Taylor Swift—The Poet of Our Generation

In case you missed it, Taylor Swift has been very busy during the pandemic. Within the span of five months, she released two studio albums—Folklore and Evermore—bringing her to a grand total of nine studio albums. Now you may be wondering, why is a book blog telling me about Taylor Swift? Well the truth is, whether you love or hate her music, her poetic songwriting ability rivals that of some of the best poets to date. She started by creating stories within 3–4 minute songs and now creates love triangles by connecting individual songs. If you still don’t believe me, let’s look at some of her best lyrical work. There is a multitude of ways to analyze her work, but I will be breaking it down into three different categories: literature references, powerful lines, and storytelling.

Literature References

Taylor loves her literature references—and so do I. Some of them are very obvious, such as “Love Story,” (which I won’t include for that reason) but a lot of them are more subtle, which just adds to her genius. This list is not exhaustive and doesn’t include every album, but let’s look at a few of my favorites:

  1. “Wonderland”: Taylor took it up a notch on her fifth album, 1989, by creating an entire song based on a literary reference. The song “Wonderland” is a reference to Alice in Wonderland and the idea of getting so lost in love that you don’t realize you fell down a rabbit hole and now you have to figure out how to escape or spend forever where “life was never worse but never better” (Swift, 2014). Taylor directly references the beloved tale with lines such as “Took a wrong turn and we / Fell down the rabbit hole,” and “Didn’t you call my fears with a Cheshire Cat smile?” (Swift, 2014), meaning the subject of the song wrote off her fears with a wide grin, causing her to feel falsely assured. This song is a prime example of the strengthening of Taylor’s literary references.
  2. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”: All of Taylor’s albums are an era in their own right, but Reputation took that to the next level. A number of the songs on this album allude to various classics, from A Tale of Two Cities to Slaughterhouse Five, but I am just going to talk about the most thorough reference on the album, which is “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” This song is basically The Great Gatsby explained in three minutes and 27 seconds. It details a friendship that was extravagant and wild—much like the way Gatsby would party—that ends due to secrets and lies, much like the way friendships and relationships ended in Gatsby’s world. The first verse reveals this idea immediately with the lines, “It was so nice throwing big parties / Jump into the pool from the balcony / Everyone swimming in a champagne sea / And there are no rules when you show up here / Bass beat rattling the chandelier / Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year” (Swift, 2017). If that doesn’t sound like a Gatsby party, I don’t know what does.
  3. “Invisible String”: I am going to break my “explaining one literary reference per album” streak here, because Folklore is an English major’s dream. “Invisible String” contains a nod to the popular line from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” (Hemingway, 1926). In the chorus she sings, “And isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me?” (Swift, 2020). Personally, I think this is one of her most beautiful songs and I love the way she slipped this reference in there.
  4. “The Lakes”: Before Taylor started writing in quarantine, she must have been reading, because this song immediately took me back to my English Literature class. In this song, Taylor references what I guessed to be the five Lake Poets from the late 18th to early 19th century. The chorus opens with “Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die” (Swift, 2020), which, if I remember correctly, were the big five romantic poets. Upon further listen, I noticed an interesting line which I believe is a further nod to them. In the second verse she sings, “I’ve come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze / Tell me what are my words worth” (Swift, 2020). William Wordsworth was one of the five Lake Poets, so I can’t help but to think that the last bit of that verse is meant to continue the allusion to the poet. It could be a coincidence, but most of us know by now that Taylor doesn’t do coincidences.
  5. “Happiness”: Moving into her most recent album, Evermore, we have the song “Happiness.” When I first heard this song, I nearly died. Not just because it’s one of her saddest songs ever, but because the literary references in it made my nerdy heart swell. Once again, Taylor has alluded to The Great Gatsby, but in an even more poetic way. In the second verse, she sings “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool” (Swift, 2020), which is an obvious nod to Daisy’s famous line from the novel and I audibly gasped on my first listen. Towards the end, there is also a line that says, “All you want from me now / Is the green light of forgiveness” (Swift, 2020), which I also took to be an allusion to Gatsby. It may just be me, but I am trained to think Gatsby when I hear green light, so I think this is the perfect subtle nudge towards it.
  6. “Tis the Damn Season”: By now, we’ve probably noticed that Taylor has taken to referencing phrases and lines from famous works and that’s exactly what she does in “Tis the Damn Season.” In the chorus of this song, she makes a direct reference to Robert Frost’s beloved narrative poem, “The Road Not Taken,” with the line, “And the road not taken looks real good now” (Swift, 2020). This poem was engrained in my head as early as middle school, so naturally I was extremely excited about this reference.

Powerful Lines

Taylor may be the queen of literature references, but some of her best lines have nothing to do with allusions and are simply poetic in their own right. I consider music and songwriting to be a form of poetry, therefore most of her songs themselves read as a poem. Honestly, I could pick a line at random and it would probably be beautifully written, but then we would be here all day. So, in no particular order, I’ll just go through a few of the ones that really strike a cord with me.

  1. “And you come away / With a great little story / Of a mess of a dreamer / With the nerve to adore you”—”Cold as You” (Swift, 2006). Taylor wrote her first album at 15 and she has grown a lot since then, and as such most of my favorite lines won’t be from her debut album. However, I think it is important to look at her old lyrics to help see how far she has come, and these lines from “Cold as You” still get me even after all these years.
  2. “So I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep / And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe”—”Last Kiss” (Swift, 2010). This song, particularly this line, always hits me even now—despite the fact that I was 12 when it was released.
  3. “You call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest / I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here / ‘Cause I remember it all, all, all too well / Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it”—”All too Well” (Swift, 2012). Unfortunately, I cannot paste the entirety of “All too Well” but this bridge speaks for itself.
  4. “Cause you can hear it in the silence / You can feel it on the way home / You can see it with the lights out / You are in love”—”You are in Love” (Swift, 2014). By itself, this doesn’t seem like much, but the song is about saying you’re in love without saying it directly, and I absolutely love the way she chose these lines to depict that.
  5. “Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere”— “New Years Day (Swift, 2017). Even though this is just a one liner, it gets me every time. Taylor has a way of describing scenarios in one line that packs a punch, and this is one of those instances.
  6. “I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you / And I snuck in through the garden gate / Every night that summer just to seal my fate / And I screamed for whatever it’s worth / ‘I love you,’ ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”—”Cruel Summer” (Swift, 2019). The beginning and end of this verse are my absolute favorite, but I also love Taylor’s allusion to gardens throughout so many of her songs. It gives them such a whimsical feeling. Also, it was a cruel summer so it seems fitting.
  7. “You drew stars around my scars / But now I’m bleedin”—”Cardigan” (Swift, 2020). “Cardigan” is one of my favorite songs off of Folklore, because there are so many lines like this one that pack a punch but also tell a story, which is something she consistently does beautifully.
  8. “But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm / If your cascade ocean wave blues come / All / these people think love’s for show / But I would die for you in secret”—”Peace” (Swift, 2020). This song is another one of my favorites off of Folklore (honestly, I love every song on this album). There is something undeniably poetic about this line in particular, with the metaphoric language and symbolism. I get the chills every time.
  9. “I don’t like that falling feels like flying ’til the bone crush”—”Gold Rush” (Swift, 2020). This is another one liner, but it does such a good job capturing a feeling that we all probably know in just a few words. Even though it’s short, it’s extremely descriptive and really shows off her talent.
  10. “While you were out building other worlds, where was I? / Where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire? / I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life”—”Tolerate It” (Swift, 2020). I had a hard time picking just one line from this song, to the point that I considered pasting the whole song in. It’s honestly a very underrated addition to Evermore, but from a poetry standpoint is absolutely beautiful. If I read this in a poetry anthology I wouldn’t blink an eye.
  11. “There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you too / Both of these things can be true”—”Happiness (Swift, 2020). I’m including this one as a bonus, because I couldn’t not talk about it. Not only is “Happiness” ironically the saddest song ever, but the emotion she captures is astounding. This is one of my favorites from the album because it is so mature and really shows how she’s grown as a person and writer.

Storytelling

Finally, we move into the last category, which is the storytelling she does in some of her songs. Like any good songwriter, Taylor knows how to tell a story. She writes about her experiences, but also creates characters in her songs. These are five of my favorite stories she has told, in no particular order.

  1. The Betty, Augustine, and James love triangle from Folklore. This Taylor original is one of my favorites because she gives us a presumed cheating scandal, but from the perspective of each person involved. There is no blaming the other woman or anything like that, and we get to see how each person may feel in a situation like this. It is a really interesting story and each song, “Betty,” “August,” and “Cardigan,” is different but equally fantastic.
  2. The failed marriage proposal in “Champagne Problems.” The phrase “champagne problems” means an issue that in the grand scheme of things may not seem like a big deal, but matters a lot to the person. In this song, Taylor effortlessly tells the story of a person who has turned down a proposal due to their own problems. Each verse adds to the story, hooking you from the beginning. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and I absolutely love it.
  3. The wedding being crashed in “Speak Now.” This song is great for a number of reasons. It tells the story of a girl who decides to crash her ex’s wedding by choosing to “speak now” rather than “forever hold their peace.” The imagery is so detailed it feels like you are watching the events unfold. Each verse gets closer and closer to the action until it unfolds, and they run away together (presumably). It is a lot more lighthearted than the previously mentioned storylines, but very well done nonetheless.
  4. The story of a young girl growing up and appreciating her mom in “The Best Day.” This song goes through a young girls life, presumably Taylor’s, and all of the small things that make growing up hard. Throughout it, she reflects on how the one constant was her mom. This song is extremely nostalgic for me. I used to listen to it on family road trips and I would think about how I wasn’t even close to the age she was by the end of the song. It made me appreciate my mom a lot more and how she was there for me through everything.
  5. Handling the illness of a loved one in “Soon You’ll Get Better.” In this song, Taylor tells the story of someone who has to deal with someone close to them being sick. It goes through all the motions of going to the hospital with them and watching them get worse and better and worse again. I don’t listen to this song often, simply because it is honestly so sad and it makes me think about what I would do if my mom got sick. However, as heartbreaking as it is, its extremely well written and never fails to pull on my heartstrings.


If you’re still here, thank you, and I hope you enjoyed analyzing the inner-workings of Taylor Swift’s music and songwriting abilities with me. Between her literature references, undeniably poetic lyrics, and strong storytelling, I think it’s safe to say she is truly the poet of our generation.

Interview with Author N. Alexsander Sidirov

N. Alexsander Sidirov was born in the frigid landscape of Siberia. As a small child, he was adopted from Sosnovoborsk and moved from one of the coldest places on Earth to one of the hottest: Arizona. From his new home in Arizona, he began to explore the world of writing at the tender age of seven and found that the more he put pen to paper, the broader his vision became.

He began experimenting with using his life experiences as fuel for his literary fire by writing short stories. Even then, Sidirov enjoyed infusing his writing with the heartbeats of his identity and themes of his life, like his adoption journey, sexuality, loneliness, individuality, and neurodiversity.

It was in college that Sidirov turned his creative eye from penning short stories to practicing poetry. After six years perfecting his craft, Sidirov decided to capture his unique view of the world in his debut poetry collection, There was Histrionic Laughter at the Clowns Cadaver, which, like all his writings, strives to change the way society views the world and liberate the creative process from the confines of social and literary conformity.

When not writing, Sidirov enjoys learning new languages, watching vintage cartoons, and—most of all—filing disputes with the credit bureau.

Глаза боятся, а руки делают
The eyes are afraid, but the hands are still doing it.


1. Many of our readers haven’t spent time with your poetry yet, so I want to give them a chance to get to know you. How would you describe yourself as a writer? How would you describe this collection?
I would describe myself as brave, subversive, bold, and open-minded. As a writer I would describe myself as brave, subversive, experimental, and bold. I think this collection is genre-bending, psychedelic, technicolored, aggressive, soft, honest, confessional, colorful, dark, ambient, straightforward, and enigmatic. I think that depending on the page it’s a different thing. What it means to the person reading really depends on their experiences. I have had people who have interpreted some of my poems exactly as I did, but the beautiful thing about poetry is that it’s art. It literally exists equally in the mind of every person who reads it. I wanted to create something that no one had read before and would be nearly impossible to compare to others because—as a writer—I didn’t want to be seen as a lesser version of a different writer. I am very much myself: what I create and my point of view is mine, and so this book is a conglomeration of my experiences and also how those experiences are filtered through my art and rather crazy mind. The book is very existential, avant-garde, and frankly in a lot of ways abstract. There are some people who are going to appreciate that it is one of a kind and that I put everything I could into it. There are others who are going to shrug their shoulders and find it too dense or challenging, and that’s okay. Either way, I’ll be alright.

2. I’m interested in your page numbers and the poem they create. What inspired this poem and what impact do you hope it has on readers’ experience with your collection?
Ah yes, I remember us talking about that poem frequently throughout me writing it. First, I wanted to write a palindromic poem about the arbitrariness of the arrow of time, but I found the format to be incredibly constricting and it difficult to say anything of real meaning. Then, as I was finishing the book, I found myself absolutely petrified of death. I genuinely felt afraid of dying and a voice in the back of my mind said, ‘If you finish this book well, then you’ll have finished something, so now it’s all over and whoever or whatever can strike you down.’ It was very bizarre, but what I realized is that a lot of my procrastination came from an existential place—that I had put off finishing things because all along there was this fear telling me that if I did then I could die because I did something, and if I didn’t then how could I—I still had things to do. So I sat on a mountain and ruminated on it, and I decided that either I could try to bury the fear deep within myself or I could turn towards it. So I did the latter: the poem that extends over the page numbers is me imagining my eulogy if I were to die today. There’s this gratitude exercise where you imagine yourself on your deathbed and ask yourself what would you tell the people you love, and I decided to take it one step further. Frankly, doing it scared the living daylights out of me. It felt like I could be somehow cursing myself, but I knew that facing my fear of mortality in such an open and honest way might help others do the same. Because the truth is a lot of us are afraid to die. We only know life, Death is a house guest we’ve never met. I wanted to confront my mortality in a place where the numbers rise like age, and I also really liked the idea of imagining new places where poems could exist, and where their placement could kind of make its own statement. I think, hopefully, that I achieved that—thus far it has had a really really positive reception and I am grateful for that.

3. Many of your poems address the frailness of innocence and youth. Was this a conscious theme you had in mind while creating your poems, or did it occur naturally within your work?
That’s so interesting that you said that, because I did not realize that my poems addressed the frailness of innocence and youth. I think nostalgia is an especially potent drug in that it almost always offers some form of high, but I would agree that youth is always present in my writing. Particularly the antithesis of youth. I think that more so than youth is the fear of the anti-youth, the loss of youth more often than not. I think that frailness, or perceived frailness, comes from a fear of getting older and not having enough time. That’s a theme that I read in so many of my poems. This is something I always felt—like I was behind or there was some form of magic clock sitting on my head and so if I didn’t move fast then nothing would get done. I am sure that has much to do with going to funerals as a child, I think coming to the realization that life does have an ending and our time here is ephemeral at a young age certainly shapes one’s perspective.

4. Your poem “Shelter Melter” is one of my favorite pieces in this collection. I view this poem as an absurd sort of Ars Poetica. I’m curious if you agree with my reading and what you personally hoped readers would take away from this specific piece? 
So that’s really interesting, yes Shelter Melter is one of the most controversial so far. People either love it or angrily write about the slew of letters on Goodreads. I think that your reading is absolutely a valid one. I would never go out of my way to tell others how to write a poem because the truth is I don’t think there’s one way or a right way. I would say, though, that I am always challenging the notion that there is a “best way” to write poetry and what constitutes “valid” forms of poetry. “Shelter Melter” came from an innate desire to shatter the fourth wall in a poem. Like take someone somewhere with me on a surrealist journey and then absolutely rock them by just kicking down the walls of their understanding of perspective. I think that in a weird way a lot of poetry, especially poems like “Shelter Melter,” really play with dimension in the sense that they exist in their own. There are a lot of things about poetry that I think are not frequently utilized enough in the art form and experimentation with dimension and perspective (in almost sculptural way) are certainly some of them. I hope that people can read that poem and realize that you don’t always have to take yourself seriously to write something that deserves to be taken seriously.

5. I’m proud to say I’ve been an active participant in your workshopping process for this collection and have seen your writing develop in unique ways over the past several years. How do some of your “older” poems vary from your “newer” ones within this collection?
Yeah, you have been a HUGE part of the journey that was getting this book made—though, for many years, it was just me writing poems. I think that I always was experimenting, but over time I learned how to stage things better; I learned how to create poems that were definitively experiences. I always felt that poetry had the potential to be something grandiose and exquisite and in a lot of ways I think modern poetry tends to revel in the small, which is not a bad thing at all, but that wasn’t my thing. I loved Jodorowsky, Kate Bush, Bjork, and very very grandiose artists who created things in their mediums that just felt BIG—and I wanted to do the same with my writing. Over time I got better at creating subtle moments to interplay between those broad brush strokes. In order to create a masterpiece I am sure a painter must use many brushes; I feel this is probably the same with writing.

6. The cover of your collection is striking in all the right ways. What was your experience in collaborating with an artist to create this piece for the collection?
Yes, so I worked with an artist Jeffrey Marchetti, who is incredible. He’s a queer artist. I saw his work on Instagram and told him I wanted to talk to him about maybe making my book cover. He agreed and we basically talked back and forth for weeks while slowly it developed. It was an arduous process, but to me it was really important that we create legitimate art. I wanted the cover to reflect the contents so I wanted to create a cover that someone could look at and analyze and actually derive meaning from. Personally, I am so happy with it. Jeff is an amazing artist who was so wonderful to work with; I really like to trust creative people to be creative, so I mostly just gave him abstract feelings and focal points to use as his inspiration and then as he progressed we would talk about it and discuss. I was never steadfast or militant about getting a perfect image because I know that in collaboration the perfect image happens with synastry and connection.

7. Independent publishing is a complicated and demanding process. What advice do you have for other writers who are considering this type of publishing for their own work?
Do it! Do it! But be ready. It’s really hard, it’s exhausting, and it will wear you down. But being able to have complete control over what you make is one of the best feelings. I modeled for years and constantly had to defer to others in the creative process. Being able to have full, complete creative control is amazing—but it also means there’s no one to blame but yourself when things go wrong.

8. What’s next for you as a writer? Are you working on any new projects?
YES! So I am currently writing a novel that I am trying to finish in 16 days! I have a break from my European coding bootcamp, so I decided that I would challenge myself to write this novel that I have had the idea for—in 16 days. I am currently on day three, and honestly it’s going really well. I have a TikTok channel dedicated to it! I am sure that by the time this is published, whether I did it or didn’t it will be there for the world to see, but follow it anyways @n.alexsandersidirov. After the novel is finished and begins the editing process, I am starting on a very very complex and frankly ambitious project that will infuse art, technology, and poetry into a book. It will not be a personal poetry collection, definitely more conceptual, but I am hoping that I can create something that brings poetry rocketing into the twenty-first century with some stuff that, at the very least, could only be conceived in 2021. That last statement will make sense once it’s finished, but I’ll just say that my coding bootcamp will definitely come in handy. As for following me as a writer, I have a website; I am on Goodreads. Expect the unexpected—right now I don’t see myself ever being a James Patterson or a genre specialist. I love poetry though, and I want to continue to create subversive pieces that hopefully show others that poetry means there are no rules, and the only way to break all the rules is to never learn them in the first place.

8. How can our Spellbinding Shelf readers best support your collection and your future writing ambitions?
Well honestly, check out the collection! The physical book is absolutely the format it was meant to be read in, but the Kindle format is actually wonderful too! I am immensely grateful for anyone who is willing to read what I have written. As a queer author, its been wonderful having so many LGBTQIA people reach out and tell me that they really appreciated the book and that has been such a blessing. Being a local Arizona author, I think to some extent it can be intimidating to ask people to read your book, especially when it’s as abstract and extraneous as this one, but everyday I find myself telling people. It’s all part of the journey I suppose. I am immensely grateful for this interview, which helps give me an opportunity to explain it and also myself so people who have questions have something to elucidate them.

9. Is there anything else you would like our readers to know before they dive into your collection?
Yes, the book is both very experimental and also very confessional—an unexpected combination certainly, but alas, it is what it is. It also requires careful reading and a willingness to take a leap of faith. Erin, you told me yourself that its not the kind of book you read casually on your lunch break, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone who imagines it might be something akin to an Instagram poet. A friend of mine described it as an electric storm or a mess of live wires, something that feels like it could electrocute you as you hold it. These are all very abstract metaphors, but I guess what I am trying to say is that I wrote the book for people who like bizarre, surreal, and absurd imagery and poetry—if that’s you, then yay! If that isn’t that’s fine, not every book is for every person.

You can purchase N. Alexsander Sidirov’s poetry collection or read the free Kindle version here.

4 For Your Ears: Bookish Podcasts for the Summer

I recently began listening to podcasts to give my eyes some relief from screen and print. These podcasts represent a range of my regular listening—two are concerned with language itself, while the following two focus on book reviews and poetry readings, respectively. I’ve found them to be a great way to explore and revisit language, poems, and books. It’s my hope that you enjoy them as well!


The Allusionist—Helen Zaltzman. From swear tablets found in bogs around Bath (68, 2017) to how transfolk maneuver their words to match their experiences of gender (56, 2017), The Allusionist focuses on language in its funny, serious, creative, and everyday functions. There is an entire episode devoted to how apples get their names and another about polari (99), which was the argot that many gay men in England used to reveal and conceal identity simultaneously.

Zaltzman also includes additional material for each episode on the podcast’s website, https://www.theallusionist.org/. For the episode about polari, materials include a link to the Polari Bible, a link to Round the Horne (a polari-loving radio program that aired from the mid-to-late 1960s), gay language in the Philippines, and much more. Zaltzman might also be the funniest person around formally trained as a Medievalist.


A Way With Words—Martha & Grand Barrett. This podcasting duo composed of an author/journalist and lexicographer/linguist talk about family expressions, where words come from, current slang, and classic sayings. They’re like the teachers we all love the most—lively, engaging, thoughtful, and warm. More about the podcast can be found at: https://www.waywordradio.org/about/

In “Pie in the Sky” a 6 foot 8 listened shares his favorite pithy remarks to strangers’ comments about his height (2012). The same episode also covers why leg cramps are called charley horses, and where the phrase “pie in the sky” originated. “Had the Radish” (2019) centers on a phrase commonly used by a listener when fed up or worn out. The phrase came to the upstate New York listener from France by the way of Quebec. The French phrase je n’ai plus de radis—which translates to “I don’t even have a radish”—originally expressed poverty.


The New York Times Book Review Podcast—Various Hosts. Wide-ranging as The Times itself, the Book Review Podcast explores fiction and non-fiction alike with a variety of hosts guiding the program. Trends in the publishing world and literary criticisms are also common subjects. In the episode “The Angry Children Are Our Future,” an interview of Lydia Millet, author of A Children’s Bible—an allegorical novel about climate change and a family vacation—precedes a discussion of Barry Gewen’s The Inevitability of Tragedy: Henry Kissinger and His World.

The background of what constitutes a children’s Bible and how Millet’s novel departs from typical conventions of a coming-of-age tale offers material for contemplation for readers and writers alike. More about the podcast, including the option to stream content, can be found at https://www.nytimes.com/column/book-review-podcast.


Poetry Unbound—Pádraig Ó Tuama. “I need to feel the air in my throat and vocal cords constrict to make the poem real,” says the podcaster himself before he reads the poem “1383” by Emily Dickinson. He reads it well and follows the reading with his interpretation of the poem—how the fire described in the poem is like the fire that keeps friendship alive across distance and time. It’s a topical episode from late March of 2020, following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Other episodes are topical as well, though in a more general way. The episode “A Poem to See What’s Overlooked” offers a reading of a poem by Lemn Sissay that addresses what becomes forgotten. It’s a poem that demands remembrance, according to Ó Tuama, of the flat beer and missing buttons alike. “Like” is the word Ó Tuama brings our attention to throughout its repetition in the poem and his experience coming out as a gay man. Attentive and thoughtful, this podcast rewards the ears and the mind. More about the podcast can be found at https://radiopublic.com/poetryunbound-69qD3w/s1!30fd6.


Guest post courtesy of Nick Mueller

Staff Book Spine Poetry

Since we were unable to meet in person for a social event this semester, our staff connected through a virtual book spine poetry reading, a great option that was both bookish and fun. Over video chat, each staff member shared a picture of their book stack, where they’d arranged book titles into a poem of their own. We found our results engaging and thought we would share them below!


Rachel, Editor-in-Chief

Wicked
headstrong,
big, little lies
FOOL
wise blood.

While creating this book spine poetry about the steadfastness of lies, I had to keep reminding myself to work with the titles I had on my bookshelf and to not get distracted by my wandering imagination. I needed to restrict my vocabulary to that of the authors in my library. In this challenging writing practice, I was reminded that limitations force us to be creative in new ways. What at first seems to be an unfortunate obstacle can actually help us to think differently and to create uniquely. As many of us find ourselves in uncertain and seemingly impossible situations during this new season, I think one hopeful silver lining is that this resilient, creative force we each have is able to thrive in moments of limitation. 


Payton, Managing Editor

Losers. 
Dispatches from the 
other side of the scoreboard;
Great expectations.
Girl, wash your face,
Eat, pray, love,
I'd give anything. 

My poem is about the struggle with perfectionism (very close to my heart) and the growth/pain of learning to accept weaknesses, picking yourself up, and not letting accomplishments or met/unmet expectations define your worth. 


Makenna, Communications Coordinator

This is What Happy Looks Like
This is what happy looks like:
a light in the attic,
love and gelato,
our family recipes.
Happier at home:
no one can take your place.

I dedicated this poem to my twin sister, who recently returned from eighteen months away from home on a service mission in another country. It represents our experience in two-week quarantine at home which was full of love and happiness through our reunion together as a family.


Roxanne, Staff Writer & Communications Coordinator Apprentice

Diary of an Oxygen Thief
A Dance with Dragons,
Imaginary Friend.
A Wrinkle in Time,
The Fault in our Stars.
Two by Two,
The Tenth of December.

The process behind this poem was a little chaotic. I essentially pulled out all of the books I have from my bookshelf at my college housing and stacked them in various ways, but it took a while to find a combination that I liked. Finally, I decided Diary of an Oxygen Thief was a great poem title, so I started there and moved down the line. I wanted to make sure it flowed like a poem, so I made sure some titles had determiners in them like “a” and “the” to add some separation. While it is still kind of list-like to me, I liked that it almost reads like thoughts or words someone (an oxygen thief?) jotted down quickly in a notebook. It adds an element of mysteriousness and that kind of became the mood of the poem in the end! 


Edward, Staff Writer

Pity the Reader 
We the Animals
In the Dream House

I composed my poem specifically about the sound, wanting to put unique titles together.


Abhilasha, Staff Writer

Matters of the heart
Trouble the saints—
The cheapest nights,
Dead land.

When we’re emotionally involved, the lines between right and wrong get blurred. Matters of the heart need a margin of human error. Also, the most imperfect things can be beautified by a loving gaze—the cheapest nights, a stretch of barren land.


Jade, Staff Writer

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living:
Now that you're here, 
Don't be a stranger. 
Rise and shine, 
Chasers of the light: 
Start something that matters. 

When creating my book spine poem, my mind immediately went to the current state of the world and the fear and anxiety we are all undoubtedly feeling. My poem is meant to be a response to this and a reminder that the important things in our lives (connection, love, meaning) still exist amid the uncertainties. While worrying is an inevitable part of life, it’s important to remind ourselves that we can still choose to focus on the important things in life that bring us joy and a sense of meaning


Mackenzie, Staff Writer

One Hundred Years of Solitude: 
The Stranger Ruins 
All the Bright Places

My process for creating this poem was to try to construct a narrative, so I looked for a book title that contained a verb and worked from there. I also tried to incorporate different genres of books I liked so that it represented what I like to read.


Erin, Staff Writer

Lost Souls
Waiting
On Earth we are briefly Gorgeous
Mumbo Jumbo

My book spine poem was created by grouping together titles that evoked similar feelings or images. Although I was working with a limited collection of my books, I enjoy how the poem turned out. My untitled poem is about the feelings of confusion and uncertainty that are plentiful in the world right now. For me, the poem acknowledges the beauty of being human in a largely chaotic world.


Sharon, Staff Writer

"no rules!"
RULES
exciting times
but
hey, kiddo
look
both
ways

As my daughter turns 18, her thoughts are consumed with the “no rules” lifestyle that she believes college will bring her. My poem is about my acknowledgement that these are indeed exciting times, but hey kiddo, you have to look both ways and not get tripped up by your own sense of freedom.


Amanda, Staff Writer

Into the wild, wise child
What dreams may come
With wicked, reckless 
Beautiful creatures
Catching fire
Crazy making
Writing magic

My inspiration came from Reckless and Beautiful Creatures being next to each other on my bookshelf. This poem is about being a writer, and how the writing process includes a little bit of chaos and darkness.


Bonus: Mackenzie, Staff Writer

History
A Dark History, The Tudors. 
The Source: 
Six Wives. 
—The Executioner's Journal.

I used my history books to construct a little joke about the craziness that is Tudor history. Enjoy!


Top 5 Highly Quotable Works of Literature

In the modern age, we’ve seriously begun to take the wonder that is a well-written line or quote for granted. From our Instagram bios to epithets and even TV shows and movies, our world is framed around the words of others. To pay homage to the beauty of some of these memorable quotes, I’ve compiled a list of books (and a couple of poems) that are chock-full of swoon-worthy quotes that promise to stick with you and change the way you think about the world. Some of my selections are more modern, and some have stood the test of time, but they are all sure to leave you astonished by the brilliance of written word.


The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock – T.S. Eliot. This existential poem is one of Eliot’s most famous and oft-quoted works, and for good reason. The narrative is fairly concrete in comparison with the author’s usual abstract style, and it’s mainly centered around the monologue of an narrator who finds himself paralyzed by fear and anxiety. This poem is justifiably well-known and finds its universality in our tendency as humans to try to control our own fate, and the feeling of being perpetually on the outside looking in. Because of the multiple interpretations of this poem that are available, it has appealing aspects for all audiences, but will be especially enjoyed by those with an appreciation for philosophy and the human experience.

Memorable Quote:
“For I have known them all, known them all:
Known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”


The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is another commonly quoted author, and The Great Gastby is one of his most popular works. The narrator, Nick Carraway, often provides memorable quotes through his pessimistic musings about the human condition. The titular protagonist, Gatsby, by comparison often speaks to the starry-eyed idealism that lives inside of each of us, and the innate desire to ceaselessly pursue our personal happiness. Together, these two characters create a beautiful juxtaposition and many meaningful dialogues. This novel tackles themes such as love, isolation, and a desire to relive or change the past, with these themes combining into a melting pot of outspoken quotes about living in a world enraptured by materialism and status.

Memorable Quote:
“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”


Looking for Alaska – John Green. Oh, John Green. Where would we be without your lighthearted but candid reflections on life? Looking for Alaska was Green’s first novel, but delights readers with so many strident ideas concerning the nature of life, death, and attempting to make the unknowable known. As a bonus, this novel also contains many great lines in the form of famous last words of men and women, as well as a reference to Gabriel Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth, and Auden’s As I Walked out One Evening. While this is one of Green’s more graphic works, it provides many thought-provoking observations on the inherent interconnectedness of people and the unseen ways in which we impact one another throughout our lives.

Memorable Quote:
“We need never be lost, because we can never be irreparably broken.”


Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte. For fans of romantic writing, Jane Eyre provides a gold mine of ethereal and mesmerizing lines. Jane herself manages to be simultaneously timid and bold, and this balance is reflected in both her spoken words and her introspective thoughts. The novel is centered around themes such as independence, morality, and the struggle between rational thought and emotional feeling, making it relevant today for all audiences.

Memorable Quote:
“I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse.”


The Laughing Heart – Charles Bukowski. I have to admit, I am a huge Bukowski fan, and I couldn’t resist adding him to this list. While most of his works tend to be laced with a fair dose of cynicism, The Laughing Heart is uncharacteristically hopeful and optimistic. This poem manages to convey a powerful message in just a handful of lines, and has a duality to it that allows it to be both soft and stern, reminding each of us of the power that we hold within ourselves. On a good day, this poem is an affirmation that we are already equipped with everything we need to succeed in life, and on a bad day it reminds us to keep fighting and never yield to the darkness that sometimes threatens to encroach our vision.

Memorable Quote:
“your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.”

Book Review

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Publisher: Penguin Press, 2019
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong, is written as a candid letter from Vietnamese immigrant Little Dog to his illiterate mother in which he recants his version of their family and his personal history. In the letter, he explores both his mother and grandmother’s experience as Vietnamese citizens during the American war, as well as their subsequent stories as immigrants in America. He also details his understanding of American culture and the ways in which it is embedded with violence, and he confesses the sordid affair of his first-love with OxyContin addicted Trevor. All the while, Little Dog tries to find his place in his family, in America, and in the world, while remaining both hopeful and grateful for the imperfect love in his life. 

My Thoughts

From the novel’s opening in which Little Dog evokes Chinse poet Bei Dao in comparing freedom to the distance between the hunter and its prey, I was sucked in by its emotional depth and expressive language. This book is as beautiful and vivid as it is honest and devastating. At times, the string of hope that runs throughout the novel gets so thin that it is barely visible, but in its own subtle way, it always seems to bubble back toward the surface. This makes for an emotionally tumultuous read that is well worth it. 

What I believe makes this novel so important is the way in which it addresses the immigrant experience in America. All the while, it employs evocative language to show the power of communication—which is largely taken away from Little Dog’s mother and grandmother. Through the cruelty of assumption born of the lack of communication, the book shows the way in which we all want to belong, and how America represents a collective sense of belonging that Little Dog desperately wishes to be tethered to in order to feel more legitimate. This novel speaks to all of our experiences as immigrants, maybe not from country to country, but on smaller scale, such as moving to a new school or starting a new job; it relates those experiences back into a basic shared human desire to belong. 

Another interesting aspect of this novel is the way in which Vuong’s background in poetry influences the form of the novel. The letter Little Dog is writing to his mother is written in a series of vignettes that allow the reader to explore his memories in a way that feels unseated in time. At the same time, the distance between the narrator and the story he is telling is constantly fluctuating. In one scene, that lasts less than four pages, Little Dog imagines his mother taking the long walk home from work. In quick secession the reader learns about some of the layout of Hartford, Connecticut, Little Dog’s job and supervisor at the Boston Market, the origins of Trevor’s addiction to OxyContin, and Little Dog’s Grandmother’s memory of a girl killed in Vietnam while wearing sandals made of the burned rubber of a tire. Through all of this, Little Dog never forgets to return to speak directly to his mother to orient her both emotionally and on the streets that he imagines her traversing. I have to praise Vuong for his ability to make each word and each sentence have so much impact. It is a stunning feature of this novel and one that is likely to keep you hooked throughout its entirety. 

At its core, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a novel that strives to both accept and celebrate the ways in which love enters our lives. Love, like all things, is imperfect, but that does not mean that we should not cherish it all the same. It is a vibrantly written emotional experience that will stick with you long after you have read the last page. It makes my required reading list for life, and I cannot recommend this book enough.