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October 8, 2020

Eleanor Boudreau's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "Earnest, Earnest?"

Earnest, Earnest? by Eleanor Boudreau

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Eleanor Boudreau's poetry collection Earnest, Earnest? is innovative, fascinating and thought-provoking.

D.A. Powell wrote of the book:

"‘Please forgive the public nature of this postcard’ writes Eleanor Boudreau, spilling tea on love and its reckless participants. It’s a wet business, like dry cleaning. It’s a combination of two very elements held together in suspension, like smoke (or rubber?). And it is the thriving pulse of these desultory postcards from the edge of an affair’s landscape of exile and afterhood. What a witty, glorious, and bittersweet book. I am here for all of it."

In her own words, here is Eleanor Boudreau's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Earnest, Earnest?:

The Beatles - “Eleanor Rigby”

Eleanor Rigby / Died in the church and was buried along with her name / Nobody came

My parents named me after Eleanor Rigby, and for the sake of verisimilitude, I named the speaker of my first book of poetry after myself. This playlist must begin here.

But you try being named after one of “the lonely people.” It’s not easy. As a result, I’ve never liked the Beatles much and this is my least favorite Beatles song.

Cake - “I Will Survive”

I spent oh so many nights just feeling sorry for myself / I used to cry

Kindergarten through eighth grade, I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Open Elementary School in Cambridge, MA, which is where I developed my taste in music and my desire to be a poet. At King Open, everyone I thought was cool listened to one of two radio stations: WBCN 104.1 (an alt/rock station) or HOT 96.9 (a hip hop and R&B station). I listened to a little bit of both, but primarily to the alt/rock station. Cake was a staple on WBCN and this song was a good compromise-point between the music my parents knew and loved, like Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” and the music I wanted to listen to.

It would be difficult to overestimate how sensitive I was when I was young. Everyone said I needed to toughen up. And they were right. This cover of a song about getting hurt and keeping going spoke to the aching child that I was in 1996, even though I knew nothing of romantic relationships at the time. I have never forgotten it.

Indigo Girls - “Romeo and Juliet”

I love you like the stars above / I’m gonna love you ‘til I die

Amy Ray’s ragged vocals at the end of “Romeo and Juliet” are among the first things I remember hearing on WBCN. As the title suggests, this song is a tale of doomed love, and so is my book, Earnest, Earnest? — except instead of Romeo and Juliet, the cross-tracked lovers in my book are Earnest and Eleanor.

While Earnest can be read literally as Eleanor’s lover, he is better understood as another side of the poet’s self. I picked this version of “Romeo and Juliet” because it performs a gender reversal and has a woman singing what originally (in the Dire Straits’ version) was a man’s part.

Everclear - “Santa Monica”

I am still living with your ghost / . . . Insane and rising in my own weird way

The lyrics are haunted and strange, yet the tempo and repetitive guitar chords are bright, fun even. There’s a mismatch of words and music at play here. It doesn’t seem like the song can work, but it works.

Earnest, Earnest? is doing something similar with tone. The fact that Eleanor’s lover is named Earnest and that their relationship is fraught, raises questions of sincerity and irony, and whether both can be present at the same time. I don’t see any reason why a line of poetry can’t be both earnest and ironic.

Garbage - “Stupid Girl”

Pretend you’re bored / Pretend you’re anything / Just to be adored

When this song came out, I didn’t understand why anyone — girl or boy — would pretend to be bored, but I get it now. If you’re female, or just perceived as female, the world makes it harder to be yourself, so you wind up acting.

WBCN played The Howard Stern Show in the morning and for a long time this didn’t bother me. I would listen to Howard Stern with my dad as he drove me to school. Then, seemingly overnight, the way men looked at me changed. It wasn’t puberty because I was nowhere near puberty, but all of a sudden, I was getting aggressive looks, gestures, comments, and occasionally gropes from strange men. And I just couldn’t listen to Howard Stern anymore. So I switched to the hip hop station.

Lauryn Hill - “Doo Wop (That Thing)”

Girls, you know you’d better watch out / Some guys, some guys are only about / That thing, that thing, that thing

HOT 96.9 introduced me to the Fugees and eventually to the solo career of Lauryn Hill. Of all the music I listened to back then and all the music I listen to now, there’s nothing I think is better. I chose this track from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill because it subverts and complicates the typical narrative where men are heartbreakers and women heartbroken victims. The lyrics in the verses and in the chorus shift from warning women to warning men: Guys, you know you’d better watch out / Some girls, some girls are only about. . . .

Earnest is abusive, Eleanor is a cheater. They’re both so lurid and despicable. I have often asked myself why I created such awful people. And I don’t really have an answer or anything to say in my defense. What I can say is that Eleanor and Earnest reflect the landscape where I grew up. They are American.

The Roots - “The Seed (2.0)”

Delivering Mary, it don’t matter the sex / I’m gonna name it “Rock-and-Roll”

For its smooth flow and vivid description of sex, I will always love this song. I wish Eleanor felt as confident about bringing life into the world as the speaker of this song, but she doesn’t. When Eleanor gets pregnant by Earnest, she has an abortion.

Still, if I’m making a playlist, I want “The Seed (2.0)” on it. I could listen to this song all day.

LL Cool J - “Headsprung”

Live it up / Got the champagne, pour me a cup

Has there ever been a song more fun? Or more infectious? Nothing compares to “Headsprung,” but Earnest, Earnest? is fun, too. The last line is It was fun while it lasted.

Eleanor Boudreau is a poet who has worked as a dry-cleaner and as a radio reporter. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tin House, Barrow Street, Waxwing, Willow Springs, FIELD, Copper Nickel, and other journals. Currently, she is finishing her PhD and teaching creative writing at Florida State University.

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