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June 1, 2016

Book Notes - Juliet Escoria "Witch Hunt"

Witch Hunt

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

Juliet Escoria's debut poetry collection Witch Hunt is dark, personal, and enveloping.

Electric Literature wrote of the book:

"Page after page, Escoria digs around her past with a scalpel in order to present bloody, black-and-blue morsels of her journey, and the result is a collection that’s uncomfortable to read and impossible to forget."

In her own words, here is Juliet Escoria's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Witch Hunt:

Witch Hunt, the poetry book I have coming out from Lazy Fascist, was written mostly over the period of two months in the tiny laundry room of a shitty apartment, with no laundry machines and mold growing on the wall. I wasn't supposed to be writing it. I'm not a poet. I was supposed to be working on the novel that I've been trying to get out of me since 2010, but I kept on having bad writing day after bad writing day and it wasn't fun anymore. Then Lucy K. Shaw asked me if I had something for an issue of Shabby Doll House, and I didn't, so I figured I'd sit down and write a few poems for her. And you know what? It was fun. So after I was finished writing those poems, I wrote more. I kept on writing poems, until I had a whole book. We've since moved, and now I work out of a big basement that looks out onto our pretty backyard and our pretty oak trees. I've returned to that pain-in-the-ass novel, and it's actually sort of working this time. But sometimes I miss that moldy laundry room.


"Used to Love Her" by Guns N' Roses.

I have three poems in this book about Axl Rose. I considered writing more but then I decided that three was probably more than enough. This definitely isn't my favorite Guns N' Roses song (that'd be like picking a favorite child), but it's part of a genre of music I like a lot, which is "Songs that sound like they're about women but they're actually about something else." Some other examples of this genre are Tupac's "Me and My Girlfriend" (which is about a gun) and Steve Earle's album I Feel Alright (which is about heroin). (This song is allegedly about a dog.)

"Cowboy Song" by Thin Lizzy

A poem in this section references this song. It reminds me of the summer of 2007, which was one of the more troubled and therefore romanticized-in-hindsight periods of my life. This song is ridiculous, but it's definitely in my personal list of Top 20 Greatest Songs of All Time. I highly recommend driving while listening to this very loud, preferably on a mostly-empty freeway somewhere in the west.

"The Bewlay Brothers" by David Bowie

Most of the "other men" in this section are conglomerations of shitbags I've known and shitbags I've dated. This is the favorite Bowie song of the least mentally stable shitbag I've ever 'fallen in love' with. It's a great song. I wish I could separate my memory of him from it.


"Rid of Me" (4-track demo version) by PJ Harvey

If I ever become a sexy monster/terrorist/murderer, which I fantasize about in a poem in this section, I would like to have this as my soundtrack while I destroy the world.

"Bro Hymn" by Pennywise

I wrote an offensive poem about Drake and named it after this song. It makes me think of going to keg parties in dirt lots in high school, listening to a bunch of high school boys drunkenly sing the chorus in unison. Being a teenager in suburban Southern California during the ‘90s is embarrassing sometimes. Pennywise sucks.


"A Better Son/Daughter" by Rilo Kiley

If there were ever to be a literal Bipolar National Anthem, this would be it. The number of times I have cried while listening to this is shameful.

"Lithium" by Nirvana

This is an obvious selection but it's also an amazing song so I don't particularly care. Lithium is the only mood stabilizer I've never taken. Too bad there are no songs called "Depakote." Depakote is a hell of a drug.


"Two Blind Sisters" by Rebecca & The Sunny Brook Farmers

This is more or less the auditory equivalent of the version of nature I was going for in the first four poems of this section.

"¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe!" by The Killers

I have five haikus in here about how much I hate horses. I don't really hate horses, but for some reason it seemed funny to write a bunch of poems about hating horses. It's probably only funny to me. Two separate people who read this book pre-publication suggested I take these poems out. I didn't. I probably should have. Including these poems seems ill-advised.

The Killers have been releasing Christmas songs every year since 2005, including the years that they've otherwise been on a hiatus. I find this type of commitment to such a stupid idea admirable. This is probably the illest advised of the bunch—full of cultural appropriation at its worst. But omg omg omg I love this song so much anyway SORRY!!! Brandon Flowers + Juliet Escoria 4ever


"The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis and "It's Only Make Believe" by Conway Twitty

Many years ago, I asked this weirdo writer named Scott McClanahan to make a mixtape for a column I ran at Electric Literature. He made this. I remember thinking not a whole lot about it at the time, categorizing it in my head as "a bunch of country music." I don't have anything against country music, but my relationship toward it as a genre is similar to a lot of other people from places like San Diego—I loved Johnny Cash and a few songs by Merle Haggard and Hank Williams and that's about as far as I got.

Later, Scott & I became friends, and a while after that, we fell in love, and a while after that, we got married and I moved to West Virginia. I guess "Relocation" is about the culture shock I felt after moving. After living here a while, I fell completely head over heels in love with these two songs. I even used them both as soundtracks for the videos I made for Witch Hunt.

The funny thing: I didn't even realize they both were featured on Scott's mixtape until after I made the videos. This seems to be a metaphor for a lot of things, but mostly one that illustrates my own short-sightedness. And also everything sounds better in West Virginia.

"Ha Ha Cat Walk Baby" by Hasil Adkins

Hasil Adkins is from West Virginia. He is a perfect illustration of the twisted, fanged beauty of this state. It really is wild and wonderful.


All of these poems are about Scott. I didn't intend for them to be a subversion of what typically happens in romantic poetry, but that's how they turned out.

"The Air That I Breathe" by The Hollies

This is the song we danced to at our wedding. Scott also played it for me when he did a reading on C-SPAN.

"Turquoise" by Donovan

I met Scott at a tiny bookstore in Brooklyn where we were both doing a reading. I was amazed by him, and felt cheated that I hadn't heard of him before, but I would have been shocked if you'd told me we would eventually get married. He played this song during that reading.

"Hits Hits Hits" by Fat White Family

This song sounds really sexy to me, even though it's supposedly about how Fat White Family's guitarist Saul is mean to their singer Lias. Scott & I both have a big crush on Saul. (Isn't he cute?)

This concludes the portion of the mixtape where I'm being annoying by talking about my husband.


"Medicating Dreams" by Terror Visions

This sounds like self-loathing. It also makes me want to break shit. I am one of those people whose default reaction to self-loathing is rage, rather than depression. I've had to go to a lot of therapy for this.

"Dying" by Hole

A lot of the poems in this section have to deal with being uncomfortable in my skin, the discomfort that comes from having a body, and, most prominently, a discomfort with my skin – I've had acne off and on my whole life, and as I'm sure anyone else with persistent adult acne can tell you, it's something that really fucks with you. I don't know of a song about acne but let's pretend this is another song in the same genre as "Used to Love Her" and just sounds like it's about a guy when really it's about having a bunch of cysts.


The final section of my poetry book isn't poems at all, but a (fictionalized) chronicle of memorable anxiety attacks I've had over the years.

"Limp" by Fiona Apple and "The Fragile" by Nine Inch Nails

The first anxiety attack I ever remember having was in an airport, when I was returning to the "therapeutic boarding school" I was sent to as a teenager. There are two albums that remind me of boarding school: When the Pawn… by Fiona Apple and The Fragile by NIN. I think that says a lot about me as a teenager.

Juliet Escoria and Witch Hunt links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book
video trailer for the book

Cultured Vultures review
decomP review
Electric Literature review

decomP interview with the author
Hobart interview with the author
The Kind profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her short story collection Black Cloud
Misfits interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Largehearted Boy's 2016 Fundraiser

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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