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May 9, 2017

Book Notes - Jessie Janeshek "The Shaky Phase"

The Shaky Phase

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.

Jessie Janeshek's poetry collection The Shaky Phase is a stunningly visceral work.

Adam Tedesco wrote of the book:

"In the tradition of feral touchstones like Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and Burns' Black Hole, The Shaky Phase is a compelling journey through a world that’s dangerous and strangely familiar. With lines that envelop the reader like morning glory, Janeshek directs our gaze to the edges, to the creeping green of rot. This is the poetry of the New Weird America, and I love it."

In her own words, here is Jessie Janeshek's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection The Shaky Phase:

Parts One and Two of the book are related to one another as are Parts Four and Five. Part Three (the New Mexico poems) sort of stands alone. I've arranged my playlist according to these clusters.

Parts One and Two:

"In a Valley" - Carolyn Mark

The poems in Parts One and Two are the "Rural Legend" poems to use the title of the second poem in my book in order to describe them. Mark's song is about a woman who grew up rurally and, as a child, lived nights in the state of delicious, delirious fear. As an adult, she's boozy and disillusioned: "Now that I'm older/fall asleep on my books/drunk from liquor…makeup still on me/drifting to dawn/no lonely lovers under the covers." My speakers can relate.

"Hold On, Hold On" - Neko Case

This is another song whose voice converges with my speakers' voices: women and girls on the outs who no longer turn to traditional institutions or ideas to feel better, who know that it's fruitless: "I leave the party at 3 am, alone thank God/with a Valium from the bride/it's the devil I love…"

One of the best things about this song is that it undercuts the notion that writing—or finding comfort in something that has been written—will save you. "That echo chorus lied to me with its ‘hold on, hold on, hold on.'" Heartbreaking perfection.

"Old Fashioned Morphine" - Jolie Holland

Trying to numb that pain with some vintage edge that was "good enough for Billy Burroughs…." The "grandpa" in Holland's song aligns nicely with my "grandpa" and "Uncle Thick" characters in some of the poems in Part One.

"Make Your Bed" - Neko Case
(not available on Spotify, but you can hear it on YouTube:

A beautiful, early murder ballad by Case. I took long walks in the woods beside a creek in between writing a lot of the poems in Parts One and Two. Often weird cars and vans drove by, and I was always half thinking I was one of the girls in my poems…I'd get abducted, pulled onto a swanboat, and drowned by some "dark man" or killer clown who would sing me something a little like this:

I'm thick with disease in my madness

Only one thought pacifies me

That the murky black water grounds your bones to sand

When the catfish have stripped off your hide…

So go down as his trembling bride

For to quell all hell's fury inside me
And if there's a chance that the Lord recognize you

Pray he has more mercy than I

"Possum Kingdom" - Toadies

This is one of my favorite songs ever and picks up in the playlist where Case's "Make Your Bed" leaves off. When I've had a few, I like to tell people how, to me, it reads like a 90s version of Robert Browning's wonderful poem "Porphyria's Lover." I read them each as about a man who kills—or is about to kill?—a young woman in order to "keep" her. ("You'll stay as beautiful/with dark hair/and soft skin forever" and "That moment she was mine, mine, fair/ Perfectly pure and good: I found/A thing to do…" [read Browning's poem for the rest:

The poems in Parts One and Two move in the landscape of "Possum Kingdom": clammy, mushroomy, woods, a lake, a boathouse. The speaker of this song could be the "dark man manning the swanboats" who, in my poem "Painstaking," "shove[s] my head in the lake/let[s] the algae dry on my face…" "So help [him], Jesus," he says "there's no logic in God" as he "shaves me bald as a child on the table…."

Part Three:

"Four Winds" - Bright Eyes

The poems in Part Three were all written during a residency at Starry Night Retreat in Truth or Consequences, NM. I've done four residencies there, and it's been amazing for my work. This song—really the whole album Cassadaga—is just consummate New Mexico in my head. I listen to it over and over walking through the desert once I get tired of working on poems.

"A Horse with No Name" - America

I included this on my playlist half-jokingly because I know a lot of people who hate this song. But I actually love it, and it captures being drugged and wandering around looking for revelation and/or salvation in the desert, which several of the poems in Part 3 are about. You could read the poem "Infant Mortality. Compulsive Therapy." as my "A Horse with No Name."

"The Ballad of Cable Hogue" - Calexico
and "Romance in Durango" - Bob Dylan

I adore both of these songs and see their male protagonists are very similar—both renegades who have broken the law and are trying to preserve themselves. Either of them could be the "wide-moustache[d]" dude who calls my speaker "criminal" and "slide[s] into the hot springs" "ass first" in my poem "You Need Me Your Ice, the Brightest in Town."

"Strawberry" - Everclear

Truth or Consequences, the town where I wrote the poems in Part Three, has grit to it. Like many areas of NM (and the region where I live, the northern panhandle of WV), there is a huge drug problem, especially meth. Spending a few weeks there a year and seeing plenty of folks who were very obviously strung out and down and out impacted my poems. Even though this song is about heroin, it beautifully captures that idea of climbing out of addiction but getting pulled back in. And I'm sure someone was doing heroin in that town.

"The Charging Sky" - Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins

This song, to me, chronicles domination by the patriarchy coupled with faith and doubt, all of which pervade the poems of Part Three:

Because institution's like a big bright light

And it blinds you into fear and consuming and fight

But in the desert underneath the charging sky

It's just you and God

But what if God's not there?

But his name is on your dollar bill

Which just became cab fare

The union of gambling and religion in the song "If I place all my chips on only one bet, I'm all in/And it's a surefire bet I'm going to die/So I'm taking up praying on Sunday nights" mirrors the last lines of my poem "To Cross Dunes in Boots Means Giving up": "…our shiny dice tragic/we kneel at El Cortez/watch cotton-ball crèches ignite Silverado."

"The Next Messiah" - Jenny Lewis

This is another song that I associate with being drugged up and freewheeling out in the desert. More crime as well:

Take it down to the river

Split it right up the middle

Now it's gonna be trouble

For a pregnant lamb and a con man

I dig the weird male-female dynamics in this song; once the male part comes in, the speakers claim they "love" each other but there's a threatening, predatory nature to the male voice. I'm not waiting for the next messiah, but I think some of the speakers in these poems might be.

Parts Four and Five:

"Video Killed the Radio Star"- originally The Buggles, covered by The Presidents of the United States of America

Many of the poems in Parts Four and Five are about nostalgia, especially for the 80s and 90s, and they're also about sex and media i.e. "begin[ning] to love another woman on the video" and "Eugene from Petrograd" who "could not get hard on software/and asked to see my tits." Or as I write in "Bikini Selfies/Life Is Fleeting": "Does your prick die when we finish?/It's on the VHS tape, but we can't/lean on semiotics."

This song, for me, encapsulates the kind of "techno" feel I now associate with that timespan (whether or not that's accurate) and also the desire but inability to repeat the past. It's The Great Gatsby all over again: "in my mind and in my car/we can't rewind/we've come too far." Initially, I had the original version by The Buggles on my playlist but I decided to replace it with The Presidents' version since their covering, in the late 90s, a song written about technology in 1977 parallels my "covering," or writing about the 80s and 90s, in the mid 2010s. I never had an album by The Presidents of the United States of America, but I have fond memories of listening to "Peaches" and "Lump" whenever they'd come on the radio in the 90s. Plus, you can hear the lyrics a bit more clearly in the Presidents' version. (Sidenote: the saga continues with a song by the Limousines, "Internet Killed the Video Star.")

"Popular" - Nada Surf
"Ghost World" - Aimee Mann

Two very different sides of the same coin, these capture the 90s/middle and high school "Nostalgianica" of several poems in this section. My speakers are not popular. (As Mann sings, "I just read a lot and ride my bike around the school.") There is also the notion in both songs that the protagonists are being told by some "higher power" what they need to do to succeed. It's a sad but funny time.

"The Good That Won't Come Out" - Rilo Kiley

I was listening to Rilo Kiley's album The Execution of All Things on repeat when writing the poems in the last two parts of the book; most of these poems were drafted in January and February 2015, and the album seemed right especially because of the little wintry interludes that come in between some of the songs. I love the image in this particular song; it suits (pun intended) many of my speakers who self-destruct and feel sorry for themselves:

Oh, you're almost home

I've been waiting for you to come in
Dancing around in your old suits

Going crazy in your room again

I think I'll go out and embarrass myself 
By getting drunk and falling down in the street

You say I choose sadness

That it never once has chosen me
Maybe you're right

"The Life of the Party" - April March
This entire April March album, Triggers, depicts a chilly milieu of attractive young women, "ingénues," who are drifting, going along to get along, possibly (I've always thought) by offering up their bodies in a world where there's really not much else to do. Many of the mini-worlds I create are similar. March's voice is beautifully detached, singing, to take a phrase from my poem "Hex Suck/Wolves Too" "in bebé voce/to my tarot card lay/hold I'm the bad girl/over the ice capades."

This whole album really aligns with Parts Four and Five, but I chose "The Life of the Party" because of its icy ambience of doll-like listlessness:

Look at the girls at their windows
Now it's Christmas
Their mouths full of wishes
They're waiting for some
Body to come
Be the life of the party

"Refugee" - Tom Petty

Overall, the poems in these last two parts of the book are more broadly sexual than some of the earlier poems in the book—think cold winters, dark basements, hard fucking with or without consent ("We got somethin' we both know it/we don't talk too much about it…Somewhere somehow somebody/Must have kicked you around some…Who knows maybe you were kidnapped/Tied up taken away and held for ransom") but they eventually move toward some semblance of empowerment in some of the poems spoken in the "we" voice such as when I write in "Slash, Slash O Siam," "I'll keep ahead of the weather/decide I don't care/when I see you or not" or as Petty puts it, "You don't have to live like a refugee."

Jessie Janeshek and The Shaky Phase links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

F2O LitStyle review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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