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April 8, 2019

Joseph Grantham's Playlist for His Poetry Collection "Tom Sawyer"

Tom Sawyer

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

Joseph Grantham's poetry collection Tom Sawyer is both haunting and fascinating.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn wrote of the book:

"Writer and bookseller Joseph Grantham makes the quotidian fascinating and hypnotic: you may know him, most recently, from his ongoing column at The Nervous Breakdown. In this new collection of poetry, he evokes the quotidian and the cultural in equal measure, to impressive effect."

In his own words, here is Joseph Grantham's Book Notes music playlist for his poetry collection Tom Sawyer:

I don't remember what songs I was listening to when I wrote Tom Sawyer. But I do know what the book feels like to read and what it sounds like in my head. The mood, the tone of the thing. I can hear it. It's sad and boring and melancholy. But I think it's also a sweet and tender and contemplative and hungover and caffeinated and restless sort of sound. It's a book about growing up in the American suburbs, and a book about work, friendships, heartbreak, role models, riding the subway, forced laughter, finding blood in your urine and semen, and eating graham crackers. And looking back at the book, and flipping through it, this is the soundtrack I've decided to share with you.

1) "Motorbikes" by Real Estate

The second poem in my book is about how I tend to feel bored and warm all the time. And that's what this song sounds like to me. Boredom and warmth. It also reminds me of waking up and going to work. I just drove my girlfriend to her job at an insurance company and we listened to this song in the car.

2) "How to Rent a Room" by Silver Jews

The first few months I lived in New York, I thought that I wanted to die. But no, I didn't really want to die, I just wanted to make the person who broke my heart think that I wanted to die. So I hit myself in the face a lot and made a lot of bad art, some of which was inspired by this very song. Yes, I drew unsatisfactory drawings of David Berman. I'd like to take a moment here to thank my friend Cecile for giving me her copy of David Berman's book of poetry, Actual Air.

3) "Minimum Wage (Bobby Hawkins)" by Sonny Smith

I can't think of a song that better encapsulates the experience of being slightly hungover and standing behind a desk at work. And the way that time slows down the minute you clock in.

4) "Always See Your Face" by Love

I worked across the street from the place where my ex (for lack of a better word) spent the first twenty or so years of her life. I mean, I'd be standing at the cash register and I could literally look out the window and see the apartment building where she grew up. Maybe that wasn't healthy. This song also reminds of the movie High Fidelity which I love and which I reference in the book.

5) "1985" by Amen Dunes

There's something violent and ominous about this song. And there's something violent and ominous about New York City. This song sounds like coming home on the subway from a bad day at work. There's a poem in the book about wanting to scream and shadowbox on the subway platform.

6) "Rumours of Glory" by Bruce Cockburn

There's a short poem in the book where I mention how I don't have a friend named Bruce. I think Cockburn is great poet. I'd like to be his friend. Listening to Bruce Cockburn makes me think of my dad. And when I've been depressed, his music has helped me. This song is like an antidepressant to me. My girlfriend can't stand Bruce Cockburn.

7) "A Cloud to the Back" by Sam Prekop

Sometimes you have a day off and you get to walk around your neighborhood and you've had just the right amount of coffee and okay so maybe New York City isn't so bad, maybe it's kind of great, maybe it's the best city in the world, and maybe I am the problem. Look at those kids playing basketball. Look at those old Polish men smoking cigarettes and looking at me like they want to beat me up. Look at the carrots in the local market. They're bright orange.

8) "My Friend Bob" by Mark Kozelek

Much of Tom Sawyer is about friendship, and the friends who pulled me out of bouts of depression. The friends who told me to take better care of myself, who looked out for me. I'm talking about you, Sam. And you, Nick. And also you, Bud. The 'Bob' in this song sounds like a good guy. His selfless love reminds me of my pals. Also, when I first showed these poems to a friend, he said, "These sound like Sun Kil Moon songs." Which some might take as a dig, but to me, that was the greatest compliment.

9) "Wolves' Pup" by Six Organs of Admittance

I write a lot about my suburban childhood in the book, and that's what this song sounds like to me. Wandering through the creeks near my house. Watching my dad click a button to rotate the ties on his rotating tie rack machine. Running laps in my elementary school P.E. class. There's a sweet sadness to all of it. A happy sadness.

10) "Fruits of My Labor" by Lucinda Williams

In the book, I talk about crying while listening to Lucinda Williams, and this was the song I was thinking about when I wrote that poem. My childhood dog was named Lucinda and she died of cancer, like many dogs do. But I don't think I was crying about my old dog.

11) "Walkdown" by Bonny Doon

This song sounds like feeling stuck, but also being okay with that. Okay, I'm stuck, that's fine, I'll just be stuck for a while. There's hope here, too. You never know where you'll end up. You may end up working in a pharmacy in rural North Carolina.

12) "Left Only With Love" by Smog

This may be the greatest, and most mature, breakup song of all time. It's nice to write a book of poems that started as a book about heartbreak, and have it become about so much more. The heartbreak takes a backseat. It becomes just another detail. It's also nice to get over someone you thought you'd never get over. Get over them and wish them the best and get on with your life.

13) "Penguins" by Michael Hurley & Pals

The second to last poem in the book is called 'poem for jersey city'. This song sounds like going to sleep in Jersey City. The stupid horns, and the feeling that, Hey, things are moving in the right direction. Everything is going to be smooth sailing from here on out. Of course, that's never true. But it's nice to pretend for a little while.

Joseph Grantham and Tom Sawyer links:

the author's website

Fanzine interview with the author
Independent Book Review review

OTHERPPL interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

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