A Soundtrack to Volume 11: PARADOX

By Anna Babineau | June 11, 2024

We asked the writers and artists from our Paradox issue what song best represents their work. Our contributors responded to this question with thoughtful creativity. For some, the song is a reflection of the work itself, the creative process, or thematic parallels. For others, the song is a connection to an inspirational musical artist, or an emotion captured in both works. We’ve created a Spotify playlist featuring each song: our Soundtrack to Volume 11. Hit “play” and read on to learn more about the significance of each song to our writers and artists. Make sure to check out their work in Vol 11: PARADOX!


Track 1: String Quartet No. 4 (Buczak): III., composed by Philip Glass, performed by the Kronos Quartet

Robert Frankel, author of “Mine and the Other”: This piece is part of an album I’ve listened to since 2005 and has played at some point while drafting nearly everything I’ve written since (if not actually everything). This particular piece, with its recursive structure and subtly evolving composition, has always been striking to me. I think it complements the form of “Mine and the Other,” which returns repeatedly to the same private moment as it is evinced, explored, and, ultimately, appropriated.

Track 1.5: "Audience" by V/A

Katharine Tyndall, author of “Parasite’s Grief”: This is a song I was listening to quite a bit around the time I wrote the piece. It’s a good soundscape for the story - melancholy and introspective, wordless communication. 

Track 2: “9 Crimes” by Damien Rice

Jeremy Broyles, author of “Trash Fish”: I really, really wanted to pull something from my punk background. Because don’t let this sensible haircut fool you—I remain a proper anarchist at heart. If I’m being honest, though, Rice’s song was the first to come to mind when I read the question, and several days of thinking failed to dethrone it. And for good reason. The song centers on infidelity. Faithlessness. That element—faith—is, in my opinion, at the core of my story “Trash Fish.” What does it mean to be faithful to your beliefs, to your partner? Though the infidelity, such as it is, within the story has nothing at all to do with the physical, the characters must grapple with the fact that consequences of an emotional infidelity are no less damaging and no less damning.

Track 3: “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd

Zachary A. Bakht, author of “The First Question They Ask in Heaven”: This song is unintentionally sad, which is the feedback I got from friends and family who read this story. I found "Heaven" funny. My sister told me she cried. The surface-level thematic connection is readily visible—the story is, at its core, about wishing your most loved person was here where you are. Even "Heaven" is incomplete without them. I’ve also always found the lyrics paradoxical: Heaven from hell? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?

This song was the first song I got really into when Covid lockdowns started. I sent it to a friend as a joke as I drank beer alone in my apartment. I really did wish he was here. I then wrote this story during the dark days of Covid, so it feels to me a fitting companion. At the end of the story it seems we are more than two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl. Running over the same old ground. What have we found? The same old fears.


Track 3.5: It’s Okay” by Annie Bacon & her OSHEN

E.M. Liddick, author of “An Effigy of Memories”: It might be enough to say Annie Bacon is a stunning singer-songwriter, possessing a preternatural ability to shine light onto our collective abyss in both lyrics and that ambiguous sense of “feel.” That, perhaps.

When listening to a song for the first time, some people hear the music, others hear the lyrics. I fall squarely in the former. In “It’s Okay,” I hear the gilded edge of Stevie Nicks, a voice that begets a madeleine-like reconnection to childhood innocence—to a time when my father was living; to a time when that house was a home. And, in the spaces, I hear something that feels like grief manifested.

But more. A cinematic clip appears in my mind’s eye when hearing “It’s Okay.” It’s the vision of driving on a winding country road, window down, autumn wind tousling hair. The forest, crowding in at the edges, feels mighty in its grief. And yet, a warren of morning light pierces the darkness, offering some oblique offer of hope: It’s okay baby / It’s okay, you’re okay.

It’s this buoyant sense of hope in “It’s Okay” that captures the ambivalent grief found in losing a parent to Alzheimer’s, in visiting a “house no more a home.” 

Track 4: String Quartet No. 14, known as Death and the Maiden, by Franz Schubert

J.G.P. MacAdam, author of “Dead and Dumb”: I thought this music fit with the theme of my work without being too over-the-top or distracting. It’s not a big symphonic orchestral piece, just a string quartet, but it still evokes a lot of imagery, which a lot of my writing tends to be: really image-based. Plus, at approximately 40 minutes listening time, a reader could definitely start and finish my piece in Volume 11 while listening to Schubert’s Death of the Maiden—a reading soundtrack indeed. 

Track 5: "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell

Tim Walker, author of “The Lost Summer”: [“Both Sides Now”] comments on how life always opens fresh perspectives, often contradicting earlier impressions, and leaving you to wonder if the reality of the thing escaped you all along—a cycle of perception and belief that I explore in “The Lost Summer.”


Track 6: “Escape Artist” by Zoë Keating

Kelly R. Samuels, author of “Harbinger I”: Keating’s cello piece is longer than your typical track; there are shifts in the song—moving from a light, uplifting mood to an ominous quality. At points, I feel like the song is calling to the listener with a warning. My poem “Harbinger I” focuses on a time when the speaker doesn’t fully understand what she is seeing and what it may be signaling. Does it bode well? Does it not? 

Track 7: “Death” by Melanie Martinez

Olive Lambert, author of “[Memoriam]”: I feel this song is representative of the vibes of my piece as in general it is a mildly off putting song about death, which is a central part of my work. I enjoy most of Melanie Martinez’s music for writing my speculative pieces because I feel her lyrics capture many of the same emotions I try to emulate in my work. This song specifically deals with coming back from the dead, never leaving once you’ve passed on, which is the same idea I focus on, metaphorically and literally, in my poem. 

Track 8: “Thick Skull (Re: Julien Baker)” by Paramore, Julien Baker

Harrison Hamm, author of “Numbskull”: Aside from “skull” being in both titles, this song, like “Numbskull,” is a sort-of broken mind-melt monologue that’s grappling with the cyclical natures of trauma, grief, and that little thing called living with yourself. “Thick Skull” and “Numbskull” also share the line “I’m coming out with my hands up”—admitting to this self-incriminating, yet vague, awareness of wrongdoing, or potential threat. There’s danger, but from where becomes tricky. In our increasingly digitized late capitalist hellscape (because who are we kidding?), feelings of paranoia, hopelessness, and self-criticism can easily become prerequisite conditions for existence. Living demands a certain degree of surrender to the paradoxes that govern our bodies, minds, and worlds. Paramore’s “Thick Skull,” here covered by Julien Baker, sounds out how horrifying and unyielding this soul-drudge can be. But also: how strangely cathartic it can be to give in to the thrill, to this shrapnel called a life, sticking to you. 

Track 9: “Perséfone” by Cristian Ramirez Rodriguez 

Cristian Ramirez Rodriguez, author of “U”: I used to be embarrassed by the music I create; I would frequently label my music as “poems that were not poetic enough,” and would do my best to distance myself as a poet from myself as a singer-songwriter, and even from myself as a person. While I would tell my friends in my day-to-day life about my poetry, I chose not to bring up my music. 

It took one of my all-time favorite poets, Kehinde Badiru, releasing music alongside his poetry in the last few years for me to embrace the potential of my art as a songwriter to be as transformative a medium as my poetry. 

“Perséfone” was a song created around the same time I wrote the poem “U,” written amidst the same backdrop of a breakup with the person I believed I would spend the rest of my life with, and the uncertainty of my visa status expiring and having to leave the USA while stuck on the waitlist for an astrophysics grad school program. 

I see the poem and song as a pair in a covalent bond: the poem in English with an emotion refracted through the lens of scientific language directed towards myself, and the song in Spanish inspired by the myth of Persephone, Hades and the River Lethe addressed to my former partner.  

Track 10: “Unraveling” by The Crane Wives

Sam Moe, author of “Erase”: I wrote this poem when I was going through a breakup of sorts. “Unraveling” is in a lot of ways a mirror to the experience of me disentangling myself from a complicated relationship while also mourning the loss of a friendship. I often listen to The Crane Wives while writing and I love the ways in which their songs are short stories and vignettes.

Track 11: “Lovers Have Their Say” by Birds in a Row

Liam Strong, author of “Literature Review of Simpler Times”: I have a knack for taking inspiration from works that are primarily queer-coded, indirectly queer, queer-adjacent, and letting that cultural influence (i.e. nostalgia?) feed my work, which I allow to be uncollared, off its leash, directly queer, queer-centric, full-bodied. Where “Lovers Have Their Say” by Birds In Row comes in is with the French band’s dirty, political, and sometimes bluesy estrangement–particularly when the song breaches its second half. It’s the build-up. In many melodic hardcore songs, the crescendo is an emotional cue. It’s ambivalence. My poems, especially my political ones (so, most of them), don’t want to be ambivalent. I want them to explode like songs, ones that hang off cliffs after a car has driven off its edge. I play lots of angry music, for lack of a better term. When writing “Literature Review of Simpler Times,” I was interested in satirizing the classic characteristic of generational nostalgia, which is a kind of mythology in itself. Much like “Lovers Have Their Say,” I didn’t know where the poem was headed (the song itself wanders through thirteen minutes of dissonance, drone, fogginess), but I knew it needed to end like some 80s action movie smash cut–the protagonist, hanging off a sheer edge, in a Schrodinger’s box kind of final sequence. Will they live? Will they die? The living stay living for as long as they can.   

Track 12: “In or Out” by Ani DiFranco

Morrow Dowdle, author of “If You Love Me, You Love Everything About Me”: In the 1990s, Ani DiFranco was a patron saint in the LGBTQIA+ community. A college dormmate gave me a cassette tape copy of her live album Living in Clip, and I was hooked.  DiFranco gave voice to my emotions as I gradually came out as queer, and then later, as I awoke to nonbinary and transmasculine identities. She brought a defiance and humor to the topics of sexuality and gender that helped inoculate me against the prejudice and pushback of “mainstream” society.


Track 13: “Love is Everywhere” by Pharoah Sanders

Derrick Beasley, the artist behind “Black W(holes) as Possibilities”: At the center of my work is the idea that love, wisdom and possibilities are available to us through nature and the natural world that surrounds us. This song articulates this idea so simply and profoundly. 

Track 14: “Rabbit Will Run” by Iron and Wine

Kate Kelleher, the artist behind “Who is Humanity?”: I’d rather leave the lyrics and their interpretation relative to the art up to you to ponder, but I feel they relate on many levels.

Track 15: “Feel Life” by Poliça

Jefferson Liu, the artist behind “Meaning Less”: Channy Leaneagh, the lead singer of Poliça, performed this song during her recovery from a back injury. Initially planning to re-record it after healing, she ultimately chose to retain the original more restrained vocals over the newer version. I find the concept intriguing—the way trauma and pain can be obscured by beauty, and the near-impossibility of replicating or faking authenticity.

Track 16: “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys

Mollye Bendell, the artist behind “how to breathe underwater”: As I made these pieces, I reflected on absence - in our relationships and family structures, what does it mean to be present for someone? What does it mean to lose someone? In the space of absence, what remains?

These prints are accompanied by a VR experience. The score for that experience was inspired by the same kind of minor key a cappella tone, but designed as an underwater ambient soundscape.

Track 17: “Partial” by Ólafur Arnalds on the album re:member

David Goodrum, the artist behind “Cosmos Time Lapse,” “Wake Dream,” “Rust Valley,” “Sun Rust II”: I love the ethereal, contemplative tone of this song and most of Ólafur’s music.

Track 18: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46: III. Anitra’s Dance by Edvard Grieg

Tatjana Krilova, the artist behind “With Headless Woman,” “Red Square and Black Square,” “Come Down Moose!” “Poet in the Forest”: The emotions I feel from Grieg of Peer Gynt greatly influence my art works. By channeling these feelings into my creations, I am able to give the artwork depth and authenticity. The drama, movement and open space that I experience in music is reflected in my art through themes, colors and composition.

About the author

Anna Babineau is a writer and editor based in Massachusetts. She loves writing that explores the heartbreak and complexity of coming-of-age, especially when it comes with lyrical sentences that beg to be savored. Some of her favorite books of the moment include My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, and, for her YA fix, Looking for Alaska by John Green. 

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