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Listening to Juana Molina and Making a Mixtape


In a different life I would have been the person who produces soundtracks for movies. I love music, but more importantly I like thinking about what songs go together, however disparate they may seem from one another. My brother and I have been exchanging CDs for twenty years, and I also love making song lists for friends; I’m a low-rent DJ. Achieving the right order and mélange is an extremely rewarding endeavor, even if it takes several days to figure out how to go from Modern Lovers to Dr. Octagon fluidly.

Because it’s the Internet, I thought I’d make a mix-tape of poetry (and other bits) that I love, and that might serve as the backdrop to my day-to-day thinking about what I want a poem to do these days. Most of the works here share a rococo sensibility, a little blood mixed with a little Latin with a little synthesizer in their thinking, their sound, or both.

This compilation is very intimate to me, because it tells the story of my interior life, my obsessions, and my sensibility.

“Zidane” by Claudia Rankine and John Lucas

I taught this work last year in a class on documentary poetics. We were considering the countless ways documentation could manifest itself through, as, or like poetry, and the video was a beautiful confluence of Claudia Rankine’s rigorous analysis of gestures and a slow motion replay of Zinnedine Zidane headbutting Italian player, Marco Materazzi.

“In My Numb Heart A Prick of Misgiving” by Daniel Borzutzky

Daniel Borzutzky is like a dark Calvino, a profane political fabulist. His work is sardonic like Jose Saramago, but much more sinister and incisive. The poem was eventually published in the chapbook, One Size Fits All by Scantily Clad Press, but his collection The Book of Interfering Bodies is one of my favorites.

“Wednesday, August 02, 2006” by Susan Schultz

Catherine Malabou and Susan Schultz are the writers who are most ably guiding me through the experience of my mother’s dementia. This poem is from Schultz’s excellent, difficult, and moving book Dementia Blog.

"For the Taking" by Linda Gregerson

“A Girl Ago” by Lucie Brock Broido

When I was in graduate school, a lot of people crushed on Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters and Linda Gregerson’s The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep. I initially ignored the books because I had an irrational resistance to books of poetry with pre-Modernist art on the cover, but I gave up that opposition when one of my professors taught “For the Taking” to a class and explained the terrific turn in the poem’s last few moments. Lucie Brock-Broido became canonical to me, and “A Girl Ago” is a poem in this exciting and long-awaited fourth collection; Stay, Illusion.

"Mulatto" by Shane McCrae

I had the honor of fan-publishing Shane McCrae’s second book, Blood. His work is haunting and insistent, and he always rises to the top of my list of poets creating new types of music in poetry.

“Animals at My House” by Eduardo Chirinos

The poet Michelle Gil-Montero introduced me to this poet’s book, The Smoke of Distant Fires, probably one of the best books I read this year. I take it with me wherever I go to read when I want poetry that feels both quiet and topsy-turvy.

“Enough” by Suzanne Buffam

Suzanne Buffam writes poems with an enviably cool logic, and makes parataxis look easy.This poem is an apt description of the heady space one occupies when thinking about inheritance.

“[Love]” by Ariana Reines

Ariana Reines is a poet who changed my thinking about the blurry line between speaker and self. When I first read Couer de Lion, it felt as exciting and provocative as the first time I read Fear of Flying by Erica Jong in my teens.

“Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Peter Trachtenberg

Peter is an essayist who thinks and moves like a poet, and he’s also someone I’ve exchanged song lists with because he loves music and weirdness. I heard him read this essay and was captivated by its range and tenderness.

“Diagnosis” by Cynthia Cruz

Cynthia Cruz
is the lyric poet I’d want to be if I had more control. Her poems are bracing and brutal.

“Bodily of Water” by Richard Greenfield

RG (a colleague and friend) is in my mind one of the most innovative ecopoets (if that's a thing) engaging with the confessional tradition in contemporary American poetry. This particular poem is saturated with the sublimity, language, and light of Las Vegas.

from “Letters to Michael” Mark McMorris

Entrepôt is in my mind one of the best books of this decade. Josh Corey says it best: “The other poetic presence that hovers its wings over this book is Michael Palmer, who provides a blurb and seems a likely candidate for the book's chief interlocutor: a series of poems throughout it bear the title "Letters to Michael." Much of Palmer, too, comes out of Wallace Stevens, though he's a Stevens for whom imagination owes an unpayable debt to reality, rather than the other way around. There's a similar ethical rigor on display in McMorris' book, along with a dazzling range of classical references that heighten the Classic feeling of the poetry itself—another quality I associate with Palmer and with the late, "philosophical," Apollonian Stevens.”

“Collapsible Poetics Theater” by Rodrigo Toscano

When I need kinetic sound and power in my ear and heart, I go to Rodrigo Toscano’s work.

“Lines of Refusal” by Julie Carr

"Answer If You Can" by Alice Notley

Julie Carr is the Athena in my pantheon of poet-heroines; Alice Notley, my Artemis. Two musts for every mixtape.

"Memory of Prose Machine" by Sandra Doller

Poets like Rodrigo Toscano, Sandra Doller, and Keston Sutherland are making poems more performative. I love the ambient sound of this recording.

Originally Published: November 11th, 2013

Born in New York, poet Carmen Giménez Smith earned a BA in English from San Jose State University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. She is the author of six collections of poetry, including Cruel Futures (City Lights, 2018); Milk and Filth (2013), a finalist for...