It's a brand new music site! Or "digital magazine," if you will. Made by music lovers, for music lovers—Choon Group features album and concert reviews, features like Arranged Autobiographically, playlists, podcasts, and much more to come.
"Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self. The first is never wholly mine; the second I can only ever know in a partial sense; the third is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two. If my writing is a psychodrama I don't think it is because I have, as the internet would have it, so many feels, but because the correct balance and weight to be given to each of these three elements is never self-evident to me. It's this self—whose boundaries are uncertain, whose language is never pure, whose world is in no way 'self-evident'—that I try to write from and to. My hope is for a reader, who, like the author, often wonders how free she really is, and who takes it for granted that reading involves all the same liberties and exigencies as writing."
— Zadie Smith, "Foreword," Feel Free
My friend’s father has died. Last week, as it was happening — as she and her family spent agonizing hours of waiting and wondering at the hospital — I searched for the words to write to her. I was at a loss, so I kept typing the same things again and again in my texts: Thinking about you. Love you. Just checking in.
It wasn’t enough.
“I wasn’t sure of the right thing to say”; “I’m sure I said all the wrong things” — sentiments we all have heard, and said, during times like these. What I learned many years ago was that I wouldn’t remember anyone saying the wrong thing, but I sure as hell would remember who said nothing.
So I continued to text the same things and searched for what I wanted to really say instead.
I bought a Mary Oliver collection and looked for it there. I read this one poem, “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” and cried, because it was exactly right, and completely wrong. Anyway, it goes like this:
I step into the painting of the four blue horses.
I am not even surprised that I can do this.
One of the horses walks toward me.
His blue nose noses me lightly. I put my arm
over his blue mane, not holding on, just
He allows me my pleasure.
Franz Marc died a young man, shrapnel in his brain.
I would rather die than explain to the blue horses
what war is.
They would either faint in horror, or simply
find it impossible to believe.
I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.
Now all four horses have come closer,
are bending their faces toward me
as if they have secrets to tell.
I don’t expect them to speak, and they don’t.
If being so beautiful isn’t enough, what
could they possibly say?
I didn’t send her the poem, because I was incapable of articulating how Franz Marc and his blue horses and Mary Oliver felt exactly like the hope I wanted her to feel in this time of deep despair, the beginnings of grief. I tried to write, but wrote a shitty poem instead. I read a book. I felt angry at the world that would make my kind friend ever have to sit in a hospital room and wait and wonder.
I didn’t feel good about the outcome. I tried to think positive thoughts, but I knew too much. I’ve been in that kind of room before.
So I read more Mary Oliver.
Recently another friend said to me, “This album will always make me think about this time.” I was playing the new The War on Drugs and I knew exactly what she meant.
This week I’ve been listening to Shannon Lay, a singer I just discovered. I’ve listened to her new album, Living Water, every night, and thought: “This album will always make me think about this time.”
The sparseness of it, the melancholy — listening to it feels like reading that Mary Oliver poem. But I wasn’t going to send my friend songs like “Orange Tree” or “The Moons Detriment” and try to explain what the hell that could possibly have to do with what she’s going through.
Although, like the Pitchfork reviewer wrote, “Living Water is shot through with a kind of ragged hope—not optimism, exactly, but a determined belief in the power of that life force to pull us all toward something like transcendence.”
So, it makes total sense and no sense at all — pretty much exactly like what it feels like to lose a parent. You think you’ll know. You don’t know. And then you do.
This morning I was eating avocado toast cause I’m a real asshole like that and as I stared at my cat Mufasa staring at me, this Frank O’Hara poem popped to mind and I thought I had it — the right words for these feelings. And also fittingly, a poem with a reference to avocado toast.
I’m so brilliant in the mornings!
Turns out, the poem, fittingly called “Poem,” doesn’t have a reference to avocado toast at all and doesn’t make any more sense than Mary Oliver talking about stepping into a painting of horses.
Here it goes:
Light clarity avocado salad in the morning
after all the terrible things I do how amazing it is
to find forgiveness and love, not even forgiveness
since what is done is done and forgiveness isn’t love
and love is love nothing can ever go wrong
though things can get irritating boring and dispensable
(in the imagination) but not really for love
though a block away you feel distant the mere presence
changes everything like a chemical dropped on a paper
and all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement
I am sure of nothing but this, intensified by breathing
I’ll probably never know the right thing to say, and maybe none of us ever will. But as we all search for the words, what counts most is the feeling behind it. I am sure of nothing but this.
I Don't Miss It
BY TRACY K. SMITH
But sometimes I forget where I am,
Imagine myself inside that life again.
Recalcitrant mornings. Sun perhaps,
Or more likely colorless light
Filtering its way through shapeless cloud.
And when I begin to believe I haven’t left,
The rest comes back. Our couch. My smoke
Climbing the walls while the hours fall.
Straining against the noise of traffic, music,
Anything alive, to catch your key in the door.
And that scamper of feeling in my chest,
As if the day, the night, wherever it is
I am by then, has been only a whir
Of something other than waiting.
We hear so much about what love feels like.
Right now, today, with the rain outside,
And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
In May, in seasons that come when called,
It’s impossible not to want
To walk into the next room and let you
Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
Knowing perfectly well what they know.
with your solitude”
— rupi kaur
Walking along Logan Boulevard in mid June feels a little like falling in love. Sure, the peonies have come and gone, but the flowering trees are in full bloom, showing off, maybe even shaking a flower or two in your hair if you strut under it at exactly the right moment. Just after dark, on a weeknight, the traffic on the Boulevard slows, and if I’m on the quieter side of the street, it feels like a secret, at least until the next traffic light.
I recently moved right off the Boulevard and am getting used to taking that quick left turn after I leave the building, guiding me down the Boulevard to where the action is, or isn’t.
On every walk I’ve made in the last couple weeks, I’ve discovered something new: a house I hadn’t noticed before; a different cat in a window; a perfectly pink rose bush that surely couldn’t have looked that perfect yesterday.
Sometimes I’ve been with a friend, but usually I am alone, listening to music, which probably amplifies this ridiculous romanticism.
I’m having an affair with Logan Boulevard. Tell no one. Tell everyone.
It feels like this, except I prefer my view, I never dramatically break into song, and — unfortunately —Jazmine Sullivan never shows up. So I guess it’s nothing like this at all, but fuck! I love this song, they *are* walking — and I listened to this twice while walking yesterday.
Let us all behold Jazmine Sullivan's majestic snarl now:
I’m listening to the new Feist record and wearing my first-ever pair of Levi’s jeans. What a time to be alive!
My mom told me not to bother with Levi’s. “They don’t work with our body,” she had said to me when I was a teenager, a statement I took as scripture. I never questioned how she specifically stated it as if we were one body, not two completely separate beings; I never once bothered trying on a pair of Levi’s after.
Mom, you were wrong. These jeans feel great.
Man, I’d love to rub this in her face right now. Who knows, maybe it was exclusively the 501 fit that doesn’t work for “our” body. I’ve got the 711, and I feel just like this.
So anyway: FEIST.
It’s been six years since Metals came out—I almost can’t believe it. I saw Feist the following summer at Pitchfork, in 2012, and I’ll be seeing Feist again this summer, again with the same friends. Maybe I’ll be wearing my Levi’s!
The new record, Pleasure, feels like a welcome departure from the last album—not that I didn’t really enjoy Metals; I did—and it’s one that her producer Mocky described as a “hard left” to the New York Times. Personally, I love the contrast of the notion of “pleasure” with the reality that the album deals with sadness and even despair. Because “pleasure” isn’t simple at all, is it?
As Feist put it:
“It’s such an inaccurate, one-dimensional word that, in fact, when you look a little closer, it carries in it yearning and loss and self-punishment,” she said. “Pleasure is implicit in pain, which is implicit in pleasure.”
I’ll be sorting through this record for awhile. That’s for sure. Current standouts: “Get Not High, Get Not Low”; “Any Party”; “Baby Be Simple” — and oh, fuck it, all of them really. It’s Leslie Feist.
In “Any Party,” Feist sings, “You know I’d leave any party for you/no party’s so sweet as our party of two” and it’s the most romantic lyric that’s caught me in some time. And then there’s “Baby Be Simple” … oh, just listen.
I’ve also recently fallen in love with a new poet: Morgan Parker. Her book There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is truly marvelous, to steal a description Terrance Hayes used in his review. A preview, from the poem “Another Another Autumn in New York”:
“When I drink anything
out of a martini glass
I feel untouched by
professional and sexual
rejection. I am a dreamer
with empty hands and
I like the chill.
I will not be attending the party
tonight, because I am
microwaving multiple Lean Cuisines
and watching Wife Swap,
which is designed to get back
at fathers, as westernized media
is often wont to do.
I don’t know when I got so punk rock
but when I catch
myself in the mirror I
Parker was profiled in this week’s New Yorker, which really sealed the deal for me. I mean, c’mon:
"Parker lives in an apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with stacks of vinyl records, a wall of overstuffed bookshelves, a non-working fireplace filled with “Mad Men” DVDs, and artful preparations of crystals and candles. On an afternoon shortly after the publication of her book, she was wearing flared jeans, suede magenta boots, an eyebrow ring, and a gray T-shirt with “Phenomenal Woman” on it—a reference to the Maya Angelou poem. Her appearance made me think of a line from her poem “Another Another Autumn in New York”: “I don’t know / when I got so punk rock / but when I catch / myself in the mirror I / feel stronger.” She described her domestic aesthetic as “a little bit about avoiding the quiet.” Her miniature poodle, Braeburn, gnawed a toy while Parker made coffee; Carole King’s “Tapestry” spun on the turntable."
The only reason I’m not wearing my gray “Phenomenal Woman" t-shirt right at this moment is because it’s in the washer. Carole King. Mad Men. Vinyl. Miniature poodle. Hello. Hi.
One last thing: The Handmaid’s Tale! Let’s talk after I’ve watched Episodes 2 and 3. Holy hell! When Margaret Atwood showed up in the first episode, I screamed.
Previously: “something funny started happening”
Photo: Valle de Bravo, Mexico [via me]
Leonora Carrington (Wiki Commons)
"Fickle and changeable, though I may always be," Laura Marling sings on "Nouel," one of the many tracks I'm currently obsessing over on her new album, Semper Femina. She may say "fickle and changeable," but she's fucking with us, flipping the script on how anyone might dare to define what femininity, and womanhood, really means.
From The Guardian's review:
A concept album about femininity and female relationships (or “an exploration of womanhood”, as one magazine put it, making it sound like something that worthy Channel 4 would have broadcast in the early 80s), it starts quoting Virgil at you before a note is struck: the Latin title is a bowdlerised line from the Aeneid, which edits a dire warning from the god Mercury that: “Woman is always fickle and changeable” into the more positive slogan: “Always a woman”.
A lot of Marling's references flew right above my little head until The Guardian broke it down for me. She's referencing Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting L’Origine du Monde; she's inspired by Leonora Carrington and Rilke; and while this could all get a little insufferable, you really don't have to worry your pretty little head about it either, unless of course you want to.
You don't need to know or care much about the surrealists or the realist painters of whatever century to connect with tracks like "Nothing, Not Nearly" — at least, I don't. I guess I understand the feeling of "having a year where I didn't smile once, not really" or the sentiment throughout my favorite track, "Wild Fire":
She keeps a pen behind her ear
In case she’s got something she really really needs to say
She puts it in a notepad
She's gonna write a book someday
Of course the only part that I want to read
Is about her time spent with me
Wouldn’t you die to know how you're seen
Are you getting away with who you’re trying to be?
Trying, trying to be
It reminds me of a female friendship I lost a long time ago, and it doesn't make me miss that friend (and certainly doesn't make me miss being a teenager) but oh, I get it. I still get it. Maybe in some ways, we never lose our teenage selves in our female friendships. Maybe we still have that "wild fire" for the women we love like sisters and sometimes more than lovers. Or maybe you don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, similar to how Marling sings, "You always say you love me most/When I don’t know I’m being seen/Well maybe someday when God takes me away/I’ll understand what the fuck that means."
I laughed, loudly, when I first heard that lyric. I was in bed, with the cats, playing the song on my phone. Mufasa couldn't get away from me fast enough. She looked at me, annoyed, and leapt off the bed. Layla turned her head and yawned, slowly, deliberately. Lots of wild feminine energy in that bedroom. Geez.
Speaking of bedrooms, I'd like to live in the one from the video for "Next Time," which is four minutes and three seconds straight outta my weird dreams, of which I have many, frequently. In fact, I think I might be this woman in the video. NPR's Robin Hilton describes her as appearing "trapped in a baroque room, intermittently examining various objects and dancing, as though she's trying to both make sense of and escape from the space she's created." So essentially, me on any given Saturday.
All this is to say: I can't stop listening to Semper Femina, and I don't intend to anytime soon. I guess I forgot to mention, in case you aren't familiar with Laura Marling, this is a folk album, and a damn good one. Give it a listen. Remember, you were wild once, too.
Langston Hughes was born on this day in 1902. In 1926, he wrote an essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," which, according to The Poetry Foundation, was "seen by many as a cornerstone document articulation of the Harlem renaissance."
Here is an excerpt. Happy birthday Langston Hughes, one of the first poets I studied and fell in love with, whose work continues to help me view the world in new ways, outside of my own limited perspective. Thank you.
"Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In many of them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz. I am as sincere as I know how to be in these poems and yet after every reading I answer questions like these from my own people: Do you think Negroes should always write about Negroes? I wish you wouldn’t read some of your poems to white folks. How do you find anything interesting in a place like a cabaret? Why do you write about black people? You aren’t black. What makes you do so many jazz poems?
But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. Yet the Philadelphia clubwoman is ashamed to say that her race created it and she does not like me to write about it, The old subconscious 'white is best' runs through her mind. Years of study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up her nose at jazz and all its manifestations—likewise almost everything else distinctly racial. She doesn’t care for the Winold Reiss portraits of Negroes because they are 'too Negro.' She does not want a true picture of herself from anybody. She wants the artist to flatter her, to make the white world believe that all Negroes are as smug and as near white in soul as she wants to be. But, to my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering 'I want to be white,' hidden in the aspirations of his people, to 'Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro—and beautiful'?
So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, 'I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,' as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world. I am ashamed, too, for the colored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after the manner of the academicians because he fears the strange un-whiteness of his own features. An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.
Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing the Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand. Let Paul Robeson singing Water Boy, and Rudolph Fisher writing about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands, and Aaron Douglas drawing strange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable, ordinary books and papers to catch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves."
"How to reason with nature?
And how to ignore a wall?
Try risking nothing.
Look up to the palm tree tops. Look down across the sugar cane and cotton.
Look anywhere, but do no make direct eye contact
with the wall, or if you must, stand so close
that the eyes blur and you can no longer see it.
Keep calm and just keep eating.
Don't ask where your food comes from
or who picks or prepares it—
about how the rich got rich,
or who the gatekeepers are.
Do not look up the words
social or justice in the dictionary."
— Excerpt, "How to Ignore a Wall," by Amalia Ortiz, Rant. Chant. Chisme.