PAPERCUTZ Volume 3: The Literary Mix
As someone deeply interested in the interconnectivity of all art forms, I love the sometimes unspeakable ways that literature and music can play off each other. In this mix, I try to pair poems, collections of poetry, and novels (some contemporary, some dated) with songs that can complement and enlarge their themes. This also might be the only place on the internet where the R&B sounds of Solange Knowles are placed alongside the lines of a missing German poet.
Literary work: Michael Cunningham’s The Hours
Musical pairing: Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th”
Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999, is a tripartite character study that explores the lives of three women impacted by Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway: Clarissa, a lesbian book editor living in Manhattan in 1999; Laura, a Los Angeles housewife in 1949; and Woolf herself as she begins Mrs. Dalloway in 1923.
With prose that elegantly and probingly explores queerness, the process of making art, and the privileges of our everyday, The Hours deserves to be read alongside “Avril 14th,” a palate-cleansing instrumental composition by Aphex Twin, the pseudonym of Richard David James, an Irish electronic artist and composer.
Literary work: Morgan Parker’s Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night
Musical pairing: Janelle Monáe’s “Locked Inside”
Morgan Parker, whose debut collection of poems was selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize, is a poet of uncompromising voice and nuance. She continually challenges what a poem can do by pulling from elements of popular culture—Beyoncé, reality television—and yet always returning to themes of the body, black femininity, racism, and notions of luxury, comfort, and beauty. Parker’s new book syncs serendipitously with Janelle Monáe’s “Locked Inside,” easily the most gorgeous and synthy song off her Afrofuturist concept album, The ArchAndroid.
Selected poems from Parker: “Let Me Handle My Business, Damn” in Poetry and “Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce)” in Prelude.
Literary work: C.P. Cavafy’s Collected POems
Musical pairing: Angus & Julia Stone’s “Just a Boy”
The Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933) was the master of indirection. In poems that feel rich with silence, Cavafy remained concerned with history, place, and myth, but also the erotic, the male form, and same-sex desire. His rooms, details, descriptions, and objects reveal a life “transformed into feeling.” Pair his Collected Poems, translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, with Angus & Julia Stone’s perfect “Just a Boy.”
Literary work: Gergen Manstoff’s “Central Park Exit” in cell poems
Musical pairing: Solange Knowles’ “Bad Girls”
Gergen Manstoff, a young European poet, disappeared from New York City in the late summer of 2013. Stephen Priest translated a few of his short lyrics, and one of them, “Central Park Exit,” was published in the online journal cellpoems, which features poems that are 140 characters or less. A poem that feels tempered by the unsaid and by the most striking details, the nine-line “Central Park Exit” feels surprisingly close to Solange Knowles’ five-minute “Bad Girls,” the song that closes her incredible EP True.
Literary work: Deborah Landau’s The Uses of the Body
Musical pairing: St. Vincent’s “Surgeon”
Deborah Landau’s third collection of poetry, The Uses of the Body, is a series of linked lyric sequences that seeks to answer to the concerns and questions of the everyday: domestic life, womanhood, and mortality (“What will my body be / when parked all night in the earth?”). Landau’s lines possess a preternatural sense of wisdom and wit, and remind me so much of St. Vincent’s song “Surgeon,” which takes its startling refrain from Marilyn Monroe’s journals: “Best finest surgeon, come cut me open.”
Selected poems from Landau: “Solitaire” in The New Yorker.
Literary work: Chloe Honum’s The Tulip-Flame
Musical pairing: Carla Bruni’s “Quelqu’un m’a dit”
When reviewing The Tulip-Flame, Chloe Honum’s debut collection of poems, for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Catherine Pond wrote that Honum “[treats] the Romantic sublime with the kind of precision that requires removal, distance—more like the light in a Hopper painting than a Keatsean ode.” Indeed, the sheer beauty of these poems comes from their willingness to indulge in elegance, rigor, and precision and yet remain coolly and assuredly distant. The collection, which largely seeks to understand the suicide of Honum’s mother, is well-paired with Carla Bruni’s quiet torch song, “Quelqu’un m’a dit” (“Someone told me”).
Literary work: Aimee Bender’s Willful Creatures
Musical pairing: Feist’s “My Moon My Man”
Aimee Bender’s fiction deserves much more attention than it receives. In her short-story collection Willful Creatures, she balances the surreal, the sensual, and the obscene with the utmost brilliance. Most of all, I love Bender’s willingness to let her characters be self-destructive. If anything, read the collection simply for the story “Off,” which details the obsessive, emotional, and lustful antics of a young woman at a party where “[t]he wine glasses are empty except for that one undrinkable red spot at the bottom.” Pair it with Feist’s amazing song “My Moon My Man”—just wait for the guitar riff.
Literary work: Alex Dimitrov’s “Together and By Ourselves” in Poetry
Musical pairing: Bow Wow Wow’s “Fools Rush In (Kevin Shields remix)”
The final five lines of Alex Dimitrov’s poem “Together and By Ourselves,” which first appeared in Poetry magazine, are devastating. I love the sound of his new poems; I love the rooms and the dark they inhabit. It fits surprisingly well with the lushness of Kevin Shields’ remix of Bow Wow Wow’s “Fools Rush In.”
Literary work: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
Musical pairing: Beach House’s “Sparks”
The subject of To the Lighthouse is the interior lives of a family and their guests at a seaside house in the Scottish Hebrides. I know everyone loves Mrs. Dalloway, but To the Lighthouse, published in 1927, was the culmination of everything Woolf worked toward. It is her finest novel. After the end of each section, listen to Beach House’s insanely fine song “Sparks” from their latest album, Depression Cherry; the dissonance between these two is the key.