Notes on Beauty Pill’s Prison Song

Normally, I listen to the same song 10-40 times in a row or in a day. I like to deconstruct the song, think about the artist’s choice in words and chords, and how the song is structured overall. Sadly, this may drive the people around me a little crazy.

A few weeks ago, I could not stop listening to Beauty Pill’s Prison Song (link to video):

Will you still visit me when I’m in prison?
My outside sweetheart.
Will you bring birthday cakes with contraband inside?
Out with the guards.
Or will you mail me a tearsome letter…

I love how the lyrics go back and forth between thinking things are over and thinking there’s a chance. You can hear uncertainty in the voice of the singer. The second half of the song reverses some of the ideas of the first half, which astounded me when I figured it out. I got to ask the song writer about this, because he is a dear friend. The songwriter, Chad Clark, did indeed turn the words inside out (using opposites) on purpose, and I immediately wanted to use that idea for a poem.

The week I first wrote this blog post, I was listening to Amy Winehouse’s Rehab song. (This was before she passed away.) I keep shaking my head at how she borrowed from an obvious influence to discuss this rehab idea. The voice and the song’s structure reminds me of church gospel or a cousin of Motown. Winehouse puts a fresh twist on an old topic with her choice of style — we already have the angry “drug” songs from Hole and Nirvana in the 90s — and her voice’s range certainly helps this song become memorable.

I’m not sure yet what I’m doing with this observation of music. For now, I’m enjoying what I’m observing and content to leave it at that.


On the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series

What other poetry series shares its bug spray?

Every summer in June and July, poets come from the DC area and around the country to read in the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series. Past poets have included Kelly Cherry, Jennifer Militello, Stanley Plumly, Jericho Brown, Adam Vines, Brad Richard, Dan Albergotti, and Traci Brimhall. Readings have taken place in Miller’s Cabin, beside a stream, and inside a planetarium.

Washington, DC provides a home to many an important monument. Since 1883, Washington, DC has been home to Miller Cabin thanks to Joaquin Miller. And the city has been home to the Miller Cabin Poetry Series since 1978 thanks to founder Karren Alenier.

For this series, we have braved thunderstorms and bugs in order to listen to poetry. We have shared our food, our bug spray, and our disaster survival skills. When Luke Johnson read, a thunderstorm swept in fast. The audience ran for cover under a picnic shelter. With water swirling around our ankles—the rain was that heavy that fast—we moved to our backup location to finish the reading…Read more at the 32 Poems blog.

Dear Tina Fey…

Dear Tina Fey,

We have much in common. Recently, I discussed our commonalities in a Facebook update.

We have, for instance, brown hair.

And children.

We’ve survived the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We fall asleep when our husbands drive. Except I wake up when he swerves to miss roadkill.

You and I? We have not had plastic surgery (yet).

Like you, I’ve taken Benadryl to remain breathing at the home of my in-laws, who have a cat. For years, after taking Benadryl, I often responded to their queries with: “Qwtyruuuu uuuhhhhhhhhh dddddddddagh.” And then I’d fall face first into my Michigan apple cobbler. I think it was years before they knew I could speak English.

Although I never made it happen, I dreamed of meeting relatives at mid-way points so we’d not have to drag an impatient, screaming baby across the country. Eventually, I decided to look at these travel moments as an opportunity for deep personal growth. I let my husband drive while I drank bourbon.

On another note, I too have survived the Western middle-to-upper-class woman’s diatribe on how and why I should breastfeed all day and night.

I love this quote from your book:

“Women who not only brag about how much their 5 year old still loves breast milk, but they also grill you about your choices…let me be clear, millions of women around the world nurse their children beautifully for years without giving anybody else a hard time about it. The Teat Nazis are a solely western upper-middle-class phenomenon occurring when highly ambitious women experience deprivation from outside modes of achievement.”

Have I mentioned I may love you a little?

On a more positive note, I have learned many things from your new book. For instance, who knew men working in television urinate into jars? I thought only male novelists did this.

I figure you are like the rest of us despite your fame. You get up every day and put your pants on one leg at a time—and then you Google yourself. It’s these kinds of actions that bring humanity together.

I hope it’s nice to know at least three of us read your book (more than you said would)— and maybe four if you count your mom, who sounds very nice by the way. My mom will only read your book if you are a poet selected to read at a presidential inauguration. (Sorry.) I think about five people read my book of poetry (available on Amazon—cough, cough).


Deborah Ager, your new “BFF” in a totally non-threatening non-stalker way

PS: I think our Dads would like hanging out.


Notes on Joaquin Miller

“Come, listen O Love to the voice of the dove,
Come, hearken and hear him say,
“There are many Tomorrows, my Love, my Love,
There is only one Today.”
—excerpt from “The Voice of the Dove” by Joaquin Miller

Miller, based on his biography, seemed to live by those words “there is only one Today” and he seemed to live many days to their fullest while, at the same time, living many lives.

Born Cinnatus Hiner in 1837, the poet changed his name to Joaquin Miller. He adopted his new first name from a California bandit.

Recently, I read “sorting out truth from fiction in Joaquin Miller’s life is like unraveling a horse-hair lariat and weaving it back together blindfolded.” Was he a horse thief? Who knows? He said he traveled to Nicaragua and that was later found to be—ahem—not true.

A friend of Joaquin Miller’s defended Miller against charges of dishonesty: “Joaquin Miller tells the truth as he sees it.” However, Ambrose Bierce, who once called Miller “the greatest-hearted man I ever knew” also called Miller “the greatest liar this country ever produced.”

Miller’s response was: “I always wondered why God made Bierce.”

Famous poets and Miller’s critics alike recognized his genius.

What was his genius?

According to the Oregon Cultural Commission, his greatest achievement may well have been the manufacture of his own career. Miller was a failed lawyer, yet he excelled in his outgoing ways.

Miller, among other things, was an ex-Oregonian “dressed in a buffalo robe, with knife and pistols, in a red frontier shirt and boots.” Dressed this way, he managed to woo people to listen to him read his work.

In England, publishers were at first unimpressed. In response, Miller printed 100 copies of his book. Success arrived. “Miller managed to capture drawing rooms of British intelligentsia while dazzling them with his velvet coat and the bear rug he threw on the floor to comfort him as he spouted his own writings.”

After that, people would refer to Miller as “the Poet of the Sierras.” He called himself “the Byron of the Rockies.” Eventually, he retired to 75 acres above Oakland, planted trees, and established Arbor Day in California.

In true Miller fashion, he did not just “plant trees.” Since he did not like the dry landscape, he created a 75-acre forest. Whether he planted a forest instead of a tree or two or called himself Byron instead of a poet of the Sierras, he held true to his vision for himself. That was, as others have said, part of the genius that both writers and critics recognized and sometimes adored.

Note: When I wrote this, it was part of an introduction during the 2013 Miller Cabin poetry reading series. Since I did not plan to share this in writing, I did not take the best notes on my sources. I hope to correct this at a later point, and I am fairly certain I have the borrowed bits all in quotes (just not attributed how they should be attributed yet).