Tuesday Poem: Engines are the heart of trains by Lynn Jenner

Monday, 6th September, 2010

Engines are the heart of trains. Engines just keep on and on, because we need them. They may have been bought and sold, but in their own minds they are still public servants, or perhaps citizens of the former Eastern Block; distinguished by ugly colours and low expectations.

They soldier on as people do. But then, like people, sometimes they just stop. On the last working day before Christmas I was on a peak time service to Paraparaumu when it stopped in the middle of a paddock. Someone got it going again, and I never heard what happened after that.



This poem comes from Lynn Jenner's first book of poetry, Dear Sweet Harry, which is a sequence about "memory and history and what survives, what escapes and what fails to make its escape from history’s maelstrom – and how those remnants shape subsequent generations." From the notoriously grumpy Hugh Roberts who reviewed Dear Sweet Harry in the Listener (July 31-August 6 2010 Vol 224 No 3664) and who also said:

Teasing, funny, mysterious, impressionistic, utterly impossible to classify or to characterise by quotation or analogy – it is simply exhilarating to read, and I can’t wait to see what Jenner does next.

Lynn Jenner completed an MA at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters in 2008. Her collection Dear Sweet Harry won the Adam Foundation Prize for an outstanding folio in that year and was published by Auckland University Press in June. Poems from Dear Sweet Harry appear in Best New Zealand Poems 2008 and 2009. Lynn's poems have also appeared in JAAM, Takahe, Turbine and 4th Floor. This year Lynn started her Phd in creative writing at the IIML. Lynn says:


The topic description for my PhD project is "missing person behaviour". This is a summary of my search parameters. I have used the word "behaviour" to indicate that I am interested in actions. This includes actions of those who are missing and actions stimulated by someone being missing.

My plan is to write a mixed genre work made up of poetry and prose, using voices of historical and contemporary people explaining their world to tell stories. The behaviour of different genres, for example poetry and prose poetry, placed side by side, is a tension I would like to explore by writing, as well as in theory, during the PhD.

It's hard to take a piece out of the whole meta-narrative but this piece is the last fragment in the book and the line that really strikes me is: "but in their own minds they are still public servants, or perhaps citizens of the former Eastern Block" - stoic and plodding on. I also commute on the train-line Lynn describes in the final stanza and yes, they break down all the time!

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Very interesting post -- I think it can be said that trains were to the literature of their period (from Tolstoy to Larkin) what streams, rivers, waterfalls were to the Romantics before them. Trains of thought, you might say. The mind powering through memory. Where would literature be without them?