February 13, 2018
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Lauren Moseley's poetry collection Big Windows is an accomplished and ambitious debut.
Kathryn Nuernberger wrote of the collection:
"Elegant and flawlessly crafted, Lauren Moseley's debut collection allows readers the charms of a perfectly framed view. But step beyond the glass and Moseley's multi-layered poems reveal themselves to be a little sharp and a little dangerous."
The music of poetry has always been one of my favorite aspects of the art form. The poems in Big Windows don't follow rhyme schemes, but they are full of assonance, consonance, slant and internal rhyme, and other types of musicality. I've lived in the South all my life, and the influence that traditionals, rock and roll, and Americana have had on my poetry—in imagery, narrative, and rhythm—cannot be overstated. I'm also lucky enough to live in an area with a thriving music scene. Here are some of the songs that came to hold special meaning over the ten years I worked on this book:
"Coffee" by Sylvan Esso
It's always good to start with a cup of coffee. The members of the synthpop duo Sylvan Esso—singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn—are from Durham, NC, where I have lived the past six-plus years, and where most of the poems in Big Windows were written. With lines like "Wild winter, warm coffee / Mind's gone, do you love me? / Blazing summer, cold coffee / Baby's gone, do you love me," this deceptively simple, haunting love song nails what I hope to achieve with the love poems in the first and final sections of the book. And a cup of coffee plays a significant role in "Cyclops," the fourth poem in Big Windows. Don't miss the wonderful video for "Coffee," which includes scenes from a house party you might have attended.
"Frankie" by Mississippi John Hurt
Dark was the night, cold was on the ground . . .
I sample lyrics from "Frankie" in "Before Prayer," a poem early on in Big Windows, with the line "Cold is in the cavern ground." This murder ballad was also performed by Lead Belly (as "Frankie & Albert"), Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash (as "Frankie & Johnny"), Elvis Presley, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, and countless others. Recordings date all the way back to 1904. Mississippi John Hurt certainly didn't write the traditional, but his version is my favorite. This song also brings out how in music and literature (really, in all art), nothing is completely original, and sometimes, drawing on archetypal stories and age-old cultural memories only enriches new work, paradoxically making it resonate as much as a fresh idea.
"Coal Miner's Daughter" by Loretta Lynn
Though I'm proud to be my father's daughter, I am not a coal miner's daughter. But I saw the biopic starring Sissy Spacek for the first time while working on this book, and it struck me so deeply that it inspired the poem "When Fog, When Mountain," which you can read here.
"Real Real Gone" by Van Morrison
"Mary," a poem in the middle of Big Windows, is about a superstition my husband, Ryland, and I adopted around the time of our wedding, in hopes of conjuring good weather for the all-outdoor event. I'm not saying it worked, but we did have perfect weather. I actually proposed to him (#feminism #strongwomen) in the car while "Real Real Gone" played, so it became our song. As you read "Mary," imagine this song playing in the background.
"Life on Mars" by David Bowie
My poem "Gravity," which begins at the beginning of the universe, was inspired in part by Tracy K. Smith's book Life on Mars, which was inspired in part by David Bowie's work. I'm still not over Bowie's death and have pledged to sing "Life on Mars" every time I enter a karaoke bar for the rest of my life on Earth. I'm doing great so far.
"Coyote" by Joni Mitchell, from The Last Waltz
Ryland and I have probably watched The Last Waltz together twelve times, and listened to the album many more. If I could include the entire four-hour album here, I would. I can't remember if Joni Mitchell's song or Jean Valentine's poem "Coyote" first inspired my poem of the same name, which appears in the final section of Big Windows, but I love this version of the tune from The Band's farewell concert so much that I have to include it here.
"Free Money" by Patti Smith
Reading Just Kids by Patti Smith was a pivotal moment for me as a writer, in part because of the way she imbues simple objects, such as a Polaroid photograph, a homemade necklace, or a plain black coat, with such history, emotion, and meaning. I read the book in December 2014, listened to her seminal album Horses constantly, and wrote the poem "Marriage," which became a linchpin in the Big Windows manuscript. Again, if I could put the entirety of Horses on here I would, but I'll have to stick with "Free Money," my favorite song on the album. I especially love the dynamics of this song, and these variations in speed, tone, and even volume are something I strived for in the arc of Big Windows as well.
"Kammou Taliat" by Bombino
Omara "Bombino" Moctar is a virtuoso guitarist from Niger. I listened to his beautiful album Agadez so much while editing Big Windows that it feels ingrained in the back of my skull like a pleasant humming. "Kammou Taliat," which means "You, My Beloved," is one of my favorites, but each track of this cohesive album is indispensable, and each invokes Bombino's desert home. I live in forested foothills, but I think this album seeped into my brain when I was writing "An Ending," a poem towards the end of the book that contains a dream of the desert.
"Hard Times" by Gillian Welch
My husband and I have been poorly-but-passionately playing and singing Gillian Welch songs in our living room and at get-togethers with friends for a few years now. Despite its hopeful message ("Hard times / ain't gonna rule my mind / no more"), "Hard Times" has an incredibly mournful melody, and tragedy befalls the man described in the first and final verses. Yet, it's such a beautiful song that I can't stop listening to it, no matter my mood. This mixture of darkness and light is what I aim for throughout Big Windows.
"Country Road" by Toots & the Maytals
In this, one of the best covers in music history, Toots replaces John Denver's "West Virginia" with "West Jamaica." If I were to do a version, I'd replace that phrase with "North Carolina." This song is about home, wherever it may be, and the trees, animals, and landscapes of my home state are in every section of Big Windows. The book closes with the title poem, in which the speaker feels a sense of peace in her home and the natural world outside its windows, and the two merge until one is indistinguishable from the other. I attempted to construct this book much like an album, with a satisfying track at the end that fades out a bit. Thank you so much for listening.
Lauren Moseley and Big Windows links:
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
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)
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