Men and Music B-Side Project Conclusion

To celebrate the 1st birthday of my poetry collection, Men and Music, this series will share "b-sides" not included in the collection but written during the same period, as well as the stories behind the poems. 

Welcome to the end of my Men and Music B-Side Project. It's been a pleasure sharing these poems with you and revisiting some work that had flown under the radar.  For my last piece, I wanted to share "October," which was published in A Quiet Courage last year. 

I think this poem represents the haphazard way creativity works."October" is not like the poems in Men and Music--it's softer, quieter, and written from a more anonymous perspective. While working on the book, I occasionally grew tired of the confessional, personal "I." When that happened, I would set the book aside and work on more hushed poems like this one.

Having finished Men and Music and shared so much "personal" work through this project, I feel drawn back to writing pieces like "October." On this chilly fall day in New York City, I close my B-Side series with this piece about autumn, the nostalgia of memory, and the stories we tell about the people we love. I wish you a joyous season filled with warm drinks and poetry. Take care.

Men and Music B-Side Project 4

To celebrate the 1st birthday of my poetry collection, Men and Music, this series will share "b-sides" not included in the collection but written during the same period, as well as the stories behind the poems. Check back each Monday for a new poem!

While I was working on Men and Music, I spent three summers hanging around Ithaca, NY. My boyfriend worked summer stock at the local theater, and I spent the season cooking meals for theater techies and stage managers, going to plays, drinking a bit more than I should, enjoying the natural landscape, and writing poems. There are a few poems written about and during that time in Ithaca (namely "'Teenage Dream' Karaoke" and "Crime") in the book. Like those pieces, "The Stars" brings me right back to Ithaca whenever I read it, and it brims with an optimism and wonder that filled those summers of waterfalls, beer, and musicals. Honestly, I am not entirely sure why I cut the piece from the final draft of the book, except that the rhyme in the last three lines felt a bit heavy, and the piece slowed the collection down. Upon revisiting "The Stars," I think I'm happier with it now, especially as a snapshot of a happy time in my life.

Men and Music B-Side Project 3

To celebrate the 1st birthday of my poetry collection, Men and Music, this series will share "b-sides" not included in the collection but written during the same period, as well as the stories behind the poems. Check back each Monday for a new poem!

This week's b-side poem is cozier than the last. "The Buddha Says Joy is a Choice" was written as a conclusion for Men and Music, and it was one of the first poems to test out what would become the collection's title. In fact, this poem helped me move from a draft of the book simply titled, "Joy," to the draft that would eventually be published. I ended up pulling the phrase "men and music" from this poem because it worked so well as the title for another piece in the collection. I also dropped "The Buddha Says" from the final draft of the book because I wanted a less conceptual poem to end the collection--one less focused on the speaker. However, I would have never arrived at the book's title without this poem, and though I think "The Buddha Says Joy is a Choice" doesn't completely work on its own merits, I find its sentiments comforting.

Shania Twain's Comeback with Now

I am surprised by how much I like Shania Twain's new record, Now, released after a 15 year hiatus filled with personal strife. The album reminds me a lot of Whitney Houston's I Look to You, which also found its star making a return after a bitter divorce and health issues that altered Houston's voice. Twain's voice has changed too, because of age and complications due to Lyme disease, but she knows how to use her instrument to compelling effect, even if that instrument is a little lower and thinner in tone.

On I Look to You, Whitney's gravel tones leant the darker material more weight, as well as made the tunes about triumph all the more powerful. Twain's voice has a similar effect here, lending heft to the ballads, while also making the joyful moments all the more compelling. Like Houston, Twain's voice and style shaped 90s pop music and paved the way for other stars to follow. (Without Twain, Leann Rhimes, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Kacey Musgraves may not have had such successful careers). She mixed pop and country aesthetics with a large dose of sex appeal to become a blockbuster hitmaker.

Those instincts are further honed on Now. With each track written by Twain, the album showcases her expert craftsmanship. Each tune is melodic and appealing, colored by surprising productions. "Home Now" mixes banjo with bold bass drum, sounding like both a country tune and ripe for a dance remix, and "Light of My Life" takes a moody guitar ballad and uses a bright chorus of layered vocals to open up the song, letting the hook breathe. "Poor Me"--perhaps the most heartbroken tune on the record--also uses layered vocals and a drum machine to create a windy, stormy production that suits the unsettled mood. On the flip side, the first single, "Life's About to Get Good," is a perfect slice of bubblegum optimism built for the dance floor. Whether singing about her broken heart or picking up the pieces with a big chorus, every track highlights Twain's perseverance.

In the video for Now's second single, "Swingin' With My Eyes Closed," Shania Twain slinks into a room in a gauzy black dress. You can see her mid-drift, and she flirts with camera. The backing track for "Swingin'" mixes country banjos, reggae, and dance music--Twain up to her old tricks of genre-blending--and when the chorus hits, she sounds sassy and powerful. It gave me chills the first time I watched it, because, in many ways, Shania is still the same--energetic and musically adventurous--and yet she's more compelling this time around. On Now, she sounds liberated, and that makes the record a triumph.

Men and Music B-Side Project 2

To celebrate the 1st birthday of my poetry collection, Men and Music, this series will share "b-sides" not included in the collection but written during the same period, as well as the stories behind the poems. Check back each Monday for a new poem!

Oh boy, this poem is such a tough one to talk about. I wrote "Easy Rider" in 2010 as part of a series of poems that would form the backbone for the first half of Men and Music. Ten of these poems, including "Easy Rider," were published in Assaracus in 2011. I am very proud of this piece because it took a lot of work to get its structure, voice, and rhythm right.

However, I always find "Easy Rider" challenging for the way it plays with fact and fiction. For example, when I wrote this poem, my brother had just received his motorcycle license and I refused to ride his bike. I had also experienced a bad break up the previous year, and that relationship had a messy conclusion. Yet, it's not quite right to assume I am the speaker, because I don't hunger for danger like the guy in the poem, though I empathize with that impulse among gay men.

"Easy Rider" is an example of the biggest challenge facing the semi-autobiographical "confessional" poet: the reader is going to think you are the poem's protagonist, no natter what you say.  I am shy about "Easy Rider"--it's my edgiest piece of work--but it's like that friend who always speaks her mind, even when it may cause conflict or change. Sometimes she  makes you uncomfortable, but you often admire her bravery too.

Men and Music B-Side Project

To celebrate the 1st birthday of my poetry collection, Men and Music, this series will share "b-sides" not included in the collection but written during the same period, as well as the stories behind the poems. Check back each Monday for a new poem!

In an early draft of what would become Men and Music, "Chick Rock Guy" was going to be the title poem and open the collection. I wrote it after my first few dates with the guy who would eventually become my boyfriend, and the excitement of new love inspired me. This joyful time was about five years before I finished the book, and as the book evolved, the poem never quite fit, in part because I wanted the collection to start in a darker place and then conclude with light. However, I kept going back to "Chick Rock Guy" because I wanted to make it work for the book. In the end, it was a better piece by itself.

Swift Trouble: the Problems of Self Victimization and Abusive Rhetoric

I rarely write about music I don't like on this blog, but Taylor Swift's latest single, "Look What You Made Me Do" troubles me so much I cannot ignore it.

Taylor Swift has long cast herself as a victim in the press and her music. The narrative of Swift as the sweet, delicate princess harmed at the hands of lovers and haters has sold a lot of records. However, the longer she has stretched this passive-aggressive arc, the more problematic it has become. Music journalists have carefully tracked this troubling trend in Swift's career, as well as how it intersects with racism and class-ism. I recommend both of these articles on the topic: "How Taylor Swift Played a Victim for a Decade and Made Her Entire Career" by Ellie Wood,  and "If Taylor Swift Wants to Address Her Bad Reputation, She Should Start by Condemning Donald Trump" by Katie Cunningham.

"Look What You Made Me Do" escalates Swift's already toxic perspective on feminism and empowerment. The title and hook for the song take the star's usual victim narrative and further corrupt those waters with emotional abuse. "Look what you made me do" is a cliche in abuse narratives (there are a plethora of Lifetime movies about domestic abuse that use those very words), but those words have become cliche because they are a common tool of emotional manipulation weaponized by abusers. I had an emotionally abusive boyfriend who often used this concept to not only excuse his abuse, but also to make me feel culpable for his misconduct.

To use this phrase as self-defense is not just cringe-worthy; it is dangerous and shows how out of touch Swift is with anyone outside of herself. Perhaps Swift has never denounced Donald Trump because they are cut from the same cloth; he always fails to see himself as culpable for his own missteps and blames his mistakes on other parties, especially liberal politicians and the media. We have seen how dangerous that kind of thinking is on a national scale over the past eight months, and now Swift is selling this same abusive rhetoric to her listeners in an effort to pass the buck.

In an age when we need to empower young people, women, people of color, and the LGTBQIA community to stand up for their rights in the face of adversity, we cannot entertain the harmful ideas in "Look What You Made Me Do." Instead, we need music that lifts us up, pushes us to forgive, and motivates us to be the heroes in our own lives and in the community at large. Because I believe in the power of music to change our thinking, I want to close this post with three brilliant songs from Kesha's new album, Rainbow, that speak to the healing and strength we all need to persevere. Enjoy them, dear reader, and have hope.