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October 25, 2018

Erin Hoover's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "Barnburner"


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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Erin Hoover's Barnburner, awarded the 2017 Elixir Press Antivenom Poetry Award, is a timely work of politics, feminism, and humanity.

PANK wrote of the collection:

"Erin Hoover’s debut poetry collection Barnburner is replete with powerful and timely character-studies. Each character, whether a bad boss, a junkie, a peer on a different path, a boyfriend, or a mugger is examined with the same mordant empathy Hoover is incredibly adept at employing."

In her own words, here is Erin Hoover's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Barnburner:

I am not a musician. As a poet, I’m more in love with the syntax of the sentence complicated by line break than with the music of words. But for much of my life, I have been musician adjacent, hanging out with people in bands and going to shows and then to parties after shows. There was a time in my life where I was likely to be in a reasonably sized party with Interpol or living in the loft where Matt and Kim were setting up a show. And I have always been a “hard listener” to music. I will analyze a song like a text: what a song means, why it’s important, the context of its writing.

I created this playlist for Barnburner from the time period in which I had certain experiences that inspired the fictional narratives of the book. Barnburner is a group of poems organized around tone. The book’s epigraph describes the origin of the word ‘barnburner’: the farmer who burns down his barn to get rid of a rat infestation. I’m not sure if this comes out of America’s puritanical origins, but I think that in our country political and personal commitment is tied to risking annihilation. Not nihilism, where nothing holds meaning, but the opposite: whatever concerns the barnburner at a particular moment in time must mean everything. As my most rock-n-roll friend used to say, riffing on This Is Spinal Tap: “I go up to eleven.”

1. “Clampdown” – The Clash

I used to drive around central Pennsylvania listening to the Clash in high school. I was college bound, but I understood the energetic hopelessness behind “Clampdown,” certain that I was in some way entering into the service economy version of factory life. I don’t think I got the double meaning of working for in “Working for the clampdown” until later on. Now I also know firsthand how you can be both a victim of the clampdown but also one of its unwitting agents. The first poem in Barnburner, “The Lovely Voice of Samantha West,” is about global capitalism, and there are others about labor in general. As a bonus for me, the Clash shout out my hometown of Harrisburg at the end of “Clampdown” because international media attention around the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 made Harrisburg into an emblem of the American working-class city. I’m not sure that people now living in Harrisburg conceive of the place that way, but I did, growing up there.

2. “50ft Queenie” – P J Harvey

P J Harvey blew off the top of my head with this song, which I first saw as a video on MTV’s 120 Minutes. I loved all of Rid of Me. I, too, wanted to be a tough, unapologetic bitch and to turn the tables on people, mostly men, who had made me feel powerless. That’s how I read “50ft Queenie.” Although now I reject the idea that I have to appropriate masculine ideas of power to be powerful, I will love all of P J Harvey’s music until the end of time.

3. “Open Heart Surgery” – The Brian Jonestown Massacre

My affection for “Open Heart Surgery” is heavily influenced by the video for it, which pairs Survival Town Atom Test footage from 1955 with a sound characteristic of one of my favorite bands. The U.S. military built “Survival Town” in the middle of the Nevada desert—the video includes construction scenes too, mannequins being placed in domestic poses—to test the effects of detonating an atomic weapon. What results is something like the mental landscape that produced the poems in Barnburner, an impression helped along by Anton Newcombe wailing and a barebones guitar riff. Not that I’ve suffered more than anybody else—I’m absolutely sure that’s not true—but I’ve tried to interrogate what I know of anguish, in particular, belonging to a cultural system that fundamentally doesn’t respect the same things I do.

4. “Head Like a Hole” – Nine Inch Nails

As a pure expression of rage, “Head Like a Hole” fits the feeling some readers will find in Barnburner. The book has been called angry. I’m including this song for the addict friend of mine who inspired the M. character in several poems, for the endless hours we spent driving through Pennsylvania back roads listening to industrial music because somebody might have a pill to sell us. The lyric “I’d rather die than give you control” is ironic in this context, because like the characters in the song, we had no control outside of using twenty bucks we’d scared up to fulfill our own death wish. Americans prefer to see addiction as an individual moral failing rather than a natural response to late-stage capitalism, calibrated according to various social factors. I wish it were different.

5. “It’s So Hard to Fall in Love” – Sebadoh

I’m not a monster. There are tender poems in Barnburner, mostly about children and wanting to protect them, and poems about being naive myself. Even as a teenager, when I first heard this Sebadoh song, I was amused by the line, “It’s so hard to fall in love / Knowin’ all I know / Seeing all the things I see,” because how does any young lover know anything? And yet I knew that I loved Lou Barlow for writing those lyrics, for making a lo-fi song about falling in love built on the rhythm of a heart beating.

6. “Taste the Floor” – Jesus and Mary Chain

I’ve heard this band called pure dirt. The Jesus and Mary Chain are too much. Fuzzed-out melodies played loud as fuck. Lyrics tinged with bored masochism and sung without affect. I’d nominate the whole album Psychocandy for this playlist. “Taste the Floor” struts in a dark room and then kicks in the way a strong drink or a drug kicks in. And while I don’t understand the lyrics, I don’t have to. No, I will not turn the music down.

7. “New Year” – The Breeders

May I present the Breeders, loud women (and one man) writing powerful songs and playing kick-ass guitars and drums. You can blow out a car speaker with these songs. As for “New Year,” it’s a hard-driving race to the finish once you get past the line “It’s true,” which is a nice pivot if you think about it. I conceive of Barnburner as a race-to-the-finish book, with narratives that I hope propel the reader to go on. Additionally, the Breeders recorded one of two songs I’ve ever learned how to play on guitar (though not this one). See my poem “What Is the Sisterhood to Me?” for the other.

8. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – The Stooges

Although the Stooges are an American band, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” was standard at early-2000s New York City Britpop nights at Don Hill’s or Bar 13, and it will always put me right back at last call with a mouth tasting like tonic water and ashtray. When Iggy Pop sings, “And now I'm ready to feel your hand / And lose my heart on the burning sands,” I’m ready to jump up and down with everybody else. Barnburner tries in places to capture a post-9/11 feeling as experienced by a certain group of people who were newly adult in 2001 or 2002, when we all thought we were going to die, not from terrorists, but from the stupid actions of our own government, and we danced like it.

9. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – Cat Power

Chan Marshall’s version of the Rolling Stones song is stripped down and contemplative. I don’t think that I could hear, really hear, Mick Jagger sing “Satisfaction” until I heard Cat Power. I also liked a woman singing this song, the woman as the protagonist who grapples with the emptiness of capitalism. I have wanted to be a woman who could do that. Also, that last line. And I’m tryin’.

10. “Resist Psychic Death” – Bikini Kill

I listened to many riot grrrl bands in high school and college because it felt incredible to hear shouted alternate ideas about sexuality and gender after absorbing so much toxic masculinity, especially in punk rock circles. Bikini Kill is the band I continue to listen to. For me, “Resist Psychic Death” is about pushing back against someone else’s narrative, and thus agenda, for your own life. Those false narratives are part of what I’m trying to pull apart and take down with Barnburner. I want to be the author of my own life, and to me that’s still revolutionary. These lyrics! Listen and learn: “There’s more than two ways of thinking / There’s more than one way of knowing / There’s more than two ways of being / There’s more than one way of going somewhere.”

11. “Prayer to God” – Shellac

Two girls from Washington, D.C. who were into hardcore taught me how to dance, and it was one of those girls who introduced me to Shellac back when 1000 Hurts was new. After listening to me go off about some injustice I’d experienced from a dude, she whispered, “You’ve got to hear this song” and played it for me. “Prayer to God” is more melodic than other Shellac songs, but true to the band’s usual driving rhythms and angular guitars. Like a prayer, the song begins with an address to God and ends with an Amen. The diction switches between holy and profane, between the poetry of a man asking God to strike his beloved “Where her necklaces close / Where her garments come together / Where I used to lay my face” and increasingly loud refrains to kill the lover who has replaced him: “Fuckin’ kill him already, kill him.” For me, there is an important distinction between making poetry that is crafted vs. poetry that is merely polished. Craft can evoke rawness, too. Shellac nails that distinction for me, musically speaking. Sometimes fuck is the word that you need.

Erin Hoover and Barnburner links:

the author's website

Glass review
Grist review
PANK review
Publishers Weekly review

Connotation Press interview with the author
The Pinch interview with the author
Rob McLennnan interview with the author
Tallahassee Democrat profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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