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Monday, April 27, 2009

Contributor Spotlight: Oliver de la Paz

MEME: 5 Albums that were the soundtrack to Furious Lullaby + bonus tracks
(So I figured, since this was a blog post, I’d do a very blogger-like thing and post a meme.)

When I write, I listen to music. This is, from what I understand, a not-so-common practice. I’ve always been able to write to some kind of music, whether it’s in the background, or whether I’m consciously putting a set of headphones on my head and cranking the juice on the stereo.

From what I understand, a lot of people hear the music competing with their own poetic composition. I treat the music, in some way, as a guiding principle for the syntax of my poems. Mind you, I do go back later to my poems and “repair” them, but for the initial generative moments, I listen to music with my headphones on. I’d otherwise be distracted into doing some other task . . . like vacuuming. Believe me, it’s true. I’d clean my whole damn house just to keep away from the writing desk. I suppose the practice of listening to music at the writing desk was employed specifically because I needed a distraction that would keep me with my head down typing away. When, exactly, I started listening to music while writing poems I don’t know.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you some of the albums that I listened to while I was composing Furious Lullaby, my second manuscript. In slightly chronological order, here they are:

1. I See a Darkness—Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Just after Names Above Houses (my first book) was selected as a Crab Orchard Award Series winner, I was writing these tiny, spare poems. I was stuck. I was having a hard time coming back to writing after living with my first book for so long. I was also about to leave Arizona for a cross-country trip to south central Pennsylvania for a visiting writer appointment at Gettysburg College.

2. Songs for Egon Schiele—The Rachel’s. Not much to say about this album except that listening to it inspired me to write large chunks of Furious Lullaby. There’s something about the strings and the tones in this particular album that just got me writing . . . a lot. There’s also a narrative. Mind you, it’s all instrumental/classical, but there was a palpable story.

3. Horse Stories—The Dirty Three. One song out of this album, in particular, stands out for me—“Sue’s Last Ride.” Check it out. It starts out slowly and then builds in tempo until you’re at a full gallop. I wrote “Aubade with Constellations, Horses, and Snow” to this song. The whole album, though, is lovely.

4. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots—The Flaming Lips. There had seemed to be something missing from my manuscript when I got my hands on this album in 2002. I was about ¾ done with Furious Lullaby when I realized that I needed a character to wed/fuse some of the disparate elements in my book. So I created a devil character which was a direct response to 1) an editor saying I needed a villain and 2) a whole week where I did nothing but listened to The Flaming Lips through my headphones.

5. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—Wilco. Another “thematic” album. First, though, I have to brag a little. I managed to see Wilco in New York with my good friend, Joseph Legaspi, while they were filming part of their documentary, I’m Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Thought I’d share. Anyway, I listened to this album quite obsessively. What’s remarkable is how static or the sense of static unified the album. Listening through it, it felt like I was turning the dial on a radio. I wanted that sort of progression throughout my own manuscript—you could hear echoes, samples of previous poems, but you were definitely on a new station.


I always like listening to CD’s (do we still buy CD’s nowadays?) and finding the “hidden track,” so here are some hidden tracks.

“French Vacation” The Walkmen—Wrote “Aubade with Bread for Sparrows” while listening to this.

“A Sorta Fairytale” Tori Amos—No reason. I just like Tori Amos. Got a problem?

“Break You Off” The Roots—Wrote “Aubade with a Heel of Bread, a Heart, and the Devil” this.

“Tom Traubert’s Blues” Tom Waits—I listened to a lot of Tom Waits while I was revising.

Oliver de la Paz is the author of two collections of poetry, Names Above Houses, and Furious Lullaby, both published by Southern Illinois University Press. He is the chair for the advisory board of, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the creation, cultivation, and promotion of Asian American Poetry. His work has appeared in journals and anthologies such as Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, Quarterly West, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing at Western Washington University. A series of his poems is forthcoming in HFR issue #44.


Heidi said...

What an interesting post!

I wondered how common the practice of listening to music while writing was among other writers. I also listen to music when I write, but it can't have words. I wrote a whole story with Beethoven's 7th Symphony on repeat, but Zoe Keating is probably the artist I listen to most.

And there's no reason to be ashamed of Tori Amos. I love that song.

Oliver de la Paz said...

One correction. The title of The Rachel's CD is Music for Egon Schiele.

Thanks, Heidi!