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July 30, 2021  

Poetism Part 5: Can you speak for others? Lorenzo Bartolucci on Seamus Heaney and Hozier

Across Northern Europe, so-called “bog people” have often been discovered shuffling around in the peat. While no one is quite certain where these quasi-mummified bodies come from––some date as recently as the 1940s––they have posed a strange mystery for countless poets and artists.

This week, Back in America’s Poetism team takes a look at one of Seamus Heaney’s bog-inspired poems “The Bog Queen” from his 1975 collection North. Written in the spring of the May 1968 movement and the beginning of the Irish “Troubles,” “The Bog Queen” ventriloquizes the voice of its eponymous queen, pretending to experience underground life before her eventual discovery.

In 2014, Irish musician Hozier released a setting of the poem, “Like Real People Do, ”removing many explicit references to Heaney himself, while keeping the ethos of the poem. For Hozier, the relationship of the fallen queen to her discoverer is one of love, even if from afar. Is it possible to love those who we will never meet? Can such a love be anything more than one-sided or wonderfully ironic?

To explore these questions, Stanford graduate student Lorenzo Bartolucci joins Josh in the studio to offer his take on love, Heaney, bog bodies, and American-ness itself.


If you’re enjoying this summer series, stay tuned for next week’s installment, featuring Susquehanna Philosophy Professor Michael Leon Thomas and the works of Alfred North Whitehead and Pharoah Sanders.

July 23, 2021  

Poetism 4: Can you break a word? Gabriel Ellis on SOPHIE and Jos Charles



Who would I show it to

In this short one-line poem, W.S. Merwin condenses the anguish of loss, of being alive, and of the limitations of languages into a neat little package. Why write in the absence of finality? And what happens when mortality catches up with us?

In this installment of Poetism, Podcast Editor Josh Wagner takes to the studio to ask about the honesty of writing––can writing ever reflect a true impression of reality? To field such questions about life, poetry, and everything in between, Stanford graduate student Gabriel Ellis takes the mic. Studying musicology, Gabriel focuses on contemporary pop music, and especially what he terms “anaesthetics,” music that describes, induces, or creates a sense of narcotic escape.

Our conversation loosely tracks Gabriel’s musical career before turning to Jos Charles’ 2018 poetry collection feeld, which he reads in a faux-Chaucerian accent: “i care so much abot the whord i cant reed.” Then, we talk about the late SOPHIE’s 2018 track “Immaterial” off of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides to explore a sonic tapestry of vibe.


Stay tuned at your dials for next week’s episode of Poetism, featuring dead Irish myths, Seamus Heany, Hozier, and more Stanford friends!


Note: Both Charles and SOPHIE identify as trans and use she/them pronouns, so we use both interchangeably.

July 15, 2021  

Poetism 3: Can You Feel It? Johnnie Hobbs on D’Angelo and Amiri Baraka


She listen to a little of that D’Angelo music, some love’s melody, sophisticated-type rap, which she say sounds more like real music, like intelligent music, than some of that other music, then she cuts the radio off ––Gayl Jones, The Healing


Like the narrator in Gayl Jones’ The Healing, this week’s installment of Poetism focuses on and around “black music,” that is music which conveys a specific feeling of a sensation or time without explaining anything. For me, it’s like being a child at an adult’s card table; no one tells you how the game works, you have to learn by being attentive and tuning into the tricks at hand. But the joy is in the puzzle, almost as much as in the rules of the game.


When his producer tried to market his serpentine music as “neo-soul,” D’Angelo rejected that moniker for the more expressive and expansive “black music.” There’s history and respect in his 2014 collaboration with the Vanguard, “Black Messiah,” but also affection, nostalgia, and rage. In scholar D’Angelo’s own words, “it’s all about capturing the spirit. It’s all about capturing the vibe. I’m kinda a first take dude.” 


To tackle such questions of lineage and history, actor and tap dance instructor Johnnie Hobbs joins me in this week’s episode. Our conversation starts with Johnnie’s own background and love for films––especially the rare period piece that displays the mundane. As Sumana Roy and Xander Manshel have noted, it’s rare for art made by people of color about the everyday to be accepted by mainstream culture. The vast majority of literary awards given to writers of color are for historical novels which focus on their ethnic identities. To be taught within the university, Indian novels need to be about what it means to be a postcolonial subject;––it’s uncommon to see a novel about one’s dreams of becoming a famous poet, midnight walks, and family fights.


And Johnnie has developed his own test to see whether a historical film can do more than just showcase violence against Black bodies. In the final minutes of the podcast, we turn towards Amiri Baraka’s “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” (1961) to unpack it’s own relationship to Black suffering and its future(s).


Stay tuned for next week’s episode on bubblegum pop and Old English verse in Jos Charles’ feeld (2018) and SOPHIE’s “Immaterial” (2018)––guided by anesthetic wizard Gabriel Ellis, who you might remember from his cameo in last week’s installment.

July 8, 2021  

Poetism Part 2: Are we numb yet? Lisa Robertson and the Airborne Toxic Event with Mitch Therieau



Why are we so blind, why do we see so little, when there is much around us to see?


So asks philosopher Alva Noë in Strange Tools, an exploration of how art objects contain, persuade, envelop, and direct our attention. What happens when we love a song, poem, or a moment in a day? How do these works of art direct and misdirect our attention? What––physically, emotionally, actually––happens to us in these moments of transport? And how can we talk about any of this without poorly paraphrasing that direct experience?


These are the questions Podcast Editor Josh Wagner was left with at the end of our last episode of Poetism. So, in this week’s installment, Josh invited Mitch Therieau, a Stanford researcher working on contemporary literature, to unravel the interstices of Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat (2010) and the Airborne Toxic Event’s 2011 hit “Numb” off of All at Once.


Robertson’s poetry captures fleeting moments of stillness and the everyday, placing them in complex and abstract forms, while Numb’s soundscape desensitizes listeners to the world around them. Over the course of their conversation, Mitch and Josh plumb the surface-level depths of Robertson’s avant-garde poetry and trace the music history at the core of the Airborne Toxic Event’s track.


Longtime listeners might be interested to compare Mitch’s idea of what America is with Josh’s––way back from his first episode with Back in America.


Stay tuned for next week’s episode with Los Angeles-based filmmaker and tap dancer Johnnie Hobbs, featuring Amiri Baraka and D’Angelo and The Vanguard.


Check out frontman for the Airborne Toxic Event Mikel Jollett’s 2020 memoir Hollywood Park.


July 1, 2021  

Poetism Part 1: Patrick Rosal and The Doors with Fang Liu



Happy July! While Stan and the usual Back in America podcast are on a hiatus this summer, Podcast Editor Josh Wagner will be hosting a new series entitled Poetism, tracing the foundations of and influences behind American poetry and music.

Each week, Josh will invite a guest on the air to talk about an unusual pairing of a poem and song––seeing how they overlap and converse with one another. In the process, we hope to expose listeners to new poets and songs and make a case for the enduring relevance of poetry in an age of digital and visual media.

In our inaugural episode, Josh is joined by Fang Liu, a linguistics major from Stanford, to talk about memory and imagination in Patrick Rosal’s 2015 ekphrastic poem “Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard” and The Doors’ “Wild Child” off of the 1969 record The Soft Parade.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode on sensations of loneliness through the Airborne Toxic Event’s early 2000s bop “Numb” and poet Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat (2010).

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