MTPR

'Popular Music' With Kelly Schirmann

Oct 2, 2019

"Popular Music is both a love letter to music—how it accents, affects, and defines us through varying stages of our lives—and a hilarious and heart-breaking investigation of our relationship to technology, nature, and country. This book is in a class of its own and is simply unforgettable." -- Chicago Review of Books

Popular Music by Kelly Schirmann

The following highlights are from a conversation with Kelly Schirmann about her book, Popular Music. To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: What happens for you when you sing?

Kelly Schirmann: Probably the same thing that happens when I'm really in a writing mode. I feel like I disappear, which is a very cool feeling.

The Chicago Review of Books named Popular Music best poetry of 2016, noting popular music is "both a love letter to music and a hilarious and heartbreaking investigation of our relationship to technology, nature, and country." Kelly, what's your relationship to America?

I think that I'm constantly investigating that relationship, and as a person who grew up in Northern California just absolutely surrounded by pristine, natural beauty, which is something that I think our country is so blessed with. I lived on the coast, and so received the benefit of beaches, mountains, woods, and I associate those things heavily with this country. Having had the opportunity to travel around it and to see much of it, I can attest to how beautiful the actual land is and I suppose that's where a lot of my just confusion, fear, disappointment comes from and navigating the sort of culture and politics of the country. Throughout this book, I'm traveling through not only the landscape, but also my complicated feelings about that relationship.

In one of your poems you write "the great dream of our age is to love what you are paid for. The great myth of our age is that this happens how we want." What are the dreams and myths your art is in conversation with?

I guess the biggest dream is that we all individually are able to chase the thing that we want to and to walk down whatever road we choose, to follow our instincts to live a life that is addressing or realizing what it is we think we're here to do. And I think that I'm bothered by the fundamental unfairness that many systems  have to offer people who don't have that opportunity. To the best of my ability I try to follow those threads. I'm very fortunate to live in Missoula, Montana, which is a beautiful place--good for writers. But it is difficult to be an artist in America and the world, and so for me, my dreams and myths are just about self-realization, self-actualization, and becoming the person who I think I am. . .

About the Book:

From the publisher, Black Ocean: "A meditation on messages, Popular Music asks: how does art make itself heard? The poems of Kelly Schirmann’s debut full-length collection offer a unique voice, investigating the spaces between—between the singer and the audience; the lyrics and the message. Like a pop song, these poems encourage and distract, inviting the reader and listener in, wanting to tell you things that seem intimate, while telling them to everyone. They want to know: is anyone listening? And reader, we hope you are."

The Chicago Review of Books: "Popular Music is both a love letter to music—how it accents, affects, and defines us through varying stages of our lives—and a hilarious and heart-breaking investigation of our relationship to technology, nature, and country. This book is in a class of its own and is simply unforgettable."

Kelly Schirmann
Credit Kelly Schirmann

About the Author:

Kelly Schirmann is a writer, musician, ceramicist, and visual artist from Northern California. She is the author of Popular Music and the co-author, with Tyler Brewington, of Boyfriend Mountain and Nature Machine. Her music projects include(d) headband (solo), Sung Mountains (with Jay Fiske), and Young Family (with Sam Pink). She is the founding editor of Black Cake, a record label for contemporary poetry and other experiments, and the co-creator of OMO, Public Access, and Americans for Responsible Technology (ART). She currently lives in Missoula, Montana.