From Poetry Magazine

A Playlist for the April 2018 Issue

For our April 2018 playlist, we asked contributor Paul Tran to curate a selection of music for us. You can read about their approach to creating the playlist below. Click here to open the playlist in your Spotify app.

I grew up in my mother’s tailoring and dry cleaning shop on Adams Avenue in San Diego. The shop had pink walls and a radio taped down to play Smooth Jazz 98.1. During the hottest summer afternoons, when everything the Santa Anas touched ignited, I plucked gray hairs from my mother’s head as she embroidered Irish dancing dresses and Toni Braxton sang “Un-Break My Heart.” It was the only song, for years and years, whose lyrics I knew and dreamt in. Perhaps I sang it for my father, a South Vietnamese soldier who disappeared from our lives in 1999. Perhaps I sang it whenever I thought about the idea of disappearance, of leaving, and missing someone, or somewhere, I love.

Whatever the reason, I’ve sang “Un-Break My Heart” every day, alone and at the top of my lungs, in my apartment since moving from Brooklyn to Saint Louis this past August. I miss Mahogany L. Browne, my second mom and slam coach. I miss Crystal Valentine, my twin and best friend. I miss Patricia Smith and Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Camonghne Felix and the family that held and loved and taught me to not only be a better poet but a better person. To see so many of them in The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic anthology from Haymarket Books, to see them archived here in Poetry, closed, if just for a moment, the miles between us. I could hear them—I could hear their hearts beating—as I read each poem aloud. Suddenly we’re at the Nuyorican on a Friday night. Suddenly we’re in Oakland and Dallas and Chicago.

I knew I wanted to honor these brilliant and bold and trailblazing women. I knew the playlist had to have Toni and end with India.Arie’s “Ready for Love.” Everything in between is a song we played in the car on the way to a poetry slam. A song Justice Ameer (and Chrysanthemum Tran) wanted played as the background of a group piece. A song, of course, by Jamila Woods, who, in performing a poem (with Franny Choi) during my first week at college, set me on my path to writing. This is a playlist of how painful some days are when I’m so far from them. It’s a playlist of love songs to them. It’s a hymn. A karaoke night. A dance party where we keep dancing long after our feet are tired, long after the song is done, because how could there be such things as disappearance or leaving when our hearts beat this fast and close?

Originally Published: April 6th, 2018
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Paul Tran earned a BA from Brown University and an MFA in poetry from Washington University. Their work appears in the New Yorker, Poetry magazine, and elsewhere, including in the anthology Inheriting the War (W.W. Norton, 2017) and in the film Love Beats Rhymes (Lionsgate, 2017). Tran is the first...