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September 19, 2017

Book Notes - Kaveh Akbar "Calling a Wolf a Wolf"

Calling a Wolf a Wolf

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.

Kaveh Akbar's Calling a Wolf a Wolf is the most striking and moving poetry collection I have read in years.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A breathtaking addition to the canon of addiction literature, Akbar's poetry confronts the pain and joy in denying oneself for the sake of oneself…Akbar's poems offer readers, religious or not, a way to cultivate faith in times of deepest fear."

In his own words, here is Kaveh Akbar's Book Notes music playlist for his poetry collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf:

I've thought often about how all of my favorite music and all of my favorite poetry tends to orbit incantation, conjuring. Early audiences of Marlowe's Faustus claimed to see extra demons onstage hiding out among the costumed devils, conjured by the spells in the Marlowe's text. All the art that speaks most deeply to my soul, all the poetry I love best, seems united by a similar ambition.

Moonface – "Marimba and Shit-Drums"

Spencer Krug is one of my great poetic influences. I think it's probably unsexy to claim a contemporary musician as such, but it'd be disingenuous to deny it. Spencer has a number of projects, but Moonface is the most interesting of the bunch (followed by Sunset Rubdown, followed by Swan Lake, followed by Wolf Parade). This track was Spencer's first offering as Moonface; it was also probably his best.

Westside Connection – "Bow Down"

This was my first favorite song, the first song to which I knew every word by heart front and back. I recorded it off the radio to a tape one day and would rewind and listen to it over and over and over. I think its bombast and self-assured assertions of control assuaged a deep sense of powerlessness within me. It still does, actually.

Destroyer – "Bay of Pigs"

The first time I heard this song, I was coming down off A Lot of Drugs and lying in bed in the late afternoon and the room was a particular shade of sun-blue that I think I've only seen that one time. "Please remove your spurs. / Come to think of it, remove your antlers," enacts everything, in a line, that many of my poems aspire toward. There are certain poems in Calling a Wolf a Wolf that owe a great spiritual debt to Dan Bejar's singular rhetorical constructions.

Arab on Radar – "Running for Asthma"

31G records was, for a long and important time, the guiding aesthetic influence in my life. This track, by my second (or possibly third) favorite 31G band (after The Locust and maybe Mr. Quintron) is my favorite piece in their entire catalog. There's a darkness, a kind of weird petulant throb, that is so consistent with a particular frequency of my own psychic vibrations.

Joanna Newsom – "Go Long"

"There's a man / Who only will speak in code / Backing slowly, slowly down the road / May he master everything / That such men may know / About loving, and then letting go." I can't comment on that. I can't even comment about that.

Beep Beep – "Executive Foliage"

Beep Beep was my introduction to real music, which was my introduction to real art, which was my introduction to real writing and real people. I owe this band, this record ("Business Casual"), and this song in particular, everything. The first time I heard it, I think I almost literally shit my pants.

Titus Andronicus – "Theme from ‘Cheers'"

During the time when I was deepest in the throes of my scumbag phase, I would stumble around my city in a fugue after the bars closed, listening to this song and album and shouting the lyrics off bridges and into bike racks and the like. I think (hope!) there are moments of that kind of anthemic yearning in Calling a Wolf a Wolf.

HEALTH – "Stonefist"

I listened to this record (Death Magic) on repeat during every writing session through the eighteen months where the vast majority of Calling a Wolf a Wolf was written. That's thousands of listens. I'm not sure what exactly about the record lent itself so perfectly to this kind of repetition, nor do I fully understand why or how it felt so generative to the work. I do think it has something to do with that aforementioned sense of incantation.

Liars – "Drum and the Uncomfortable Can"

Incantation, conjuring. I have been trying to rip off the sonic experience of this song in a poem for over a decade.

Angel Olsen – "Creator, Destroyer"

There's this quote from Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices: "The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them." I am so invested in that effect in my poetry, how I might achieve that effect on the page. The way this song unfolds and frays as it nears its end has been so instructive to me in that way.

Bonus: Omid Walizadeh – "Modern Persian Speech Sounds"

It seems antithetical to the spirit of a mixtape to put a 33-minute track in the middle of it, but this incredible collage of classic Persian songs and samples is directly responsible for key moments across several poems in the book. If the book had a signature track, this would be it.

Kaveh Akbar and Calling a Wolf a Wolf links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review

Glass Poetry Journal essay by the author
Literary Hub essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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)
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