Marcus Amaker’s poetry collection Hold What Makes You Whole blends imagery to musicality to profound results.
Music has always been essential to my creative process. It’s my first love. When I was ten years old, I wrote my first “song” and I made “albums” on cassette tapes. Those words are in quotations because I didn’t understand much about being a musician; all I knew was that I wanted to be Prince and write, produce, arrange, and do the artwork for all my creations. I carry that spirit with me more than 30 years later.
My tenth poetry book, Hold What Makes You Whole, is infused with the rhythms around me. Many albums and songs indirectly inspired the poems. I use music and incense as fuel for the writing process, and these are the songs and albums that got me from page 1 to 200:
Fossora by Bjork
Bjork’s music permits me to go further in my writing and not shy away from experimentation. Fossora helped me craft the experimental poems in the book, like “Set & Settings” and “Connecting the Dots.” Bjork’s fierce focus on her singular artistic vision is inspiring. Everything she does is a vibe. No part of a Bjork project is half assed: the videos are stellar, the music production is pristine and clean, her voice is immaculate, her lyrics are poems. Fossora could very well be her crowning achievement. I enjoyed her last album, Utopia, but felt some energy was missing on that release. It’s back on Fossora and is balanced well with ambient-like songs like “Allow” and “Fungal City” (an absolutely devastating melody of swirling strings and beats.) I listen to this album weekly. And I’m thankful that it put me in a place of experimentation.
“Seventh String” by Makaya McCraven
Makaya McCraven is, in my opinion, the leader of a modern jazz renaissance. What he’s doing with loops, ambient music, sampling, harp, and more should be a blueprint for young jazz musicians. “Seventh String” is the most melodic music I heard in 2022. I should be embarrassed by how many times I played it. Maybe. Anyway, this song and its album, In These Times, became an automatic soundtrack to my book. I wrote most of the poem “Give Yourself Some Flowers” to this track.
“Zatiochi” by Denzel Curry
I used to be one of those people who said, “Rap music isn’t good anymore. The best hip-hop was released in the 90s.” While I do hold a special love for old school rap, I have realized that my emotional pull to that era is more important than the music itself (with a few exceptions, like De La Soul, The Roots, and A Tribe Called Quest). Denzel Curry is an artist helping me stay present in what the genre is offering NOW. He’s a brilliant mind and poet. “Zatiochi” is an energetic song that owes a lot to another 90s genre: drum’ n’ bass. I love it. This song was my treat after finishing a poem. It was a great way to release the energy it takes to write poetry.
A Light for Attracting Attention by The Smile
Full disclosure: If Thom Yorke released an album of himself spitting in a cup, I’d purchase the special edition. Twice. The Smile was announced, and I immediately became a fan. This record, particularly the tracks “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings” and “Waving a White Flag,” put me in the emotional space to let everything out on paper. The songs opened me up. And I often listened to this record when I needed a spark to finish the poems that took the longest to complete, like “Dealate.” There’s a line in “We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings” – “I’m stuck in a rut / In a flatland drainage ditch,” that became a battle cry for the moments when I felt “stuck” in writing. And it helped me pull through.
“Tippa My Tongue” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Guilty pleasure! I’ve been a fan of RHCP since Mother’s Milk in 1989. Thirty-three years later, this silly funk gem hit my record player. And I LOVE it. This is the song I listened to when I needed to take my writing outside. Being a poet can be an insular experience, especially when writing a book. I needed RHCP to get me off of my ass.
“Palace of Time” by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
The ambient track to end all ambient tracks. At least, for me. I’m unsure if this is true, but I’m confident that “Palace of Time” has healing qualities. This song calmed me if I felt any stress with completing the book. It’s a perfect piece of music. You can hear the influence of this calm in my poems “The New Foundation” and “Up.”
“Sparkle Tape Break Up” by Hiatus Kaiyote
I heard the line “Sharp like cobra arch” from this song as “shopped like corporate parts.” When I read the actual lyrics, I thought, “Wait. ‘Shopped like corporate parts’ would be a great line in a poem.” So I used it in the poem “kept & let go of.”
Yet another album that is part of the mood of my book. These poems are emotional and vulnerable. I hear that same vulnerability in Skee Mask’s music, even though people don’t think electronic music is dynamic. When I needed to get in the mood to write, this was one of the albums I put on.
Marcus Amaker is the first poet laureate of Charleston, SC. He is also an electronic musician, opera librettist, graphic designer, community organizer, and teaching artist. Find more of his work at marcusamaker.com, and tapeloop.bandcamp.com.