Each week, The Argosy asks a member of the Sackville community to create a mixtape playlist on a theme or topic of their choosing.
I love music. Cliché? Maybe, but it is also true. If you come into my office you’ll usually hear something playing in the background—jazz, blues, classical, bluegrass. I like to work with an instrumental backdrop. If you see me out walking my dogs, chances are I will have my headphones on. When I’m at home, my partner and I have the record player going constantly.
Frequently, music finds its way into the literary courses I teach. This semester I am teaching a class on writing by women in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (English 3661). Rather than try to move chronologically in this class, we are looking at thematic clusters that allow us to compare writing from a variety of historical and cultural contexts. I’ve been working on a playlist to accompany the syllabus. For me, unexpected connections come from unexpected mashups. I’ve suggested some textual pairings from the course (and some not on the syllabus at this time), but they are only suggestions. Here it is so far:
“Bang! Bang!”—Le Tigre (From the Desk of Mr. Lady)
This song is a response to the shooting of unarmed African immigrant Amadu Diallo by members of the NYPD Street Crimes Unit. Four officers shot Diallo forty-one times. This song calls out police brutality and racial profiling and calls on the public to demand justice. We listened to this song after reading June Jordan’s “Poem About Police Violence.”
“Work Song”—Nina Simone (Forbidden Fruit)
Nina Simone’s “Work Song” personifies an incarcerated woman’s experience. It also acknowledges and riffs on the structure and style of call and response singing that took place amongst chain gang workers. This song lets us think about the gender of work as well as the gender and racialization of incarceration. We listened to it alongside reading Virginia Woolf and Alice Walker.
“Rise to the Sun”—Alabama Shakes (Boys & Girls)
Because sometimes work structures everything else and you just need a good, loud, rocking rhythm to get through the day. I’d pair this with Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” or Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star.
“Ancestors”—Tanya Tagaq & Bjork (Sinaa)
Tagaq’s contemporary innovations on traditional Inuk throat singing and Bjork’s radicalisms are brought together in a search for, and a construction of, a kind of ancestry. Collaborative work by poets Rita Wong and Larissa Lai would make a great intertext.
“Snowfalls in November”— Julie Doiron
(Julie Doiron/Okkervil River)
We did a unit on representations and negotiations of motherhood. I love the way this song both acknowledges and alters our expectations. Diane di Prima’s “Song for Baby O” might make an interesting comparison.
“Battle Cry”—Angel Haze
A former student recommended this album to me when I was crowd-sourcing songs by women or women-identified artists who are categorized as ‘strong’, ‘innovative’, ‘cutting-edge’, and ‘risk-taking’. I might read this alongside Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” and the Combahee River Collective’s “Manifesto.”
Kathleen Hanna recorded this album when she was on a break from Bikini Kill. “Tania” is a song about female friendship. Toni Morrison’s Sula is the first text that comes to mind.
“Queen of Apologies”—The Sounds
(Dying to Say This To You)
This song is a deft negotiation of the ways in which apologizing can become gendered.
“We Can’t Be Lovers With These Guns On Each Other”—Rae Spoon
(Love Is a Hunter)
Heteronormative bar pickups get turned on their heads. Listen while reading Ivan E. Coyote’s Stone Butch Blues.
Poetic innovation? Check. Refutation of feminine stereotypes? Yes. Intertextual references to literary figures? Indeed. Listen to this while reading Lisa Robertson’s XEclogue, which brings in Smith, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Virgil.