August 26, 2014
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Matthea Harvey's new collection If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? is brilliantly imaginative as it combines her poetry and visual artwork.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the collection:
"An ambitious and inventive new collection. . . . Brilliant strings of weird imagery and narrative yield unlikely resonances and stir fresh emotions in the reader, and are reinforced by the poems' intellectual cores. . . . Made even more pleasurable by its visual elements."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
This book took me seven years to create. It's a collection of poems with images that title, illustrate or accompany each poem. The images are sometimes photographs of miniatures, sometimes silhouette cutouts (mermaids with tools for tails, for example), or handkerchiefs embroidered with real and imagined patents. Some of the speakers in the book include aliens who kidnap hula-hoopers, Shakespeare trapped inside the body of the Michelin man, and someone who owns a tiny Elvis clone.
"Baby in Two" by The Pernice Brothers
I'm fascinated by halving of all kinds, so this song's lyrics, "I'd be the king if I could say to you, Cut the baby in two" have stuck in my head since I first heard it. The reference is to the Biblical story in which King Solomon is asked to rule on a case where two women are claiming to be the mother of the same child. He commands that the child be cut in half, knowing whichever woman refuses to allow this will reveal herself as the real mother. Mermaids are already halves—half human, half fish, and "The Homemade Mermaid" in my poem of that name, is "top half pimply teenager, bottom half tuna" created by a nameless abductor who saws off her legs.
"Rapture" by Blondie
In "M is for Martian," (my erasure of the Ray Bradbury story "R is for Rocket,") there is an encounter between a human and Martian, "dirty flub, funny lump with eyes. Come on inside I said." "Rapture" portrays another Martian encounter in which things go rather badly: the Martian eats a human who then becomes part of the Martian and goes on a rampage "eatin' cars." I also considered using a song by "Erasure" for this particular poem, but couldn't find one that fit.
"I was Born a Unicorn" by the Unicorns
What I love about this song is the way it switches from seeming sweet "I was born a unicorn, I could have sworn you believed in me…" and then turns darker and louder at "so how come all the other unicorns are dead?" I think that a lot of my poems start out seeming sweet or playful and make this same grim turn. Also, this song was the first song on the first mix cd given to me by my dear late friend Rynn Williams for whom I wrote the poem "No More Suicide Fox."
Philip Glass String Quartet No. 5
"Inside the Glass Factory" is an easy series of poems to pair with music because I was commissioned to write this poem to be read with that piece. I listened to the quartet hundreds of times while I was writing and the narrative of the poem (girls who are trapped working in a glass factory make a glass girl who leads them out into the world) came from writing notes as I listened to the music. The music sounded like liquid (hence the water and molten glass imagery) and the repetition put me in mind of a factory. The surprise of this series for me was that after the girls go out into the world, they're not that pleased with it, and they go back into the factory to make their own improvements on what they've seen.
"Superball" by Helium
I think of this song as an anthem for the tiny people trapped in ice cubes in my photographs, a series called "Stay." The lyrics are "I'm small like a superball. Throw me at the wall. Fragile, like an eggshell. Mad as hell." Practically speaking, if you threw the ice cubes at the wall, the people would be able to get out.
"American Boy" by Estelle
I'd pair this one with my two most American poems—"Our American Husbands" and "Prom King and Queen Seek U.N. Recognition of Their Own Country…Promvania!" I lived in England until I was eight, so there's still something a little foreign about full-on American-ness to me. In "Our American Husbands," the husbands are baffling superheroes who "can do somersaults while smoking." "Prom King and Prom Queen Seek U.N. Recognition of Their Own Country…Promvania!" (a title taken from The Weekly World News) is a bratty and self-aggrandizing petition to the U.N.: "we're committed to peace. Pinky swear."
"Wouldn't Mama Be Proud" by Elliott Smith
Poems are all about the tiniest movements, an internal rhyme, a recalibrating of a proverb, turning has-been into "will-be." There is a tiny moment in this song that I adore—the way the melody lifts up on the "'n't" in the chorus"wouldn't mama be proud." I'd pair this song with my shortest poem in the book, which tracks the tiny transformation of "we" to "me."
When I said we
I meant me in a wide wide dress.
Ernani Prelude by Verdi
The last poem in the book, Telettrofono, started out as text to a soundwalk by Justin Bennett, commissioned by the Guggenheim for their series "Stillspotting." You can hear it here:
It's a series of poems (accompanied by patents embroidered onto handkerchiefs) based on the true (and partially imagined) story of Antonio and Esterre Meucci, a couple who traveled from Florence to Havana to Staten Island. Antonio Meucci is best known for being one of the early inventors of the telephone. Esterre and Antonio met while working at the Teatro Royale in Florence, where Antonio worked on sound effects and lighting and Esterre made costumes. In 1835 they sailed to Havana, "along with 79 members of the Italian Opera Company and thirty-five tons of props and equipment." One of the first operas performed by that company was Ernani by Verdi.
Matthea Harvey and If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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