Q&A: What do you read?

This week’s entry is about who/what I read.

What do you read?

Because I write poetry, it may surprise folks to learn that I don’t like to read much poetry. I find that most poetry fails to make the emotional connection I need to get something out of it. Without that emotional connection, all that is left is a collection of ‘pretty’ words—often arranged in irritating visual formats, or structured in ways that don’t make a whole lot of sense (e.g., stanzas that start with the last word in a sentence, poems arranged in stanzas of equal length that do not have any identifiable rhythm).

Of course, I should state that I have long had an uneasy relationship with poetry. I enjoyed it when I was a kid, and wrote plenty of poems throughout my school years. When I got to college, I even had a poem published in the school paper’s art and literary quarterly during my freshman year. But, when I submitted another poem the next quarter, the editor who reviewed the poem rejected it, insinuating that I had ripped off Richard Brautigan—whom I had never heard of. It never occurred to me to take this as a favorable comparison; consequently, I gave up on the idea of trying to get anything else published, and it was several years before I wrote another poem. After that, I wrote poems on a very sporadic basis; it has been only in the last year and a half or so that I have been writing on what could be considered a regular basis.

Either way, I have always preferred song lyrics; for me, song lyrics are poetry. What I like about song lyrics is that their language is direct, even when they employ metaphor, or the subject matter is purposely obscure.

Songwriters thus tend to be my favorite poets. Among my long-time favorites are David Sylvian, Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout), Paul Weller (The Jam, The Style Council), Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Bernie Taupin (Elton John’s lyricist), Warren Zevon, Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Kate Bush, and Suzanne Vega. (I also like Sting, though I haven’t cared much for any of the music he’s done since The Soul Cages—a perfectly fine record ruined by a Qsound-processed mix.) In more recent years, add Katie Jane Garside (Queen Adreena, Ruby Throat), Ambersunshower, and Leonard Cohen. (Though I’m mostly unfamiliar with his music—except for ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, Sally Can’t Dance, and Mistrial—I also like Lou Reed.)

Among bona-fide poets and works of poetry, Mary O’Neill’s Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color has been a long-time favorite; I also like the occasional Emily Dickinson poem, and Shel Silverstein (my first exposure to his work was his recording of ‘Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out’, and Dr Hook’s recordings of ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ and ‘Cover of the Rolling Stone’). In the last year or so, I have been introduced to the poetry of Langston Hughes, Franz Wright, Serena Malcolm, Talicha J, Lola E. Peters, and Kelli Russell Agodon, as well as the poet (I have yet to learn her name) behind the blog known as Words on a Blackboard.

Mostly, though, I read biographies and non-fiction; I especially have a soft spot for books about pop culture. Recent favorites include Billy Idol’s Dancing with MyselfThe 25 Paintings and Ragworts by Bill Drummond, and And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records by Larry Harris. Currently on my ‘to read’ list are Russell Brand’s Revolution, John Lydon’s Anger is an Energy, B. J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, and Lisa Congdon’s Art Inc. The last novel I read was Stephen King’s Under the Dome (more consistent than the series based on it, but with a rather unsatisfying ending). I have seldom read a novel that I didn’t like, but the descriptions of most novels make them sound so unappetizing that I largely avoid fiction.

Some of my favorite books over the years:

Parliament of Whores—P. J. O’Rourke
Immortality—Milan Kundera
The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy—Douglas Adams
Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky—Alexandra Munroe
Bloodsucking FiendsYou Suck, and Bite Me—Christopher Moore
A Year with Swollen Appendices—Brian Eno
How Music Works—David Byrne
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72—Hunter S. Thompson
The Unbearable Lightness of Being—Milan Kundera
Nausea—Jean-Paul Sartre
The Art of Looking Sideways—Alan Fletcher
The Big Book of Hell—Matt Groening
Fortunately—Remy Charlip
Take it Like a Man—Boy George

(28 October 2014)