Union River: A Review

When UMass Lowell honored Steve Panagiotakos last week, the former state senator in his remarks explained that the house he grew up in, the house he lives in now, and the law office he works in, are all within a few blocks of each other in Lowell. He has never regretted staying here. In fact, he said he feels blessed to be part of a “true community.” He went on:

Sometimes as human beings, we don’t appreciate what is always there for us, right in front of us like this river. We drink from it. We clean with it. We nurture our gardens with it. Every day of our lives here, we are benefiting from it. But we can drive over its bridges thousands of times in our life with very little thought about the river below or its history. But to truly appreciate where you are or where you’re going, you have to know from whence you came, from where you’ve been, from what came before you.

In his new book, “Union River: Poems and Sketches,” Paul Marion expresses many of the same sentiments. In his essay, “Cut from American Cloth,” Paul writes, “To understand America, a good place to start is where you are.” He then describes the view from the front window of his house on Highland Street, taking readers on a centuries-long journey in which we encounter Rev. John Eliot, theater impresario B.F. Keith, patent medicine king Charles I. Hood, public servant Charles Gallagher, U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas, writer Jack Kerouac, and many more – all from one window.

This is not just a book about Lowell. Paul takes us on journeys to the Carolinas to visit a sibling, through the Great Plains and the Rockies on a cross country road trip, and up and down California where he lived for a time. In that way, Union River is part travel narrative. Paul treats us to poems that use precision of language, humor, drama, and local color to connect us to places across the United States in a way that often eludes traditional narratives.

In the end, these multistate pieces bring you inescapably to the conclusion that all of us in this country are connected together. We might speak with different accents and vote for different candidates, but people in Carolina and California are connected to their communities in the same way we are to Lowell. With so much division in the United States these days, it’s important to be reminded that we are more alike than different.

This is a delightful, thought-provoking book that I recommend to everyone.

Paul Marion’s first public reading of Union River will also serve as a benefit for Public Matters, the Lowell Plan’s civic engagement program. This will take place on Wednesday, May 3, 2017, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Luna Theatre in Mill No. 5 at 250 Jackson Street. Admission is $50 and includes an autographed copy of Union River. (Payment accepted at the door but please RSVP by April 28 to Melissa[at]lowellplan.org.

For anyone unable to make the Public Matters benefit, Union River is available online from Small Press Distribution, and also from Amazon.