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April 15, 2015

Book Notes - Janaka Stucky "The Truth Is We Are Perfect"

The Truth Is We Are Perfect

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Janaka Stucky's debut poetry collection The Truth Is We Are Perfect is filled with precise and powerful poems.

Bill Knott wrote of the book:

"Stucky's verse has the power of the best East European poets—some of his poems seem to be perfect, magnificent, and instantly anthologizable. He is a forceful, cogent, incisive phrase-maker."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Janaka Stucky's Book Notes music playlist for his poetry collection The Truth Is We Are Perfect:

Back in 2008 I was attempting NaPoMo for only the second time in my life. I'm not an historically prolific writer, and the prospect of writing 30 poems in 30 days (let alone in a year) felt daunting, so I turned to a novelist friend I knew to crank out thousands of words a day for advice. She suggested I create a ritual for myself. I think she meant something simple, to create a space to write in—but having grown up with exposure to a number of mystical traditions I took it literally, and began constructing an elaborate somatic ritual that not only allowed me to produce the requisite number of poems but also led me to discover writing from a trance state, which changed the voice of my work entirely. This new book is largely a document of the work that came out of that ritual, which chronicles the destruction of the self through the adoration of the other—and the recreation of the self in the other's absence. One of the components of this ritual involves listening to ambient music—often doom / stoner / drone metal, but not always. I've chosen songs below that were either directly involved in my rituals or acted as influences outside the ritual, informing my aesthetic choices and aspirations.

"Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, Holy Reconciling" by Gurdjief / de Hartmann

I probably listened to this piano composition at least thirty times while writing the poems in the book. Part of an amazing collection titled Hymns, Prayers, and Rituals, it's one of over fifty pieces for the piano that Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann wrote in the early 20th century with the enigmatic Russian mystic, Gurdjieff (who also happened to be de Hartmann's spiritual teacher). Alternately delicate and intense, whenever I needed to shine a light in the abyss I would turn to this haunting recording. Ultimately it worked its way into one of my poem's titles.

"The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull" by Earth

When most people hear the term "doom metal" this probably isn't what they're thinking of. It feels more like a soundtrack to a Cormac McCarthy novel (I recently learned his novels are actually where the band gets a number of their titles). It's totally trance-inducing without droning. I remember seeing Earth live once, struggling to stay conscious on my feet along with the rest of the silently swaying crowd as this music washed over us. At one point a guy standing next to me just dropped to the floor; a few of us looked over at him—totally unsurprised, as if this could happen to any of us at any moment—and then someone helped him up, and he resumed to rock slowly back and forth again. Whenever I'm sitting at my desk and the snow outside starts piling high—which is often in Massachusetts—I feel compelled to put this on.

"Aéroport / Évolution" by Ô Paon

I first heard Ô Paon (née Geneviève Castrée) when she opened for Earth on that same tour through Boston several years back, and was totally mesmerized from the start. Despite performing solo, she creates passionately beautiful songs that are as elaborately textured as they are intimate. I would love to accomplish in my poems what she accomplishes in her music, and so I sometimes listen to her when I write—hoping to be transported back into whatever liminal space she creates from and then find my own potential there.

"A Shaving of the Horn That Speared You" by Sunn O)))

Sunn O))) is a quintessential doom / drone band, and I love them—their live show is a physically and psychologically transcendent experience—but I actually can't listen to their recordings for too long because they scare the shit out of me. Nonetheless, from time to time I need to unfetter my dread and so I nervously take a walk through these dark woods.

"Death Letter" / "Grinnin' in Your Face" / "Little Bird" medley by The White Stripes

Despite listening to a lot of drone and doom metal while I write, I'm not necessarily trying to emulate that aesthetic in my work. Instead, I'm working towards the spare unspoken that's often found in old blues songs … but which one to choose and by what artist? Skip James comes to mind for his otherworldly voice and popularization of the D minor tuning (taught to him, incidentally, by a guy named Stuckey). Son House is also a strong contender because of how he allows himself to be possessed by the "lowdown shaking chill" of the blues. But let's be honest; I'm just a Montessori-schooled white kid who has been heavily influenced by their work… and you know who else matches that description? Jack White. Incidentally, he also published my book... What I love about Jack's playing is his emotive guitar work, which mirrors how I strive to use silence in my poems. Silence in a poem should work like a good guitar solo in a blues-based rock song, coming at the moment when words fail to say what language alone cannot. Jack does this masterfully in the controlled and sorrowful solo that comes at 1:52 in "I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart." However, if I had to pick one of his pieces that embodies what my own work aspires to, I'd have to choose this live performance of the "Death Letter / Grinnin' In Your Face / Little Bird" medley found in their Blackpool concert. "Death Letter" and "Grinnin' In Your Face" are Son House staples, the hauntingly minimal originals given new urgency in the White Stripes' hands. Meanwhile "Little Bird" only makes a cameo in this medley via a few notes at the very end, but I know the lyrics to that song (I got a little bird / I'm gonna take her home / put her in a cage / disconnect the phone) and the absence of them makes it all the more personally poignant. The barely restrained wailing guitar work found in this performance perfectly embodies, with a kind of frenzied duende, the silence I strive for in my own work—and the dark, elliptical lyrics tell intensely intimate stories of quiet desperation that resonate deeply with subject matter I find myself returning to again and again.

"J'attends oh J'attends" by Dashenka

I met Dasha when we got booked to perform at the same show in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago. At the show I performed some poems as part of cleansing ritual—drawing from my Vedic upbringing and adding influences from Gnosticism, Thelema, Santería, Chaos Magick, etc. Which is to say it was a witchy show. Dasha totally captured the audience with her music then, and whenever I listen to her now, often lying alone in the dark, I'm similarly spun deeply into myself as though from a spell.

"And the Phoenix Is Reborn" by Sabbath Assembly

Fronted by heavy metal sorceress Jex Toth, Sabbath Assembly formed to play "the hymns of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, an Apocalyptic religious sect from the late 60's and early 70's. The controversial theology of the church unites Jehovah, Lucifer, Satan and Christ, with the hymns invoking each of these ancient deities." Processians derived their original methodology of self-discovery from Scientology and then infused it with some Old Testament mojo. That said, they also published a magazine called "The Process," which featured some of the most artful graphic design coming out of that era—and apparently they wrote some really beautiful hymns because the songs covered by Sabbath Assembly are incredible. Falling somewhere between Black Sabbath and the HAIR soundtrack, this song in particular exemplifies the merging of contemporary art with ancient imagery and esoteric belief systems to powerful effect. I can't get enough.

"Mani Malaikat" by Arrington de Dionyso

Arrington is a shaman. Whether live or recorded he is always channeling something pure, fiery and fierce. Equal parts William Blake and Indonesian black magic, this song is a throbbing, trance-inducing psychedelic incantation. Go check out the translation to these lyrics. Here, let me Google that for you…

"Dopesmoker" by Sleep

Clocking in at just over 63 minutes, this epic stoner anthem chronicles the "Weedians" pilgrimage to a mythical Nazareth through relentlessly slow and heavy iterative guitar chords that build a surprisingly lucid and infinitely listenable journey. I've definitely written a few poems in the book while lost somewhere along the road in this extra-dimensional landscape.

"Destroyer" by Angels of Light

While I am often more drawn to Michael Gira's other band, Swans, for an ecstatic yet meditative experience, a number of years ago I became totally hooked on The Angels of Light. Less aggressive than the music of Swans but dense with lyric imagery, I find myself pulled back into their songs over and over again. This song really resonated with me, and inspired a number of love poems to Kali—a few of which made it into the book.

"Eaglewolf" by Master Musicians of Bukkake

Imagine The Residents playing the dark side of New Age and you've got MMOB. Drawing heavily on eastern instrumentation and song constructions, they build crystalline dirges that make for the perfect come-down music to a DMT trip. This particular song is the final track off the first album in their Totem trilogy, which climbs slowly up, higher and higher into a glittering spiral of fractalled majesty that recedes just as gently back into the river of stardust from whence it came. I've listened to Totem One countless times to help me ascend into other planes, and every time I reach "Eaglewolf" it's once again like watching seraphim lead the Merkabah eternally off and away.

Janaka Stucky and The Truth Is We Are Perfect links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Phantasmaphile review
Zack Kopp review

Virginia This Morning interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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