Soundtrack of My Life: “No Key, No Plan” by Okkervil River
Someone recently asked me who my favorite poets were; I struggled and stumbled toward an unsatisfactory answer. This led me to further consider the question. What follows is a more complete answer to the question, along with my song of the day, written by one of my favorite poets.
In my 8th grade creative writing class, I wanted to write short stories. Unfortunately, the poetry unit, which was supposed to take up half of the semester, actually ran for the entire semester. In that time, I wrote poems about wanting to write short stories. I wrote poems about not wanting to write poems. I wrote poems making fun of the constructs we were given, choosing an absurdly mundane subject like ‘my brown hair’ and peppering my writing with ridiculous boasts.
A few years later, I sat in the back of my 11th grade English class feverishly copying T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” from our literature book while my classmates watched a movie. That set of books stayed in the classroom, and I wanted to keep the poem with me so I could read it again and again. I suppose T.S. Eliot was my first favorite poet, and I still carry a part of “Prufrock” with me. Eliot poses it as a question; I turned it into a command, a kind of motto: “Dare to disturb the universe.”
The following year I got into all of the poets from the “United States of Poetry” series. Later I discovered more poets involved in the spoken word scene, like Saul Williams, Beau Sia, Patricia Smith, and more. These are all my favorite poets.
But when I started getting into this song of the day series a little over a week ago, I realized that I sing along with most of my favorite poets. From Elvis Costello to Myshkin to Margot & Nuclear So and So’s to Aimee Mann, I love the poetry from many of my favorite musical artists. They write rich stories set to song with clever turns of phrase and beautiful imagery.
Another of my favorite poets is Will Sheff of Okkervil River. His songs on “Black Sheep Boy” and its Appendix, “The Stage Names” and “The Stand Ins” offer stories of the road, life, pain, growing up but not growing old, and fundamental, gigantic revelations. I think I have a new answer to who my favorite poets are, and it starts here:
There’s only now, there isn’t then. So just breathe it in.”