In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Mik Grantham’s new poetry collection is breathtaking in its observance of life’s minutiae while linking these seemingly small moments to greater truths.
Juliet Escoria wrote of the collection:
“It’s hard not to fall in love with Mik Grantham while reading Hardcore by Mik Grantham. Hilarious and sharp, these poems feel like hanging out with a cool, weird girl who you’re really hoping will become your new best friend. This is the best kind of poetry: intimate, and able to capture the tiny, painful, beautiful things in life without a drop of pretension.”
I live in a neighborhood in New Orleans called Holy Cross. It’s in the Lower 9th Ward nestled up against the Mississippi River. Every morning I walk beside the river on the levee with my dog, Ruby. (She makes a few appearances in my book too.) I get really lost in my thoughts on these walks. If the levee were a busy street I might get hit by a car. Luckily, the worst thing that has happened is I have stepped in dog shit a few times. Many of the poems in my collection, Hardcore, began as a phrase or a sentence I would think to myself on loop while strolling along the grassy path that is the Lower 9th Levee. i did a bad thing. a messy thing. i did a bad thing and i made that into a messy thing. I kept turning these lines over and over in my mind as Ruby and I made our way toward the old Domino Sugar Factory, the end of the pedestrian walkway on the levee. They later became the opening lines to my poem “bad poem.”
Oftentimes on these levee walks I have my headphones in and am listening to music. I wanted Hardcore to have a narrative. I wanted to tell you a story about a chunk of time in my life. The poems in this book take place over the course of five years. They begin with me lying on a table getting an abortion in New Orleans after the fallout of a relationship. They end with the death of my grandmother and falling in love again. In between there are late nights, hangovers, lost teeth, dentist appointments, waitressing shifts, more dentist appointments, and dog walks. The songs on this playlist are songs I listened to while walking and writing and thinking about all the things I wanted to tell you and the places I wanted to take you.
1.) Dick Stusso- The Bullshit Century Pt. 1
My favorite line in this song is: All your dreams were sorrows in disguise. Now your worst fears are being realized. Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide. This song feels like that ‘fuck it’ moment in life when you have no choice but to face the things that the world has thrown you. I have danced alone in my kitchen to this song so many times and felt better afterwards.
2.) Lucinda Williams- Ventura
Lucinda is the queen for me. Her music has pulled me through so much. The first few poems in my book are about my experience getting an abortion in New Orleans and the aftermath of that. I lived in a small renovated tool shed behind an old shotgun house Uptown that threw weekly private dinner parties in our shared garden. Outside my window, Thursdays through Saturdays, I’d listen to a Cajun band play over the steady chatter of happy people occasionally interrupted by outbursts of laughter. Every once in a while there would be a knock on my door and when I would open it, a plate of leftover beignets or a quart container of gumbo would be waiting for me. It was one of the cooks I think. I was so lonely and I’ll never forget that. It made me hopeful.
I’ve always interpreted “Ventura” to be about the period after you have just been through an emotionally draining time. You’re wallowing and hurting, but also desperately trying to heal yourself, dreaming of the day you’ll be okay again. Lucinda Williams gets it. And she is from New Orleans. I promise this is the only ‘sad’ song on my playlist.
3.) Anna Domino- Everyday, I Don’t
A sleepy song that makes me want to not do anything and not feel bad about it. I don’t want to answer the phone or get the door. I refuse to put on pants and brush my teeth. There are a few poems in my book about staying in bed all day and shutting out the world. This song is relaxing and perfect for one of those days.
4.) Carver Baronda- I Could Take You All the Places I Have Been
I met Carver Baronda in New Orleans a few years ago and I love her music. If my book had a single sound, I’d want it to sound like this. Eerie and dreamy like a foggy morning walk on the levee. I’d go anywhere this song wanted to take me. She also sings about breakfast. There are several poems about breakfast in my book. I prefer to write in the morning time. Perhaps that’s why toast, eggs, coffee and potatoes appear in many of my poems.
The night time is for troublemaking. Cue Richard & Linda Thompson.
5.) Richard & Linda Thompson- I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
A lot of poems in Hardcore are about being a waitress and working long miserable shifts at a restaurant job I hated. This song demands you to call in sick to work and go out. Put on something that makes you feel good. Ride your bike to your favorite bar, get drunk, dance in the street, spend all your money, kiss a stranger, roll on the floor. Fuck waiting tables tonight, go find the bright lights, wherever they are.
6.) Orange Juice- Rip it Up
New Orleans can feel really small at times. You bump into the same people at the same bars, coffee shops, in the produce section at the co-op, on the levee. Years before my partner Max and I were together, we had a brief and casual fling that naturally fizzled out. I had met him right after I had gone through a rough break-up. I was worn out, not up for anything requiring more from me than sex. Even after we stopped sleeping together, I’d still see him around town all the time. This song reminds me of constantly running into your crush, but never making a move or reaching out because you are too jaded. After you’ve had your heart ripped apart, there is a desire to find love again, but it’s hard to imagine being vulnerable with a new person. “I’d rather choke than swallow my pride. Rip it up and start again.”
7.) Nancy Sinatra- You Only Live Twice
I put this song on the list for two reasons:
1. I reference Nancy Sinatra in a poem about wallowing and pretending I am not being dramatic. I think it’s important for us to laugh at ourselves in these moments. It can be limiting to take yourself too seriously. This is a glamorous song that makes me want to get off my ass and put on red lipstick.
2. In one of the choruses, Nancy sings: And love is a stranger/ Who’ll beckon you on/ Don’t think of the danger/ Or the stranger is gone. In the poem, “i am your man” I refer to Max as ‘tall stranger man.’ He also wrote a song where he refers to me as ‘stranger.’ When Nancy sings these lines, I feel like she is telling me to be brave. Love requires courage and is worth the risk.
8.) Arthur Russell- Time Away
When you decide to clean up your room and get shit done, because you can, because: dreams aren’t as unreal as they seem.
9.) Silver Jews- We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing
The last half of my book are love poems about my life with Max and so the last few tracks on this playlist are going to be my favorite love songs. This one really captures the beginning of a relationship. The excitement and nervousness of not knowing exactly what the other person is thinking and also wanting to live inside each moment with each other. Max and I sing this song sometimes together when we are hanging on our back porch. Nothing makes me happier than when I sing with him.
10.) Duff Thompson- You’re Pretty Good
Another friend of mine’s music that just blows my mind and makes my heart hurt in the best way. What is more romantic than someone telling you they don’t care about your past or what anyone says about you, they want and accept you for who you are. The line that makes this song for me is:
I don’t care what your grandma says, I’ll just have you as you are.
Duff is actually Carver Baronda’s boyfriend (see track 4). They live in Toronto, but they used to spend a lot of time in New Orleans. In February of 2020 they were living in Treme and had to go back to Canada for some reason. They were only supposed to be gone for a few weeks, but then the pandemic took off. Max and I have been storing Duff’s organ in our house ever since. Max plays upright bass on this recording.
11.) Smog- Let’s Move to the Country
There are poems in my book about living at our Dauphine Street in Holy Cross. My neighborhood sort of feels like the country inside the city. It’s quiet, removed from the busy French Quarter and touristy parts of town. Moving here with Max was the best decision I have ever made in my life!
12.) The Talking Heads- This Must Be the Place
At the end of the day, we are all just looking for a home, aren’t we? I have a poem called “the end of the world.” The first four lines are stolen from a song Max used to sing with his band (Max & the Martians). His song is about heartbreak, but my poem is not. It’s about finding your home, your person. There is a place on the levee in the 9th Ward locals call The End of the World. It’s kind of like an unofficial off-leash dog park. We used to take our dogs there, but they cause too much trouble.
In my poem, I reference the moment in “This Must Be the Place” when David Byrne screams ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh for about seven seconds and that is everything for me. That is exactly what I think being in love feels like.
13.) Connie Converse- How Sad, How Lovely
Another person who makes several appearances in my book is my grandmother. I called her Ema. My family always compares the way I love to the way Ema loved. Intensely, passionately. We were close and she was someone I could talk to about real things. I never had to sugarcoat anything for her. She never felt like a grandma to me, more like a close girlfriend. I told Ema I had gotten pregnant and I told her I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the baby.. She offered her house to me, told me I could come live with her and she would help me. I didn’t do that.
The last poem in my book is about this one long weekend when I went to take care of Ema. She was sick with cancer and was going to die soon. I remember waiting for her to give me advice on what to do with my life. I guess I’ve always felt like when you’re dying, you’re tuned into some sort of special wisdom. You can read the poem to find out what she told me. After she died I listened to this song in my headphones while walking the levee and I didn’t feel sad. I felt grateful and strong.
Mik Grantham is the founder and co-editor of Disorder Press which she runs with her brother. Her work has appeared in New World Writing, Hobart, Maudlin House, The Nervous Breakdown, and Fanzine. She currently lives in New Orleans. Hardcore by Mik Grantham is her first book.