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April 12, 2016

Book Notes - Amelia Martens "The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat"

The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Amelia Martens' poetry collection The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat is filled with powerful modern parables that find magic in the everyday.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Whether she is proffering chilling indications of an apocalypse, agonizing over an earnest apology, or conjuring the latent melancholy of bedtime, [Martens] remains both playful and precise, at once whimsical and commanding…. As tangible as it is surreal."

In her own words, here is Amelia Martens' Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat:

I am notorious for listening to the same song on repeat for hours as I write. Everyone else in my house does not admire this personal quirk. I also sing poorly and have a tendency to sing the same one line of a song over and over while working (ask my sister how well this works out). As a writer, I use music to access a feeling-space in which to generate ideas. Music is important to this book in that these songs were playing either while I was writing or in my head as I was thinking of which way to turn the poems.

"Girl in the War" Josh Ritter
We’ve been at war for most of my adult life; the absurdity of the "War on Terror" and its nefarious sideshows side effects appear frequently in these poems. Today, the futility of commonsense is striking. When Ritter sings, "I got a girl in the war Paul the only thing I know to do/ Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through" I think about how we are all that girl.

"The Temptation of Adam" Josh Ritter
A man-made apocalypse is never far from my mind. This song starts off so softly and I imagine people with blankets getting ready to make it through the cold war. The literal interpretation of "cold war" aligns with the way phrases show up and stick in my mind. What would a real cold war be like? What if the words really meant what they said? This is my playground for poetry. The flawed romantic narrative of this song, "Oh Marie there's something tells me things just won't work out above/That our love would live a half-life on the surface" highlights an oddity about humans: we search the earth for love, but are also willing to destroy the planet where we live.

"Hymn #101" Joe Pug
Pug begins this song, "And I've come to know the wish list of my father/ I've come to know the shipwrecks where he's been". The strange and wise character of "our daughter" is central in my book, and many of these poems come out of how much I’d didn’t know that I would be haunted by my parents (who are still living) when I became a mom. I am revisiting these shipwrecks, but now from the parent point of view, instead of as a kid clinging to the driftwood. I’m also interested in exploring the dark space of American consumer culture and its affects. "The more I buy/ The more I'm bought/And the more I'm bought/The less I cost."

"One of Us" Joan Osborne
And now to date myself. Hello '90s. This is a song that’s been playing in my head for twenty years. The other major character in this book is an everyman Jesus who has to deal with modern tragedies, like working for the TSA or running a sweatshop. Osborne’s "yeah, yeah, yeah" both dismisses and supports the idea of god as "great". The Jesus poems address the question Osborne poses, "What if God was one of us/ Just a slob like one of us/Just a stranger on the bus"? These poems were also born out of my own tiredness of people making claims about what Jesus would do, the WWJD bracelet movement, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

"Stay Up Late" Talking Heads
This song is both childhood and new parenthood. I remember my parents playing Little Creatures in the living room of our house. This is the song I heard on repeat in my brain for the first year of our first daughter’s life; as I was working on the first poems that would grow into this book. The insanity of trying to function without sleep, and the need to write about the surreal experience of being totally responsible for another human being, show up in the prose format and the imagery of these poems.

"Talkin’ Bout a Revolution" Tracy Chapman
The guitar and Chapman’s voice, "Don’t you know…" in this song are always with me. This song is as relevant today as it was in 1988, more so for me now because I’m not 8. I can trace several of the poems in the collection back to this song: the idea that revolutions can begin quietly, that apathy can be overcome, and that people can still rise up.

"Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise" Avett Brothers
In his poem, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other", William Stafford writes, "…it is important that awake people be awake" and this is one of the tasks of poetry, in my mind—to help the awake people stay awake. I am most frightened by the mob culture, mass ignorance, people who don’t see it and I write against that. "And I'm frightened by those that don't see it/When nothing is owed or deserved or expected/And your life doesn't change by the man that's elected." I’ve taken their line "Decide what to be and go be it" as encouragement to go be a poet.

"Look at Miss Ohio" Gillian Welch
This song, its sort of lullaby rhythm, reminds me of my two daughters; it played a lot in their first days when we were home together, all day. The "oh me oh my oh" is my grown-up response to Old MacDonald’s "E-I-E-I-O". I came to see the chorus, "She says I wanna do right but not right now" as the internal monologue in their heads while they ran around naked (with their "rag-top down") and destroyed the house. There’s something admirable about wanting to do right and something human about not wanting to do it right now. In these poems there is a playfulness of being human, of moving through the world without care for what people think—which is what children do.

"Jerusalem" Dan Bern
I love the Dylan guitar strum at the start of this song; then the ways Bern challenges the listener’s most sensitive areas, our love and faith systems. "When I tell you that I love you/ Don't test my love…/Cause maybe I don't love you all that much". He brings the commonplace irritation of waiting for the bus and equates that with the feeling different religious groups have as they wait for their messiah. Bern then reveals that he is the messiah. The idea of revealing yourself at the messiah plays into the Jesus poems in this collection ("In God’s Country"). What if the kid at the drive-thru window told you he was the messiah?

"Holland, 1945" Neutral Milk Hotel
My oldest daughter calls this song "1, 2, 3, 4" and requests it on the drive to school. As a mom I was totally unprepared for death to become a large topic of conversation with my three-year old; somehow I thought this would happen later, like when she was nine (since I remember being nine and overwhelmed by the fact that everyone I knew was going to die). As we were listening to this song, she started asking questions about Anne Frank—like how did she get to be a little boy playing a piano? "Now she's a little boy in Spain/ Playing pianos filled with flames". This song is the seeding ground for "Pre-Alice" and for the poems that deal with space and how things might look from there, "The Earth looks better from a star/That's right above from where you are".

"3rd Planet" Modest Mouse
The soft way this song begins conflicts with the ideas it presents. I love the juxtaposition; this song was important to me as I was preparing to leave California in 2004. It reflects how I was feeling at that time and it stays with me because I’m continually fighting the idea that "I've got this thing that I consider my only art of fucking people over." It also supplies the idea that "If you go straight long enough you'll end up where you were", so maybe think about where you want to end up. Stop going straight. Write prose poems. Additionally, the song refers to pervasive nature of modern surveillance, "The 3rd planet is sure that they're being watched/ By an eye in the sky that can't be stopped."

"John Walker’s Blues" and "Rich Man’s War" Steve Earle
We’re "raised on MTV" (or whatever soda pop reality show has replaced it) and our poor go off to "fight a rich man’s war". Often I begin writing because I am appalled at some situation allowed to happen. Why are schoolyards bombed ("When People Look to the Sky"), why is healthcare a for-profit industry ("In the First World"), why are refuges refused rights ("In the Country of Neutrality")? I write because I don’t understand.

Amelia Martens and The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat links:

the author's website

Nicole Rollender 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
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)