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October 22, 2010

Book Notes - Holly Karapetkova ("Words We Might One Day Say")

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

Holly Karapetkova's debut poetry collection Words We Might One Day Say is ambitious and successful. Karapetkova explores themes of love, loss, motherhood, and marriage with a fresh, clear eye. These poems at once seem classic and brand new, and offer sharp, original glimpses into ourselves that only the power of poetry can offer.

E. Ethelbert Miller wrote of the collection:

"When I read the first poem in Words We Might One Day Say, I thought Holly Karapetkova was related to Gabriel Marquez. A surprise seems to appear in many of her poems. Some come close to being magical. I like how this woman writes about childhood. I want to grow old with this book. Words We Might One Day Say is a collection to cherish, and share with others."

In her own words, here is Holly Karapetkova's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection, Words We Might One Day Say:

I don't think anyone would disagree that music and poetry are closely connected… so much so that I sometimes think I became a poet in order to satisfy my longing for song. Music has influenced my writing from the very early days when I first began to conceive of myself as a "poet," listening to Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails and filling up notebooks with teenage angst. Music is still one of the strongest catalysts in my work: it provokes and inspires me; it plants in me the emotional seeds that I then try to grapple with in words. Since I'm kind of old school and still think of music in terms of albums, I've listed whole albums along with the individual songs on my playlist. In many ways albums resemble books of poetry. Both poems and songs as individual units must stand alone, and often people are only going to hear one or two "popular" ones, but when placed together they should speak to one another and strengthen one another in the context of the whole.

"Mesecina" by Goran Bregovic from the soundtrack of Underground

I've spent a good deal of time in Bulgaria and have been tremendously influenced by Eastern European music, and in particular, by Roma music (or gypsy music as it is still often called). The Roma people were once royal court musicians in India before they were dispersed across Europe and the rest of the world, and their music contains a fierce vitality I haven't been able to find elsewhere. Ever since I began to listen to Eastern European Roma music I've been trying to write poetry that can match the extreme emotional energy this music produces for me: a triumphant celebration in the face of life's inevitable defeats. An impossible task, but I keep trying!

Probably the best Roma songs aren't available on any album, but many good ones are, as are many that capture the spirit of Roma music, like this song from Emir Kusturica's Underground. Possibly my favorite movie of all time, the film's wonderful absurdity is closely echoed in its soundtrack, a crazy Serbo-Croatian Roma-style sound full of vigor and brass. I don't think any of my poetry comes close to being this energetic, but the absurdity of life definitely enters Words We Might One Day Say in places.

"Karma Police" by Radiohead from OK Computer

What poet doesn't love Thom Yorke? He's odd in all the right ways, just how I like my poems. This album, and in particular this song, influenced some of the poems I wrote earlier on for the collection. I affiliate it closely with a cluster of poems that respond to the suicide of a good high school friend of mine, a friend who first introduced me to Radiohead years ago, before the band made it into mainstream music. I listened to this album a great deal in the months following his death and found myself grappling with his absence again and again in poems like "Playing the Rain," "Letter in Response to a Friend's Suicide Note," and "The One That Got Away."

"Senza" by Camille from Le Fil

We chose this song to use in a staged production of my poetry several years ago, and it fit the mood of my work extremely well. The entire song is composed entirely of Camille's voice overlaid in 8 or 10 separate samples, as is true of most of the songs on the album. The sound produced conveys a range of emotions, from wonder to disappointment, all from a clearly feminine perspective. I like to think of much of the poetry in Words as aiming for the same idea: layers of different emotions and personas/voices woven together into a single collection.

"Bubamara" by The Black Cat White Cat Orchestra from the soundtrack of Black Cat White Cat

Another amazing Roma song from another film by Emir Kusturica; this one's fantastic sense of celebration makes me want to throw down whatever I'm doing and get up and stomp and clap to the wild violin. I think several poems that express a desire to embrace the world in spite of its sorrows, to live as much as we can before life runs out on us, echo the way this song makes me feel. Poems as diverse in subject matter as "Love and the National Defense," "A Personal History," and "Late Afternoon" all, in my mind, try somehow to reach the emotional implications of this song.

"Old Dan Tucker" by Bruce Springsteen from We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

This was my son's favorite album for the first year or so of his life, and he especially loved "Old Dan Tucker." He used to scream bloody murder in the car until I put this album on, so (as you can imagine) I listened to it an awful lot. Springsteen's version of the American classic is so much fun it makes you want to jump out of the car and dance, which we did a few times! I definitely hear this song in the background of many of my poems about my son's early life— "First Words," "Before Language," "At the Window," "At Eight Months," and "After Breakfast"—where I try to capture his fantastic (and often dangerous) energy and his pure joy for life.

"Bulgarian Chicks" by Balkan Beat Box from Balkan Beat Box

This song was another of my son's favorites as a baby, and also one I listened to often while I was working on the poems about motherhood in Words. It's a wild modernization of a traditional Bulgarian folk song, and the addition of trumpets and bass beats really augments the energy of the original song. I like to think that several of my poems rework old folk/myth themes in similar ways, deriving momentum from the original stories and simultaneously recreating them anew. Some of the book's prose poems—"The Woman Who Wanted a Child" and "The Lost Mommy"—connect very closely to the project of this song.

"Better Things" by Massive Attack from Protection

I'm still a sucker for this entire album, even after listening to it for 15 years. Many poems in Words tackle the subjects of love, yearning, heartbreak, and domestic anxiety, which I connect with this song. The way the lyrics play with rhyme and rhythm also reflects my own play with poetic forms throughout the collection. Poems like "Parts of Speech," "Lessons in Kindness," and "A Fairy Tale," come right out of the disillusioned and hurt (but still self-possessed) mood of this song.

"Farewell, Mountains" by Dafo Trendafilov from The Magic of Rhodopa Mountain

I spend every summer in a town called Smolyan in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria, and this album has some of the classic folk music of the region that I hear when I'm there. This song is particularly famous and features a slow, mournful bagpipe often accompanied by female vocals. It's as heavy and clean as the mountains themselves, and I love the power and ache of the single bagpipe. The mountains and the music were a big inspiration throughout the book, especially in poems like "Mara and the Hen," "Sorrow and the Empty Sac," and "The Stolen Child."

"Nane Tsoha" by Evgeniy Doga and Alyona Buzylyova from the soundtrack Gypsies Go to Heaven

This well-known song has many versions, but this version in the classic Russian film is particularly poignant because the vocalist is a young girl who belts out the lyrics with all she's got. The incredible passion with which she sings this song, which is in a way about the end of childhood and innocence, feels like the right end to the playlist of my book. Indeed, the poems that end the book—"Refugees" and "The Fifth War"—speak of childhood joys that are lost to a less-than-joyous reality and echo for me the emotions of this song quite clearly.

Holly Karapetkova and The Privileges links:

the author's website
the author's book tour events
video for the poem, "Parts of Speech"
excerpts from the book

First Person Plural review

Washington Writers' Publishing House interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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