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May 2, 2018

Abraham Smith's Playlist for His Book "Destruction of Man"

Destruction of Man

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

Abraham Smith's book-length poem Destruction of Man is as much an ode to the natural world as the unnatural, a lyrical explosion that informs and warns.

Tyehimba Jess wrote of the book:

"Abraham Smith's Destruction of Man is a compass setting toward musics caught between the hungry teeth of vole and buried bone of river. It nestles a bloodline of tonked and battered rhyme while conjuring a clabbered American Karma into silos of riveted storm. Spackled with image and strung out like a laundry line of ghost furious prayer, this book will carry you wild when you surrender to its eddies and breaks. Dive head in and leave caution to the shore."

In his own words, here is Abraham Smith's Book Notes music playlist for his book Destruction of Man:

In DESTRUCTION OF MAN, I sought to translate the stories of my native county—and thereby the fading echo of a dying agrarian lifeway. The result is a book-length poem about north Wisconsin small scale family farming in the midst of the get-big-or-get-out foghorn, and our rupturing and sometimes obliterating elisions with machines. It's folkloric and rabid in the sense that the book disjoints and foams at the mouth according to sound. In fact, I am a sound hound. I sacrifice linearity for the next whiff of sterling music. Teeth get lost in barfights and tractors croon all graveltongued like Tom Waits and hawks again and again crucify the skyway. The conclusions are clarion clear: rurality has its hectic musics and all we have is love. Gertrude Stein said the seed of DESTRUCTION OF MAN: "After all anybody is as their land and air is."

1) TVZ: Nothing

Sorrow and solitude; these are the precious things; and the only words worth rememberin.

Countrysides do lonely-nize you. Thusly the panged heart-like-a-lichen songs rashing up out from the shepherd's lips. As clotted and brackish and close in sound and misadventure as this book is, there is a pervading lonesomeness. A pure and turned-to-stone sort of hollowness. There is no finer lapidary than Townes. If I am on strings he is jerking the marionette.

2) Blaze Foley: Clay Pigeons

Try to hide my sorrow from the people I meet

Feeling a little overbaptized in vinegar already? Well oh well-frogged well. Seems like I have heard folks mis-sing that line as Tryin out my songs on the people I meet. Or maybe it's just my denim-blue Keats-ears performing mondegreen. Anyhow I hope there's a lot of body to this book. A lot of yearn. A lot of duende. Blaze's deep ode is built out of longing's canoe. And I hope my book is similarly birched.

3) Greg Brown: Summer Evening

Town used to have 12 stores; now it got 2...way may be goin, but the life ain't gone

Seems like I could've plunked almost any Greg Brown song in here. He's made appearances in pretty well all of my books. He's a principle muse. I love all of the light in the decay in this one. He'll tell you straight that things are absenting. But the glimmer glints on. There's the torch of my book as well. Surely there's a deep vein of nostalgia bolting it but the life ain't gone: the dog's still in the yard, rolling in once was.

4) Margo Price: All American Made

Tell me Mr Petty what do you think will happen next

This flower of rhetoric--this apostrophe--at the end of Price's indictment of the American way just slays me. Maybe in the same way that apostrophe at the end of Dylan's Desolation Row tears my head off in that mongrel way that Dickinson says poetry should. Anyhow the speaker of my book is pretty well apostrophizing the entire time. All of the bleating of it is headed for sky--airmailed for hawks or dear Doris or both. I feel a ton, a ton of consanguinity with Price: two upper midwesterner agrarians bringing the bucolic shellac!

5) Geeshie Wiley: Last Kind Word Blues

When you see me comin, look crost the rich man's fields...what you do to me baby, it never gets out of me

My book is about class and about love and about land. Class and love and land. So's this song. I am not saying that I achieve it--well, I hope I do, here and there--but my writing's aim is the incantatory. And this Wiley tune, to my elfin ears, is pure mesmerism. By its end I am wrapped a quarter mile deep in the cocoon of her avowals. If the cyclone of my words might mummify you a little, that'd be fine.

6) Courtney Marie Andrews: Table for One

This life it ain't free; always chained to when I leave

This song is so much more loose of foot and drifting than my book is. Farmers being anchorites of a sort. But there's a perfect rhinestone loneliness to it. In the same way that you can know 8 chickens are watching you and 4 crows but also feel no solider than a puff of wind upon last year's leaf. Andrews captures the creative process so very adroitly. That sense that to write is to be alone and to dance with strangers, coevally.

7) DBT: Heathens

If we get the van out of the ditch before mornin, ain't nobody gotta know about what I done

This book is, in great part, for Edward Meisegeier. Many of the adventures in it are his as much as mine. Heck, plenty of the sayings in it are pure dee plagiarism So, many a feedhat nod to Eddy--and please don't sue me! Back when we were a little suspicious of each other--maybe I was little protective of my youngest sister--we first bonded over this song. Now we are best of friends and family. And I am never home long before we are out on the porch with guitars cranked enough that you dear reader probably hear us while you sup with the window cracked in Maine.

8) Chris Whitley: Scrapyard Lullaby

Searchin the scrapyard for my dirty crown

Whitley is another saint in my life and a hobbyhorse. If you've been around me for 19 minutes then you've heard me trill of Chris Whitley. He's another one of those through whom in whom-ers in all of my writing. This book of mine is very scrappy--in the scrapmetal sense. And in the poke-you-in-the-eye sense. I'd call it a translation of coyote opera as much as a highly romantic stab at waterfalling light again and again down upon the miraculous in common things.

9) Robert Pete Williams: Scrap Iron Blues

I never thought of writing the scrap iron blues...that's the first time I played something like that

I can't tell you how many metal dump runs I have been on in our dearly vain endeavors to clean up the farm. I can't tell you of all of the beauty bowed there and left behind there in those half blown out old baling twines wrapped around half crapped fences in our dearly vain attempt to secure one paddock or gate or whatever. I love Williams' negative capability here. He's riding that ice-cube across the hot oven of his mind, to borrow Frost for a second. My book is similarly unmade--my writing is as improvised and as twine-tousled as this be-soul-ed lung breeze.

10) Star Room Boys: Both Our Towns

All your pretty little lies were like the sweat upon your thighs that just dried up while we slept without a sound

Everybody knows Jeff Tweedy and they should. But who knows Dave Marr? Surely he should be so much more thickly lauded, laureled. There were summers when the two Star Room Boys' records never left the face of the rigged up Ford farm truck CD player. In fact I think one of those Fords was sold with a burned SRB CD sort of gridlocked and tetanused in the player. We'd raise a PBR while jouncing out acros the pasture and get a little PBR baptized via truck via field. My poetry prayer always is to surprise the heaven out of you. I've listened to this song around 4,532 times and I still don't hear sweat or thighs coming. That's like an eel across a pasture. That's a raw glister none of us see hooping forward. That's poetry.

11) Lucinda Williams: Pineola

I just sat alone in a corner chair; I didn't say much of anything

Seems like we all need a net under our trapeze and solidly bouncy shoes to shod up in when we skydive. I can't tell you how much the kindness of my poetry friends has
meant to me--how many worshipful, eyes-closed listens to this song with the great poet John Pursley III, bourbon like a cat on the lap. We lost poet Craig Arnold to a volcano. Before he died he told me, after I'd sent him a possumfat Whitmany poem, he said: read Frank Stanford immediately but don't do what he did. Finding Stanford was like finding family. I found we used many of the same words and were in so many versed ways manic kin. That led me to email CD Wright whose emails in reply changed my poetry life: she bestowed a swaggery exoskeleton I wore for the rest of my school days.

12) RL Burnside: See My Jumper on the Line

Way down here; way you wanna do

Folks sometimes say, you read aloud rather angrily. Folks sometimes say, your poetry is dark as a tooth in a cave. I say, I smile brighter than a tooth ache while I write. And reading aloud is pure religion for me. And I don't write on a flipped five gallon bucket--a la RL here--but I might as well. That's the spring water well spirit of it. That's the shotgun wedding of thistle and nettle my writing and yodelings kindly mean to be. I am as happy in creation times as RL is herein.

13) Washington Phillips: Lift Him Up That's All

O lift him up, that's all

Phillips is a prophet. Kids throwing stones at weird Washington while he lilted and belted tunes from his porch in his dotage. That's one story you'll surely hear when you dig in. Listening to him is like crawling into a velvet whale and the ribby fires there'll keep you cool, yes they will.It's a pastoral elegy after all, Destruction of Man is. So there is a contractual obligation there to apotheosize. So ends my book. With a lift. And a bareness. Unshielded. And shining. Helped up and along. No need for a ladder where there is a hand.

Abraham Smith and Destruction of Man links:

video trailer for the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Entropy interview with the author
Midwestern Gothic interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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