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February 15, 2016

Book Notes - Terese Svoboda "Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet"

Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Terese Svoboda's Anything That Burns You is an enlightening and thoroughly researched biography of the poet and activist Lola Ridge.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Svoboda (A Drink Called Paradise) resurrects the fascinating life and work of Lola Ridge. A lively, complex portrait emerges . . . of a talented, driven woman for whom 'art and activism were one' and . . . a premier poet in her own right."

Stream this playlist at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Terese Svoboda's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet:


I'd start the soundtrack for Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet with “Waltzing Matilda,” the Australian pseudo-national anthem about a suicidal sheepherder, The Irish Tenors do this version, appropriate since Ridge was born in Dublin. She emigrated to New Zealand around 1880, and near the end of her 24 years there, she published a lot of similar bush ballads, and used them as entree to Sydney's art scene.

“Marselleille,” would be the next song, which closed the 1913 Madison Square Garden strike pageant, sung by her friend John Reed, the director, a huge cast of strikers, and the audience of 15,000. Ridge loved freedom above all, artistic and personal, and had just organized an anarchist center for Emma Goldman. It's also the song that punctuates “In Harness,” her poem about women having orgasms in a sweatshop with their sewing machines.

Ridge's first book, The Ghetto and Other Poems, requires the modernist dissonance of immigrants grounded in a search for an American sound. Stefan Zeniuk composes Latin music with klezmer for his eleven-piece dance band, sometimes with his flame-o-phone, which also seems appropriate, given Ridge's fascination with fire. (Firehead, Dance of Fire were the titles of her last two books).

In 1927 Ridge faced down a rearing police horse during a demonstration against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, and was arrested with Edna St. Vincent Millay. Joan Baez sings about Sacco and Vanzetti the best, if you can stomach the video reenactment of the execution in this rendition.

Three years later Ridge begged her way to Baghdad, check by check, asking everyone she'd ever known for money, in order to start writing the ultimate poem about the rise of humanity. This is a 1930's Baghdad newsreel without voiceover, just Iraqi music.

Pete Seeger should be the one to get Ridge through the Thirties but radical poetry was more sophisticated than the conservative fifties made it out to be. Aaron Copland would be more appropriate, since she made friends with him at the artist colony Yaddo in 1929. However, when World War II was imminent, she rejected his work fiercely: “The exuberance of the frontier man still in the American blood, the glorious energy, lacking direction, turned inward in the weak, the emotionally immature...that breast to breast grapple with nature the forefathers so intrepidly met meant too the barefisted grapple with our fellow man—here too the howling will to power—and all thrown on the dice for the moment of tawdry [?] glory.” This is Copland's “Fanfare for the Common Man”: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/natlib/ihas/service/patriotic/100010429/100010429.mp3.

At age 61 she acquired a Latin lover in Mexico. She must have been a woman of great charm because she was already a bigamist. "Júrame" (“Promise, Love”), a habanera/bolero and the first international hit by the great Mexican composer Maria Grever, would have been playing when she arrived in Mexico City in 1935.

At the same time I was writing Ridge's biography, I was putting together When The Next Big War Blows Down The Valley: Selected and New Poems. A collection of thirty years of my poems, the book's Selected tackles war and race and drones, but it also doesn't ignore my Nebraska upbringing. “Sally” by Gogol Bordello sets the tone for that: “Sally was a fifteen year old girl from Nebraska / Gypsies were passing through her little town / They dropped something on the road, she picked it up...”

With regard to the New, “I've Been Working on the Railroad,” (first published in the Princeton Songbook!), inspired my poem, “All the Livelong Day.” I particularly like this “bouncing ball” rendition. With other poems titled “Rock n Roll,” 'Please Please Me,” and “Merengue,” you can tell I had my ear to the amp. Listen to my favorite Dominican merengue, Tatico Henriquez—you die if you stop moving.

In addition to this cacophony, my husband's sound art threatens inspiration at any time. Three woks with transceivers hang in our front room. A few years ago, he co-invented “Cellphonia,” a karaoke cellphone opera. Here's it's most recent manifestation: http://cellphonia.org/viewshed/cellphonia_viewshed.mp3.


Terese Svoboda and Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

American Short Fiction review
Diagram essay by the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Pirate Talk or Marmalade
Largehearted Boy interview with the author
Los Angeles Review of Books essay by the author
Poetry Foundation interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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