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Distributed for Omnidawn Publishing, Inc.

Train Music

Writing / Pictures

A poet and a book artist take a train across the United States, creating and conversing along the way. 

Late in the fall of 2017, poet C. S. Giscombe and book artist Judith Margolis boarded an Amtrak train in New York City and, four days later, stepped off another train at the edge of San Francisco Bay. Giscombe was returning home to California to address an all-white audience on the problem of white supremacy, and expatriate Margolis, accustomed to a somewhat solitary existence, was visiting the United States and making collages. Traveling together, they each turned their train quarters into writing and drawing “studios” where they engaged in conversations and arguments and shared experiences of the discomforts and failures of recent times.  

Their original intention had been to travel west and document, in journals and sketchpads, the complex, charged American landscape, but as the trip progressed—and in the months afterwards—the project took on a new shape. Train Music, the book that resulted, recollects and explores the century’s racial and gendered conflicts—sometimes sensually, sometimes in stark images, sometimes in a “mixed economy” of poetry and prose.

80 pages | 13 color plates, 12 halftones | 6 x 9


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“Giscombe and Margolis compose their travelogue in the present-absence of tender doubt. ‘Power’s always locatable on the other side of the mountain, distant,’ but Giscombe activates the line and the sequence to articulate poems that range far while simultaneously enfolding near. Margolis answers with sketches that are always more than their figures, because the seen bring their own annotations to their rendering. See that, the artist says. Hear that, the poet says. But they know the trains come and go like italics on the says.”

Farid Matuk, author of The Real Horse

“Reading Train Music, the collaboration between the African-American poet Giscombe and the Jewish-American artist Margolis, I find myself swaying in tune with the train on the curving irregular tracks. The book is an account of the friends’ four-day journey from New York to San Francisco. While Giscombe evokes cultural and personal history in the passing geography, Margolis wrestles a moody insomnia with layered collages and drawings of the very landscape that Giscombe catalogs. The divergent responses of the poet and the artist to their shared experience create a tantalizing and graphic mix of poetry, image, and prose but what feeds the creative explorations of both Giscombe and Margolis is their unknowing. Discovery is deferred and the book flows forward.”

Gilah Yelin Hirsch, California State University, Domingues Hills

“In Train Music, Giscombe’s narrative disjunctions and Margolis’ figurative abstractions crisscross at a roundhouse (‘I’m not a white girl, you said,’ ‘How do I get away with it, you wanted to know’) as they cut yard, heading West. For Giscombe, on his way to either ‘shake things up’ or ‘furnish comfortable words’ for a white audience about to hear his lecture on white supremacy, the ironies are hardly unique. Margolis’ moody, dark drawings evade easy definition by swaying back and forth, from depictions of a woman asleep in a bed and a woman wearing a house as her head to women standing on the roof of a house (upright coffin, empty coffer). Her vertical spirituality (the moon is one of her motifs) serves as counterweight to Giscombe’s horizontal zig-zag agnosticism, laying low like the Greenland shark that ‘runs those seminars/ way down under that ice,/ unconsumable/ maybe/ alive a thousand years/ down there.’ Train Music celebrates the survival of two artists selected by two histories for extermination. Together though, Giscombe and Margolis dance to the singing wheels of their cross-country trains, ‘A foot in one car, / a foot in another, passing from one to the next one.’”

Tyrone Williams, author of As iZ

 “Hauntingly exquisite and powerfully prescient, Margolis and Giscombe’s, collaborative, Train Music is a tour de force of diasporic poetics. Between destinations, and dreams, desire and displacement, it both literally and figuratively dances through an interwoven collage of identity, history and culture, celebrating the exilic performativity of being.”

Adeena Karasick, author of Checking in

“A Jewish woman and a Black man, long time friends (but not lovers). Children of the 60’s. Self-sustaining adults in the real world. Collaborators. What can they make together that they can’t do alone? Dreams and nightmares. Asking questions and shaking things up. Two travelers on a journey of friendship looking for creative sparks. Art and life, life and art. Crossing America, awake and asleep. Waking dreams and sleeping dreams. Keen mental observation combined with intuition. Giscombe’s poetry is like a map, with references worth investigating. Follow the cues. Maps of the heart, maps of the mind, marking time. Margolis’ artwork is a perfect counter point to the writing. Dream like and rich in color and emotion, giving you clues and a tone, but leaving much to fill in from your own imagination and experiences. This book is all about Train Music. The devil may care or not, but not all sharks are alike.”

Victor Raphael, artist

"Train Music is a venturesome alliance of poetry with artwork, each moving the other onward. The poems are filled with vibrancy and momentum, the pictures with heart and solicitude – together they make train music."

Mary Felstiner, author of To Paint A Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era

"In this radiant collaboration—C. S. Giscombe’s explorations of various possible paths through poetry and identity, Judith Margolis’ deft drawings and collages—Train Music traces the travel and friendship of the alternately colored, Negro, cold-water Negro poet Giscombe and the artist Margolis ('raised amidst Yiddish endearments') across the land by rail, tunneling through histories by word and image. 'Poetry’s fightin’ words' that train the reader for navigating in 'the unsounded ocean in that gasp that is life.' This collection invites us right on board."

Tonya M. Foster, author of A Swarm of Bees in High Court

"Train Music is a guide, not only a poem. It is a song, a journal, a biography, and a graphic score. Like a map, its words and drawings trace the journey of two friends crossing the US: C.S.Giscombe’s words are verbal images, while Judith Margolis’s collages and drawings playfully morph into text, prose and verse alike. Each of the two parts accompany the other, while contrasting the dynamic conversation between a black American and a Jewish American voice. . . . Take this ride. It’s worth it."

Luisa Muhr, interdisciplinary performer, founding director of Women Between the Arts

"It’s the long train ride from New York City to San Francisco—two friends with notebooks, sketch pads, questions, speculations, conversations about poetry wars, race, family and place—four days and nights with eyes and ears open to create a sound track—a kind of railroad music as accompaniment to the vast American landscape that crawls or flashes by. . . . But this is just a hint of the complexity and overall context of this wonderful book."

Barry McKinnon, author of The Centre

"Train Music is an inspiring synthesis of words and visual images. Friends, African American poet C. S. Giscombe and Jewish American artist Judith Margolis, have seized upon their fascination with train travel in order to create a narrative that is both deeply felt and almost metaphysical in scope. . . . For the poet, trains are redolent with history—they call up the physical construction of the railroads, the Great Migration, and Jim Crow and its aftermath. Meanwhile, Margolis’s drawings, paintings, and collages evoke a different story, paralleling the poem, but not in illustration of it. Her diaristic, and richly colorful artworks depict a mysterious female dreamer as an alternate point of reference for her audience. Taken together, Train Music anchors readers to the specificities of everyday life, but then frees them to fly amidst the percussive meditative sound of the rails."

Joel Silverstein, artist, co-founder of Jewish Art Salon

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