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January 14, 2009

Book Notes - Carol Guess ("Tinderbox Lawn")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

Carol Guess's Tinderbox Lawn is a stunning collection of prose poems that taken as a whole tell their story as effectively (and with as much impact) as any novel.

My favorite line from the book:

"A million televisions blame someone else as your beautiful country erupts into Empire"

Slurve wrote of the book:

"What Carol Guess does most impressively in Tinderbox Lawn is create a life, one experienced in well-contained lyric intervals that reveal just how adept any form or poetry can impress a story. "

In her own words, here is Carol Guess's Book Notes essay for her poetry collection, Tinderbox Lawn:

Set among Seattle's seedier landmarks, the prose poems in Tinderbox Lawn follow two women falling in and out of love. Violence echoes around them, from post-9/11 America's obsession with war to serial killers traveling the I-5 corridor. Most of these poems weren't written as prose blocks, but lived earlier lives as lyric poems, short stories, or drafts of a novel. At some point I realized I'd written material for different projects focused on the same protagonists. I cut up hundreds of pages of text and lay the best scraps on the rug. Then I began the process of stitching, working visually until a pattern emerged.

The Langley Schools Music Project – "Space Oddity”

My narrator describes childhood as awkward and magical: "As a child I dismantled baked goods to see how they worked.” She might've played soda bottles or drummed off-tempo on this strangely beautiful cover, recorded in rural Canada in the 1970's by schoolchildren and their music teacher, Hans Fenger.

Sleater-Kinney - "Jumpers"

I fled Nebraska for Sleater-Kinney. "Call The Doctor” and "One More Hour” were anthems luring me westward, promising a hometown where girls could be loud. Years later, "Jumpers” epitomized the sense of despair that prevailed in blue state America while I was writing Tinderbox Lawn. The second poem in the book was originally a short story titled "How Not To Get Killed In Nebraska.”

Neko Case - "Deep Red Bells"

The Pacific Northwest cultivates serial killers; they're as ubiquitous as grow-ops and carabiners. Tinderbox Lawn was influenced by news stories about missing girls: high heels sunk in shallow water, bloody clothes in a ditch by the road. To avoid the lost girls I read about swans. But our swans were dying, too, poisoned by lead shot mistaken for gristle. The four-foot rule and dying swans share space in one poem.

The Knife - "Like A Pen"

This album is transportation; even if you sit still, you feel like you're moving. I love what's lost in translation, trying to piece together meaning, giving up, going back to dance, dance, dance. Listening to Bjork and Sondre Lerche around the same time helped me think about ways to create the illusion of speed in small blocks of prose.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - "Cherry Lane"

Ryan Adams sounds familiar, as if I know him from another context. There's an intimacy to his address; he's singing to a specific person. At times he's petulant, as if you aren't listening well enough. At other moments he's letting you in on a personal joke. His music captures the emotion of being in a messy relationship, not with another person, but with yourself, or a part of yourself you're trying to break up with.

Peaches - "F**k Or Kill"

49 seconds of brilliant political commentary. This one might accompany the Dead Baby Bikers race.

The Gossip - "Standing In The Way Of Control”

This is what it feels like to be queer and out of your mind with desire in a late American city in wartime. I envision the protagonists in Tinderbox Lawn listening to The Gossip while the "you" drives her truck in front of a train.

Loretta Lynn with Jack White - "Portland Oregon"

Okay, so it's about Portland, not Seattle, which means the lovers in this song have access to better public transportation. It still rains a lot, and it's still dark by 4pm. This murky sound reminds me of highway noise in Seattle's Georgetown, which is where I envision The Anvil, my protagonist's fictional favorite bar.

Elliott Smith - "Independence Day”

Elliott Smith's music calls up the drizzle and early darkness of the Pacific Northwest. It's impossible to tell what time of day it is here; the sky refuses to give a clue to the clock. You can choose to go with day or night, but you have to follow it to the end of the line.

Beethoven - String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major, op. 74, "Harp"

My father died just before I began working on Tinderbox Lawn. He was a brilliant scientist, oblivious to manners and social niceties. He wrote on tablecloths in restaurants and called home to ask what street we lived on. We bonded over classical music when I was in college. The doomed grandeur of Beethoven's music found its visual accompaniment in a man on a street corner trying to fly.

Carol Guess and Tinderbox Lawn links:

the author's blog
the book's page at the publisher
Goodreads page for the book

Seattle Times review
Slurve review

Pressbound post about the book's design
The Western Front profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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