to-drift which train travel affords. So I was delighted to discover ‘Poem for Passengers‘ by Matthew Zapruder. It really captures the experience for me. See what you think.

The poem has an interesting mix of things going on. There’s the accurate and perhaps very gently mocking observation of stuff we do in trains: avoiding looking at each other, fiddling with and getting frustrated by our phones, gazing vacantly, reading trash. And then there’s also this vaguer, more poetic sense of dreaming and yearning, this deep if not necessarily conscious engagement with the ‘problems so great they cannot be named’. I find it very beautiful to think we are ‘sharing without knowing the same dream’—something reassuring in the image’s suggestion of the connections and similarities between us which persist beneath, or inside, all difference. And I love the reminder that remembering these things often comes out of surrender, of stopping being (or feeling) responsible—of letting go, handing over.

I love, too, that image of the ‘analog silence’. The word of course calls to mind its opposite, digital; but in place of the brutal, distinct delineations and separations of the digital it offers the “old-fashioned” flow, connection and continuity of analogue. It has connotations of continuous change, of variation and comparison, of relatedness, which I find uplifting and moving. Such a relief. Think of the sigh with which, having found your carriage, you can sink into your seat and relax (if, of course, it’s all going reasonably smoothly and you don’t have to remove the previous occupant’s food wrappers and empty tinnies, endure the relayed over-sharing of the DJ manqué train driver, or indeed perch on the litter bin in the carriage vestibule…). At their “let the train take the strain” best, train journeys allow a handing-over of responsibility which frees us, taking us outside of time (the digital) and into the (analogue) flow of deeper self and dreams, the ‘compartment inside us’. What a lovely lovely image.

‘Poem for Passengers’ manages to conjure not just the specifics of a train journey but also the effect of it, the meaning of it, the gifts we can receive when we have this experience of ‘temporarily… moving in the same direction’. May we all have the chance to take such journeys sooner than we think; but until then, thank you Matthew Zapruder for this poem. Such a good reminder.

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