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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.
Charlotte Seley’s poetry collection The World Is My Rival is an impressive debut offering thought-provoking insight into heartbreak and existence.
CAConrad wrote of the collection:
“There is a concern for our living bodies I look for in poetry and Charlotte Seley gives us the resonating conversation of the world through skin on every brilliant page! She gets me feeling the terrestrial simultaneously calculated as cosmic in the everyday everywhere!
In her own words, here is Charlotte Seley’s Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection The World Is My Rival:
1. “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” José Gonzales
Sure, I could’ve gone with the original by Joy Division. It’s just as haunting—but love is a lot like a cover song. It’s the same lyrics and general melody over and over; every rendition has a different nuance but all in all, it’s all pretty much the same. While writing these poems, I felt this way a little, too. I was aware of all the recurring images and words, the way love is revealed and examined under all these different lenses and places within it, like a broken mirror reflecting back short and stretched and stumpy and tall versions of ourselves. Roland Barthes in A Lover’s Discourse strives to find the language to talk about love, talk to his beloved, find himself in the other, but all the while the language causes a snag in the flow, like an untied shoelace. We tiptoe, tread carefully, blunder forward. Many times we think it’s love that’s threaded us tight and, just when we think we’re wound together by it, it rips us asunder. In the end, it’s love that tears apart love. Love will always tear us apart. Again and again. Over and over.
2. “Absolutely Cuckoo,” The Magnetic Fields
When I began writing this manuscript, I knew I wanted it to lean heavily into A Lover’s Discourse. It’s my favorite book, and it provided me with so much inspiration as I navigated poetry and the loves that inspired the poems. However, after writing a cluster of poems deeply borrowing from Barthes, I started to lose steam. I started to wonder if the collection was a lost cause. I thought, Can I really pull together 100 pages of A Lover’s Discourse poems? For a while, I switched to writing poems inspired by the Magnetic Fields, conveniently forgetting that this was actually a continuation of the work I was doing—most of the poems stemmed from their album 69 Love Songs, and while Stephin Merritt claims they are not love songs but rather about love songs, I argue that love is about love too. If that makes any sense. We’re always talking about it; it’s nearly impossible to do it, or know we’re loving as it’s happening. Anyway, this is the first Magnetic Fields poem I wrote, “Absolutely Cuckoo,” named after the song with the same title, a song where I always felt an instant connection:
I must be crazy vexed even besieged by blank avatars
online dating profiles a cache of cuckoo holding cards
without faces, numbers, or suits to tip I built this persona
a curated dilemma person to toe the tides but inside I hide
ten thousand tiny tridents ready to pierce upward
I’m an anchorless anemone so run away and let me go —
I’m vexed mad with the shivers bitten by dynamite
what creaks in the night seeps in the cracks stumbles out
fumbling for a switch or glass of water a coronation for corroboration,
I’m crowned queen of crazy liars like I’d chase you
with a serrated knife or crash you deep into a fortress
of unmovable beasts. To sleep with me is to raid
the medicine cabinet—a bad trip they sometimes say
a hazy fade Read between the lines parse the lies
o let me go xoxo sudden conjuncture surprises
us in pallid ways. What I mean to say is run
while you can. The boat is still docked. Rip down
the curtains and show us what you’ve got. Loneliness
isn’t worth brittle backstory of what’s beneath
this mattress of uncomfortable coils pressing down
and the motley junk shoved underneath sighing
the cradle giving up ghosts between the sheets
3. “Ocean of Tears,” Soko
“I thought I was a witch, was I responsible / For the death of all the people that I love the most / Try to forgive myself for all the wrong I’ve done / Oh, God has a plan to kill us all”
Love begins and then it ends. Even when it doesn’t end fully, it goes through all these little endings everyday. Throughout most of my life, not just my adult life, I felt as though I was the source of all bad things, or like if something had to end, its ending was my fault. It’s kind of childish right? Or rather, we’re told to think it’s childish to want anything to last forever, especially love. What resonates with me about Soko’s song in relation to The World is My Rival is that it encompasses the multitudes the speaker is so interested in understanding: fear, love, regret, nihilism, tenderness, and on and on. I think poetry is so much like that. I think love is like that too. Love encompasses everything, even the bad parts, the ugly and unwieldy. Some of these poems were super hard to write on a personal level, but the hard stuff was also a part of the speaker’s story that couldn’t be denied a voice. There’s something bigger than all of us, not necessarily on a God level, but in this freeing way that makes it easy to let go and just write it, say it, just be. I’m not a witch, I’m not responsible for the happenstance of the world, the I in these poems is always just being. Oh, just let her be.
4. “No Children,” The Mountain Goats
When love goes awry, anger is an old friend, and sometimes where anger is, there are its cohorts self-destruction, masochism, and the staggering vulnerable raw-bits that howl sadness into a cold open night. “I hope you die / I hope we both die” is as scorned as it gets, both malicious and masochistic, and yet, the worst hasn’t even happened. We’re met with a repetition of “I hope.” There’s hope. That it will and that it won’t. The truth is that nothing is set in stone. The poems I wrote, I hope, always see what is and what could be. Even in its darkest hour, there’s hope. There has to be. Hope comes and comes again as an obsession. These poems are obsessed. The speaker is obsessed. With herself, with the men, with love. She hopes in the end and when it ends, there’s always love.
5. “Sad Girls Club,” Katie Ellen
The speaker in the bulk of these poems looks at her own womanhood through its conventions and knows that, especially in love, she’ll always be seen as a dud. She is not a wife, mother, nurturer, or even kind sometimes. She drinks too much, revels in casual sex, becomes wickedly jealous when betrayed, and invests her time on even bigger duds than herself: The drug addicts and the dropouts; the band dudes and the abandoners. She knows she doesn’t deserve this, but she also knows she can’t be the woman society wants her to be. Sometimes she is a wildfire, sometimes she’s a doe in headlights. Sometimes she understands the chorus in this song that says, “Sad girls don’t make good wives.” No, she understands it all the time.
6. “Tits Up,” The Uncluded
“One day you’re in love / One day your pills suck / One day your shit’s fucked / nip tuck / tits up”
When did I start writing poetry seriously? I would say probably when I was in the third year of my undergrad program at Eugene Lang College of the New School in NYC. I liked Kimya Dawson a lot at the time and actually listened to “Loose Lips” approximately 56 times in a row drunk while writing my Feminist Film Theory final. I loved Aesop Rock too. I never knew these two had this project called the Uncluded together until I went on a road trip with my boyfriend and his friend Mitch from New York to Rhode Island then from Rhode Island to Kansas in 2017. The juxtaposition of Kimya’s hopscotchy cute and Aesop’s lyrical jabs, the poppy drum machine and the idea of being so down on your luck you’re “tits up,” but also thinking of “tits up” as a way of “bucking up” is everything I hope for a reader to find in my book. Down has the potential to be up, I mean, sometimes you can turn around upside down.
7. “Baltimore,” Cleveland Bound Death Sentence
An ex-boyfriend of mine got me really into Aaron Cometbus. He bought me a copy of “Lanky” and it was over, I was obsessed. The Magnetic Fields have a song called “Punk Love” where they just say “Punk Love” repeatedly for 58 seconds, which I always thought was really funny, especially in comparison to the economy of images in Aaron Cometbus’s Punk Rock Love essay from one of his earlier Cometbus issues. I see a lot of similarities between that essay and this song, coincidentally a song he likely wrote for Cleveland Bound Death Sentence. In any case, I wanted to contribute to the conversation, as a homage to him, to the Magnetic Fields, and of course, to punk love, as young and reckless as it is:
hand me down love stitched as though
ripped on purpose i wanted those fables for us
tequila on the porch & astroturf
in the bedroom maybe I take it too earnestly
I mean all love is the same love is a rusted
truck where a first kiss once transpired
It’s not a best practice to only say something’s
special when it’s gone like an impossible treasure
out with the trash I mean it we were so
young unwieldy & willing to lose love
is to give into the idea that it’s already gone
8. “Parades Go By,” The Magnetic Fields
Stephin Merritt says he wrote this song “under the influence of H.P. Lovecraft” and I literally wrote my “Parades Go By” poem less than a block away from the Lovecraft birthplace plaque in Providence, RI’s Wayland Square. I had a love-hate relationship with Providence, but always found it interesting that the spirit of Lovecraft seemed steeped in the city’s fabric. Merritt sings, “The days go by / a million little nights and days go by / and I don’t mind / Parades go by / So many beautiful parades go by,” and in the littlest state in the US, I felt this way sometimes too. It helps to know that the narrator of this song is supposedly dead. I think the speaker in my poem is a little too alive:
H.P. Lovecraft was my neighbor once I know because
they erected a plaque commemorating his birth place
I pass it every day waiting for the parade of buses.
while I live here I feel like a vampire hiding
in the shadows maybe I’m dead & don’t even know
I love the burning wood & brick oven smell
of the brasserie across from Lovecraft’s plaque
& garlic so I’m a horrible vampire or maybe one
that just won’t die stuck between 2 hills in the downtown
valley of a wet river Native American names abundant
with vowels harvest to harbor ome of the cops still
ride horses & the horses shit in the streets parades
go by celebrating smallness as big as I feel I am also small,
a spectator waiting to commence. It’s too loud—
trumpets & superfluous car horns but I love animals
out of context & sequins balloons & fried foods gondolas
metal scaled koi. The details pass the feeling
passes my therapist says this is not a forever feeling
The most merciful thing in the world is the inability
of the human mind to correlate all its contents I am
challenging this mercy every day I am always forgetting
to be kind undoing silence is the end of protection:
would you rather be the fanfare or its sharp & inevitable
end? In death we are silent & also protected
the soil is neutral I am where I am
what I am is dependent upon it
9. “Change,” (Sandy) Alex G
“Remember when you took too much / I didn’t mind being your crutch / We loved you then / It’s not the same / I don’t like how things change”
Change is happening all the time in these poems, and the speaker has such difficulty with it. And yet, change is the only movement of energy, the only way she can illuminate and elucidate. If I didn’t move out of where I grew up, I’d probably still be with the same dude who abused drugs and wasn’t very good to me. Or I’d be haunting the same old bars with characters that roll through and find somewhere else to settle in and settle down. I am grateful for change but I don’t have to like it. It’s hard to mitigate the big waves of change, how you can love someone so deeply in one moment, and in the next, they are almost like a stranger. They get older and change, and their new girlfriends stay the same age.
10. “Silver Spring,” Fleetwood Mac
“Time cast a spell on you but you won’t forget me / I know I could have loved you but you would not let me / I’ll follow you down ’til the sound of my voice still haunts you / you’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you.”
Sometimes poems seem synonymous with spells, sometimes hexes, sometimes incantations, sometimes ethereal monologue. How many times in your life have you thought “I wish I could Eternal Sunshine him” but also “I wish he loved me so much it hurt down to his marrow”? I’ve thought both of these things, and felt like a witch, but I know that when love has a stronghold on you, there’s something witchy-magic about it. Someone once challenged me and said, “Yeah, but that’s just lust,” and I thought, “No, not at all.” When you deeply connect with someone and there’s a dynamic there, not even time can shake that bond. Even when time tries. Many of my poems seem haunted by voices, voices that time can’t let go. Sometimes the speaker is haunted. But mostly she’s confronted by ghosts that just want to stay inside her story. Sometimes she still loves them. Sometimes she doesn’t. Near the end of the collection, I like to think the speaker exorcises all her demons. The voices have quieted and found their hosts.
11. “Reno Dakota,” The Magnetic Fields
Originally titled “Pantone 292” after a line in this song, my poem “Majestic Blues” was published in the online lit journal Vinyl. I ended up changing the title because I thought it played too close to the Magnetic Fields song, and I edited out a lot of the overt references. The one funny fact about this poem is that I actually utilized paint sample names as an entry into the poem, along with overlaying lyrics. In that way, “Pantone 292” still probably would’ve worked as a title. Oh well.
Sometimes, when I miss you,
colors come spooling out of me
organically. There’s no cure
for the majestic blues. O you know
I’m a recluse, some deep longing
ajar like a petulant storm window
haphazardly hung. I am not
weatherproof nor winter ready. If you
never said it, I’d never wear gloves.
Let my hands get so merlot & cracked
in the malevolent January. This feeling
has a majesty, scattered headquarters
manufactured here & solid
as a coveted gem you’d keep
in a velvet drawstring sack. A shot
of Crown for your tribulations. O beautiful
fracture, interrupted amber waves
of grain. How did you fall into my lap?
I was lightly searching. Year of the
Radiant Orchid. Soon the blues
of lesser hues—Halogen. Zephyr.
Illusion. Opal. Wan. I miss
you in a twilight blue. A ball of yarn
unraveling across coasts, loop
and pull. Loose thread in the carpet
the floor. My heart’s carpeted shag,
soft to pass out upon after too many
blue sleeping pills, pulsing
a message: Don’t play fast & loose
with me. Don’t sleep here too long.
Expand your palette & ride
out the whispering blue wind.
12. “Demirep,” Bikini Kill
“I am hiding / the truth I show to you is just a lie / you take what you want / you get what you take / but I got something, man / that your fucking money cannot buy”
A message from the woman who dreamed up the speaker of the poems in The World is My Rival: This woman transmitting poems to you is all the things in “Demirep.” She’s facetiously sorry she’s getting chubby, that she’s not some lame sorority queen taking you home to meet her daddy. She’s speaking truth right through your lies. Sometimes you might not like it. Sometimes it’s self-conscious. Sometimes it’s a little too loud, or earnest in a very particular way. Sometimes she doesn’t care. Sometimes she knows you don’t know what it’s like to be alive.
13. “I Want To Dance (With Somebody),” Whitney Houston
This song probably seems like an outlier in the playlist, but it was actually one of the inspirations of the most gut-wrenching (in my opinion) poems in the collection, “Elegy”:
The reporters said there was blood
on her legs. We said, oh no, she wouldn’t
damage those—we remembered her poise,
accentuated muscle, how they called her
The Voice, but we called her The Legs,
remembered it better than the bad interviews,
where she said Crack is whack, when we said
So sad, when we blamed it on Bobby.
I focused on the clock, sobbing
out the time, stricken hours, the TV’s
crackle and all its horrible humidity.
My breakdown was not broadcast
but I, too, was on the floor with nobody
who loved me. All I had were capsule shells
like cast-off claws from a baby monster.
A culmination of things once killed me.
When we were living, I called you Monster.
When we were dead, I called you Bobby.
Say you wanna dance I said, but we
were only shells. Nothing of substance.
We heard the news say accident, felt sad
but we liked that word, used it for our own.
I needed a bath to be just a bath, just
to loosen crimped and lacquered hair,
all my days belabored into restless nights.
I needed to loosen the grip of your claws
fallen from orange bottles, printed prescription
names of people who we had no relation.
I did not know then the difference in sound
between scattered pills and a tiny splash
or an empty room from the downtown lights—
we could not tell the people from monsters
my Baby from my Bobby, powder from poise.
The fever broke—or maybe it faded,
and the party carried on without us.
We knew then the legs weren’t sad,
it was all that they had to carry.
14. “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do,” Yoko Ono & The Apples in Stereo
Love really put Yoko Ono through the shit. I told my boyfriend I find Yoko way more interesting than John Lennon and we debated a bit, but I think what I meant is that she is a phenomenal artist and thinker, something a lot of people don’t give her enough credit for. I’m sure the way I phrased it to my man was flippant and bratty, I just feel so hard for a woman who wants to create, illuminate, and love. I feel for the woman in the song who laments, “Why does it have to be like this / You & I / I wanted us to be happy.” I chose this song because it is entangled with so much wistfulness and ugliness but also hope. At the end of the day, the person closest to you can see you as the utmost perfection and also the devilish underbelly of your worst day. But isn’t that the closest to the purest love that we can ever get? Isn’t that so wonderfully and simultaneously tragic and beautiful?
An earlier version of “Majestic Blues” was first published in Vinyl.
“Elegy” was first published in H_NGM_N.
Charlotte Seley and The World Is My Rival links:
the author’s website
the publisher’s page for the book
also at Largehearted Boy:
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