Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mystical Places?

Recently, the Guardian (UK) published an article about the homes of a dozen famous authors and indicated that such destinations would be appropriate for writerly pilgrimages. It’s an interesting idea, one I had considered myself in the past.

But the older I get, the less mystical I find these places in and of themselves. So, Virginia Woolf lived here? That’s great, but a house is only a building to people who have never inhabited that space. Maybe the solution is to take a cue from places like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and turn these structures into something less monumental and more instructive. Get people interpreting for visitors as they do at the Walt Whitman Birthplace. Have historical reenactors on hand à la Greenfield Village.

It’s not enough to put a picture of someone on the wall and claim it’s a sacred place. Explain to me why this location holds power. Because if you don’t, I’m simply standing there looking at a time capsule with no notes to impart the importance of the place upon me, and as someone who’s looking for answers, I need more than an old typewriter and a childhood portrait. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Three Things About Gods in the Wilderness

Kamy Wicoff, the founder of SheWrites, recommends that authors tell their potential readers three things about their book: 1) What is it about? 2) What was your inspiration? 3) Who is your ideal audience? While this can be a challenge to do at all, let alone succinctly, for a poetry collection, I'd like to tell you these three things about my forthcoming full-length poetry collection, Gods in the Wilderness, if you'll indulge me.

1) What is it about?
As with any poetry collection, Gods is about many things, including nature, faith, violence, love, and identity.

2) What was your inspiration?
The first section of the book is heavily influenced by religious imagery. The second section uses the Norse-named days of the week as an organizing principle.

3) Who is your ideal audience?
People who enjoy free verse and don't mind some blood and guts.

I hope this has piqued your interest, and if you have any in-depth questions to ask, please don't hesitate!


Friday, May 15, 2015

The Gods in the Wilderness Playlist, Part 2

As with Boomerang Girl (and other projects) before it, I decided it would be fun to make a playlist for Gods in the Wilderness, my upcoming full-length poetry collection. This one is longer, to correspond with the length of the manuscript, and I'll spread it out over two posts to make it more manageable. To read Part 1, click here.


1) "Sam Hall," Johnny Cash
"Sam Hall" is all about the speaker saying, "Hey, man, fuck you." I'm not taking a stance on whether this is right or wrong, but damn, can I relate to Sam.

2) "Dy'er Mak'er," Led Zeppelin
Ah, the keen sting of a lover's departure: a recurring theme in music as well as in my work.

3) "The First Taste," Fiona Apple
When Apple sings, "Full is not heavy as empty, / not nearly, my love," I know exactly what she means: the way emptiness drains us more than fullness, to the point where we'll do anything to be full again.

4) "Love the Way You Lie," Eminem featuring Rihanna
Volatile relationships are a standby in music and literature. Eminem and Rihanna know this better than most people out there, and the way Rihanna delivers her chorus will haunt you.

5) "If You Could Read My Mind," Gordon Lightfoot
Ah, Gord. At one point in the song, he says, "But for now, love, / let's be real." The honesty here is incredible and incredibly relevant to my poetry.

6) "Out of My Bones," Randy Travis
Randy Travis sings his way through the pain, and I happen to write my way through it.

7) "Hook," Blues Traveler
You may have noticed the '90s trend on the first half of this playlist. I can't help it--these are the songs that defined my days before I started writing, and some part of me continues to seek them out.

The lone voice of color on my overwhelmingly white playlist (sorry) knows the pain of having everything but the one thing he wants (needs?), and no one can deliver such a story quite the way that Al Green can.

9) "Push and Shove," No Doubt
The frenetic energy here is much stronger than the momentum I manage to build in my writing, but a girl can always aspire to get on Stefani's level.

10) "Make It Wit Chu," Queens of the Stone Age
As Josh Homme sings, "I ain't here to break it, / just see how far it will bend." That's the approach I take to my poetry, and maybe also my life.

11) "Heart of Gold," Neil Young
If you can't relate to this song, you're damn lucky. As it is, I'm glad I can appreciate it even more because I know, in my bones, what Young means.

12) "Wild," POE
"Wild" could have come straight out of my own head, if I had anything like POE's talent for creating tales of betrayal.

Many thanks to Quentin Tarantino for using this in Kill Bill, which, in turn, made me realize what a soft spot I have for Nancy Sinatra.

14) "Karol Simon," Sleepless Inn
Fun fact: Sleepless Inn is a local group, and I am so happy to have discovered their work (as much as I was able to "discover" a girl whose time in high school overlapped with my own).

Because every great playlist needs its Freddie Mercury moment.

16) "I Found a Reason," Cat Power
I find this to be far superior to the Velvet Underground original. Sacrilege, probably, but true because Chan Marshall's haunting vocals linger in your ears even after the song has finished.

17) "Samba Nova," Stone Temple Pilots
This long-shelved track of STP's was intended for Shangri-La Dee Da but didn't see the light of day until it emerged as a bonus track on Stone Temple Pilots. I wish like Hell that it had debuted when it was first recorded so I could have had those extra years of hearing it.

18) "This Protector," White Stripes
"Three hundred people living out in West Virginia / have no idea of all these thoughts that lie within you," Jack White tells me, but here's hoping that they'll know now.

19) "I Am the Highway," Audioslave
There is a line from this song that sums up both Gods and my writing in general: "I've put millions of miles under my heels, / and still too close to you I feel." But would I ever want to get away from the written word itself? Absolutely not.


Monday, May 11, 2015

The Gods in the Wilderness Playlist, Part 1

As with Boomerang Girl (and other projects) before it, I decided it would be fun to make a playlist for Gods in the Wilderness, my upcoming full-length poetry collection. This one is longer, to correspond with the length of the manuscript, and I'll spread it out over two posts to make it more manageable. Come back on Friday for Part 2!


1) "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Green Day
Call me emo. Call me a sell-out. I literally DNGAF, because this is the theme song for lingering teenage angst, which I suffer from.

2) "Like Flames," Berlin
I want hair--and a voice--like Terri Nunn's. I want to be the person who brought this song to life. And "The Metro." And "No More Words." And "Take My Breath Away." But for now, I'll settle for being an admirer of hers (and the band's).

3) "Gimme a Ride to Heaven Boy," Terry Allen
Once upon a time, a wacky biology professor introduced me to this song. I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I want everyone else to hear it, too.

4) "Hell," Squirrel Nut Zippers
There is a great deal of religious imagery in this collection, in spite of the fact that I rarely go to church. "Hell" is, at times, the perfect song to go along with my words because of its sheer wackiness.

5) "Closer," Nine Inch Nails
As someone heavily influenced by the music of the 1990s, I can't help but keep "Closer" as a touchstone. Anyone old enough to remember this song will know what I mean. (PS If you're easily offended, this is probably not the song--or video--for you. Fair warning.)

6) "Bloody Mary," Lady Gaga
The defining line of this song, for me, is the one where Gaga sings, "And when you're gone, / I'll tell them my religion's you." I feel her so much on that one that it informs several of these poems.

7) "Everybody Out of the Water," The Wallflowers
Do you remember when the Wallflowers first hit? Of course you do: "One Headlight" was nigh unto inescapable. I wish that people knew more about their later work, as well, and particularly this track, with its apocalyptic vision and insistent lyrics.

8) "Pillar of Davidson," Live
The first music video I remember seeing was the one for "Lightning Crashes," but there is so much more to Live than that one song. Throwing Copper is an incredible album, and I'm happy to say that this track belongs here.

9) "Comedown," Bush
I don't think I know a single straight or bisexual girl of my generation who didn't have an enormous crush on Gavin Rossdale or cry a little when Gwen Stefani took him off the market.

10) "Undun," The Guess Who
Because who doesn't love some Canadian classic rock with a touch of jazz flute?

11) "Amazing," Madonna
When I listen to Music, Madonna's 2000 follow-up to Ray of Light, I tend to gravitate to the middle of the album, particularly this '60s-influenced collaboration with William Orbit (who is also partly responsible for "Beautiful Stranger" and "I'm a Sinner," songs that wear his influence proudly).

12) "Wrecking Ball," Miley Cyrus
Haters to the left.

13) "Under My Thumb," Rolling Stones
Yes, I know: this song is wildly misogynistic. And yet, I don't care, because it sounds good and describes the way the world tends to treat women in a way that makes me want to sing along.

14) "Anything But Down," Sheryl Crow
I can always get behind a good Sheryl Crow song, and this one is a universal tale of toxic love. 

15) "Three Days," Willie Nelson
For those of my friends who believe I know nothing about country music: I've actually seen Willie in concert, he was amazing, and this song is part of my Top 100. It's quintessential country, what with its tale of lost love, and fits well with some of my own work.

16) "Scar Tissue," Red Hot Chili Peppers
I've been quoting this song since it first appeared on the airwaves. Anthony Keidis sings, "I'll make it to the moon if I have to crawl," and I will, too.

17) "Murphy," Erin Harkes and the Rebound
Sadly, I cannot find a video of this song on YouTube, but go look it up. Erin is great and brilliant and I love her work and wish I had written this song.

18) "Come Along," Titiyo
The two halves of this playlist roughly correspond with the two halves of the manuscript, and I like to think that "Come Along" has its analog in my poem "North/South": an invitation to see what's going on and continue traversing the path we've started down.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Here She Comes; It's Killing Time" (From the Archives)

You remember that time when I was talking about how Franz Ferdinand sounded to me like the soundtrack to 1960s Britain? Turns out that Karen Elson is their long-lost counterpart or something, because her first album, The Ghost Who Walks, gives me that same feeling, but in a different way.

Now, as it happens, Karen Elson is more well-known for one of two things: either her (now-dissolved) marriage to Jack White of the White Stripes or her modeling career. In fact, she is one of my favorite models ever, thanks to her always perfect facial expressions and the way she carries herself (and, as a side note, she replaced Angelina Jolie as the face of St. John a few years ago and did very well, in my opinion). And while I think that modeling is her true calling, she's done a bang-up job of putting an album together, as well.

Coming in at around 42 1/2 minutes, it's not a particularly long album (the longest song runs 4:21, but most range between 3:00 and 3:50). But in twelve tracks, Elson covers a good deal of ground. The title track has a distinct 60s-era garage sound, possibly influenced by Jack White, although Elson strikes me as the kind of person who came to this sound on her own, and that's why she and White are such a good match. Something interesting to note about "The Ghost Who Walks" is that it works just as well acoustically as it does with a full band, and in fact, the first time I ever heard it was the acoustic way. See here for the acoustic and here for the full band. Note, though, that these videos were recorded live, so even the full-band version sound as little different than the album cut. The upshot of this is that you realize that she's not just some overproduced rock star's wife--she actually knows what she's doing.

In contrast to the garage sound are the more country-influenced tracks, "Lunasa," "Cruel Summer," "The Last Laugh," and "Mouths to Feed" (and when I say country, I mean the more classic country sound, like the kind of songs you'd hear on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack). Other sounds also abound. "100 Years from Now" is a strange carnival-type song and has a Mary Poppins kind of vibe to it. There's a certain kind of urgency to "Garden," and it calls to mind the very best aspects of 1990s alternative music. "The Thief at My Door" sounds almost like Sheryl Crow's "Weather Channel."

But for me, the tracks that stand out the most are "Stolen Roses," "The Truth Is in the Dirt," and "Pretty Babies." "Stolen Roses" sounds a bit like the flip side of Madonna's "La Isla Bonita 2008" with its Roma-influenced tones. But at the same time, it takes the country influence, and I can almost hear Hank Williams singing this song. "The Truth Is in the Dirt," on the other hand, pulls more of the garage rock sound in, fusing it with a blues-type structure, evident in the repetition of certain lines. And in a way, the chorus is almost a battle cry: "Here she comes; it's killing time. / Flames are burning behind her eyes."

"Pretty Babies," my very favorite song on the album, calls to mind The Hives' cover of "Find Yourself Another Girl" (from their album Veni Vidi Vicious) plus Scott Weiland's "Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down" and "Divider," with part of "Barbarella" (from his first solo album, 12 Bar Blues) thrown in for good measure. Again, a certain Sheryl Crow sound is evident, as well as a touch of Fiona Apple. The best thing is that everyone can relate to the lyrics. For example, "Gambled every bit of sense I had, / And now I've lost it all to you" and "I watch the faces as they pass me by; / I'm hoping that I'll see you." Basically, it's one of the most perfect break-up songs ever.

I hope you'll check Elson's work out; she's really very good, and I think we can expect more good music from her in the future.

Buy the whole album through Best Buy for $11.99.

Images via Elson's website.