Author Playlists

Leslie Sainz’s playlist for her poetry collection “Have You Been Long Enough At Table”

“When you hit a creative wall, singing ‘I’m a reasonable man get off my case, get off my case, get off my case’ is a powerful and convincing coping strategy.”

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Leslie Sainz’s Have You Been Long Enough At Table is a breathtaking collection of poems that address the Cuban American experience.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

“Sugar is a recurring motif in this debut collection by the daughter of Cuban exiles, whose poems address life after the revolution & especially the role of women.”

In her own words, here is Leslie Sainz’s Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Have You Been Long Enough At Table:

A few weeks ago, I read a soon-to-be-published essay by a dear friend that referenced fin de siècle Gothic Literature scholar Rebecca May’s description of the difference between terror and horror. It’s a distinction I hadn’t previously given much thought to, even though I’d recently started watching horror game Let’s Play videos on YouTube as a means of releasing chronic stress (regrettably, it works). Essentially, terror is anticipatory, suggestive, an impossible knot of certainty and uncertainty. It’s that dreadful feeling that cloaks you when you’re certain that danger has set its eyes on you, but uncertain of when it’ll reveal itself. Horror, however, is active, intellectual. It requires your witnessing. Dread becomes materialized, and oftentimes, it’s a personalized exploitation of the macabre. 

I was terrified to write my debut poetry collection, Have You Been Long Enough at Table, a book fashioned out of many interlocking knots of certainty and uncertainty. I was terrified of the blank page, of potentially whittling down personal and political histories to their most reductive elements. I was terrified of the canon’s unfriendly and unaccommodating ghosts. But now, on the eve of publication, two things have become clear to me: that I might feel horrified by my own book’s release, and, on a more positive note, that my ritualization of certain pre-writing behaviors worked overtime to quell most of my early terror. No matter the weight or shape of my dread, I always do these three things before sitting down to write:

  1. Take a warm shower (evening showerer, evening writer)
  2. Light a candle, or two, or three
  3. Put on my WRITE WRITE WRITE playlist

So here’s a peek into #3, with some bonus tracks sprinkled throughout.

Like Spinning Plates by Radiohead

I discovered the order for Have You Been Long Enough at Table while exclusively listening to three songs off Radiohead’s Amnesiac, “Like Spinning Plates” being one of them. The heady electronic discordance, Thom Yorke’s signature haunting falsetto and extended vowels, the sense of being swallowed in reverse. Perfect for simulating that particular feeling of disorientation you experience just before you find your way.

Pyramid Song by Radiohead

An irregular ballad for cutting deep: Cinematic, melancholy piano. Spooky, emotive vocalizing with more extended vowel sounds (a favorite) and echoed lyrics. The repetition of “There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt” becomes a balm.

Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box by Radiohead

When you hit a creative wall, singing “I’m a reasonable man get off my case, get off my case, get off my case” is a powerful and convincing coping strategy. If that doesn’t work, try “After years of waiting, nothing came. And you realize you’re looking in, looking in the wrong place.” Also, hypnotically tinny percussion and Thom Yorke sounds like he’s purring in the background. 

La Vida Es Un Carnaval by Celia Cruz

La Reina. I would be willing to bet that on any given day, this song is played at least once every hour across Miami, where I was proudly born and raised. It is the platonic ideal of Cuban salsa, that is, soul-touchingly rhythmic. Celia’s voice is knowing, combustible, and velvety, and the lyrics are celebratory, motivational. If you listen to this song and don’t find yourself reflexively dancing or gyrating in some way or another, I fear you and for you.

Nobody by Mitski

I didn’t know how much I enjoyed the sick pleasure of crying hysterically and dancing at the same time until I heard “Nobody.” The upbeat, new-disco-esque instrumental is an emotional red herring and Mitski’s vocals are so crystalline and trustworthy they could lead me to shipwreck. A moment of lyric kinship: there’s a line in a poem from Have You Been Long Enough at Table that reads “Do you believe we want enough of ourselves?” I now see a little bit of “Nobody” in it: “Venus, planet of love, was destroyed by global warming. Did its people want too much, too? Did its people want too much?”

Alma Do Sol (Introdução) by AbJo

My father was born in Havana but grew up in São Paulo. I have vivid memories of his Brazilian friends smoking cigars, dancing, and teasing each other in Portuguese on the patio of my childhood home. I only know a few words of the language, but I derive a great deal of comfort from its music. For me, there’s something equally futuristic and nostalgic about this track’s wet, abstract instrumentals and Portuguese chorus. This song felt like home when I was hammering away at my graduate thesis, the skeleton of Have You Been Long Enough at Table.

Mrs. Dalloway: Meeting Again by Max Richter

I owe a lot to my friend and colleague Carolyn Kuebler, including bottomless gratitude for leading me down the Max Richter rabbit hole. She’s a big fan of him and Virginia Woolf, and fittingly introduced me to Richter’s composition of Woolf Works—the Royal Ballet production inspired by Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, and The Waves. There’s a line in my poem “Glassware” that reads: “If you were to turn my ears inside out: hot skin, sleep, only trust your family.” And that’s a lie. If you actually turned my ears inside out, “Mrs. Dalloway: Meeting Again”—its aching strings and booming, luxurious production—would fall out of my head in a gesture of elegant catharsis.

Swordfighter by Andrew Applepie & Dario Lessing 

Equal parts seductive and laid back. Sometimes aquatic, sometimes symphonic. Mostly, I feel powerful when I listen to “Swordfighter,” which is why I reserve it for drafting new work by hand in a notebook. The impulse to second guess oneself drowns in the agile keys, confident bass, and organic sampling.  

Son Kunda by Susso

I so wish I could remember how I stumbled upon Susso’s 2016 album Keira and relive the first time I heard “Son Kunda.” Recorded in Gambia by producer Huw Bennett, “Son Kunda” samples the traditional vocal stylings of the Madinka people over introspective, hopeful lo-fi. It’s deeply reverential, ecstatic, and immaculate. This track belongs to a sub-playlist of songs I listened to while writing a series of American sonnets in honor of the Orishas—a backbone of my book.

Súper Son by Juan Pablo Torres y Algo Nuevo

Rounding out this list is the title track of one of the best Afro-Cuban funk albums in existence. The full-bodied trombone! The joyful rumbas! The psychedelic keyboard! It’s an instant terror killer.

For book & music links, themed playlists, a wrap-up of Largehearted Boy feature posts, and more, check out Largehearted Boy’s weekly newsletter.

Leslie Sainz is the author of Have You Been Long Enough at Table (Tin House, 2023). The daughter of Cuban exiles, she was born and raised in Miami, Florida. Sainz received her BA in Creative/Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University and her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, the Yale Review, New England Review, Kenyon Review, AGNI, and elsewhere. A three-time National Poetry Series finalist, Sainz has received scholarships, fellowships, and honors from CantoMundo, The Miami Writers Institute, The Adroit Journal, and The Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts at Bucknell University. She is the managing editor of the New England Review.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider supporting the site to keep it strong.