From Our Staff | November 22, 2008

[amazonify]0967634423:right[/amazonify]A good anthology is like a party assembled by a master host: it brings together a diverse array of interesting people under a common roof. It is a vehicle for introducing you to people you might not otherwise meet and enabling you to draw connections you might not otherwise make. A bad anthology is like a terrible business convention: it corrals people and inflicts a common, tedious purpose on them. It doesn’t foster interesting connections; it produces homogeneity (or at least the appearance of such). With some anthology themes, it’s not always easy to tell. Take this one for example: Who Died in Here?: 25 Mystery Stories of Crimes and Bathrooms. Now, is that the most awesome anthology concept ever or the worst? We’ll leave that for you to decide for yourselves. In the meantime, here are some of the anthologies we’d like to see someone put together.

1. Road Kill Poetry

I have good friends who love to go thrift store shopping, and I was never that interested myself until  I caught on to the art of it, which is hunting.  One friend looks for unchipped, heavy white china and weighty kitchen utensils, one looks for rare cassettes, pleated lampshades, vintage ties.  There’s something delightful about creating categories, and giving the random objects a particular frame (I bet lots of people go thrifting for picture frames).  Anthologizing strikes me as the same kind of collecting, and now with search engines there’s potential to make thematic “mix-tapes” very easily.  Think of how many pop songs have the word “seventeen” in them, for example, or do a search on a database for poems that include the word “peanut” versus “walnut” (more poems include walnuts).  At some point, I must have read three poems in one week that treated the subject of road kill, and since then, I’ve found it to be a substantial subgenre of contemporary poetry.  Two poems that occur to me right away are William Stafford’s “Traveling Through the Dark,” and Brigit Pegeen Kelley’s “Dead Doe.”  With a little research, I found Paul Muldoon’s “Turkey Buzzards,” and Ted Hughes’s “The Hare.”   I never kept a running list but I’d love to know if anyone else has written or knows about road-kill poems.  What is it about that experience of either hitting an animal, or encountering an animal someone else has hit and left by the side of the road, that makes for such great poetry?  The shock of impact, the flummoxed elegy, the power of machinery, the lull of the road, the absurdity of animal bodies? –Katy Didden

2. Provision

I would love to see an anthology on what you might call “provision.”  I’ve been enamoured since early childhood with fiction, particularly, but nonfiction also about how people provide for themselves.  I mean, for the most part, provision for just plain survival, not the acquisition of large amounts of material goods or wealth.  Some examples: “Stone Soup” is a tale that I could hear over and over: it’s not the deception or manipulation of the soldiers that interests me; it’s all the villagers bringing out their cabbages and onions and pepper to make a soup that will nourish everyone.  The quintessential example of the “provision” genre, if there is such a thing, is Robinson Crusoe, as he equips and feeds himself on the island seemingly with almost nothing (of course, there’s the handy resource of the ship, with its supplies that he’s able to salvage).  The details are mesmerizing. Recently we published an essay that was almost in this vein: Todd James Pierce’s “Bonus Hunter: Confessions of an Online Gambler.”  While Pierce writes about making surprising sums of money from online casino bonuses, it’s not just about money: it’s in part about surviving as an English graduate student and providing for the future in what is certainly an underpaid profession.  If resourceful providers aren’t the subject of most contemporary stories, there must be enough stories about them to build an anthology.  If not, maybe people need to write some-and this economic climate might just provide the impetus. –Evelyn Somers

3. Medical Memoir

I’d like to see an anthology of pieces that feature medical or health issues. The pieces could be both fiction and non-fiction– William Carlos Williams’ “The Use of Force,” about one physician’s almost war-like struggle to diagnose a child’s illness, comes to mind, as well as many of the excellent shorts from John Murray’s 2003 story collection ”A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies.” Murray, a doctor who’s worked extensively in Africa, infuses his pieces with scientific and psychological realities that are hard-hitting for the reader. I’d also recommend an excerpt from Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which shows how cultural differences impact a Hmong child’s medical treatment. This book made me realize how important it is for medical professionals to attempt to understand and respect their patient’s belief systems, and made me want to read more medical literature. Though we all obviously can’t be doctors (and don’t want to read those 2,000 page medical books that spout anatomical or chemical facts), we still all have something to gain from reading the memoirs of doctors or fictional pieces about medicine. –Brittany Barr

4. Best murder-mystery stories in which the crime takes place in a theatre

I would bet that, not so long after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, an inflated interest arose in writing stories about murders in theatres.  And I would also bet that, due to the level in which grade school has likely ingrained the assassination story into the brains of many Americans since; the theme still arises from time to time.  I mean, there is the horrible Arnold film Last Action Hero.  But I was thinking something a little more short story noir. 

You know – scruffy detective with one or two bad habits and a tendency to chain-smoke barely holds on to a relationship (that was only a fling in the first place) as he wastes away his precious nights scouring for clues in the Orpheum.  Finally, when he discovers the name of the murderer, the perpetrator jumps out for the balcony of the theatre and attempts to stab the detective. Pretty Garrison Keillor-type, I suppose.

Ten times over. –Seth Graves

5. Bands-Who-Sound-Like-The-Beatles

I am prone to association. 

You say, “Pirate.”   I say, “President Andrew Jackson.”

You say, “Plaster.”  I say, “Dandelion wine.”   

You say, “Anthology.”  I say, “The Beatles.”

In November 1995, I stood in line with my father outside the local record shop, in the cold winter air, waiting with the rest of the herd to purchase my copy of The Beatles Anthology, Volume 1

I was eleven years old.  I skipped school that day so I could lie on my bedroom floor with the headphones on, listening to outtakes from “Eight Days a Week” and live versions of “Twist and Shout.”  I can only assume the rest of the human population was doing the same.

And now, given the obsession of my youth, I hear the Beatles everywhere.  When a coyote howls in distant night, I hear “I am the Walrus.”  When someone bites into an apple, I hear “Yellow Submarine.”  They’re imbedded in the firing synapses of my brain.  And when I’m perusing my record collection, from Archers of Loaf to the Wu-Tang Clan, I still hear the Beatles everywhere.

Countless bands cite the Beatles as an influence, but some particular bands channel that inspiration into a sound that has been haphazardly dubbed “beatlesque.”  The musical results of this popular inspiration range from shallow imitation (e.g. Oasis, Dr. Dog) to an astute combination of reverence and profundity (e.g. Guided by Voices, Olivia Tremor Control) – and it is the latter, more innovative side of this spectrum that would appear on such an anthology, the artists who have internalized the Beatles and then produced something highly original.

That being said, I now present a sample of my Bands-Who-Sound-Like-The-Beatles Anthology.

Track 1: “Beyond Belief” by Elvis Costello – from the album Imperial Bedroom (1985)

For the production of Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello chose to hire Geoff Emerick, the very man who engineered the more ambitious, experimental work of the Beatles, beginning with Revolver (1966).

Track 2: “Echos Myron” by Guided by Voices – from the album Bee Thousand (1994)

To quote Robert Pollard, lead singer of Guided by Voices, on the recording of Bee Thousand: “I wanted to make albums that sounded like Beatles bootlegs, like outtakes from the White Album or Sgt. Pepper.  I missed Beatles music.”   

Track 3: “End of a Century” by Blur – from the album Parklife (1994)

It’s true – Blur’s guitar pop better resembles the Kinks than the Beatles.  But with “End of a Century,” Blur managed to emulate fab-four brilliance far better than Oasis ever could.  

Track 4: “Define a Transparent Dream” by Olivia Tremor Control – from the album Dusk at Cubist Castle (1996)

If I could re-name this song, I call it “Lucy in the Sky with Duct Tape” 

Track 5: “Karma Police” by Radiohead – from the album OK Computer (1997)

Radiohead took the piano progression from the Beatles “Sexy Sadie” and adapted the tripartite structure of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and produced this harrowing little ditty.

Track 6: “You Get What You Deserve” by Big Star – from the album Radio City (1974)

Tell me you’re not reminded of A Hard Days Night when singer-guitarist-composer Alex Chilton hits those high falsetto notes in the chorus.

Honorable Mention:

  • “Dear God” by XTC 
  • “Timeless Melody” by The La’s
  • “Queen of Eyes” by the Soft Boys
  • “(do not feed the ) oyster” by Stephen Malkmus
  • “Unsatisfied” by The Replacments
  • “Baby Britain” by Elliott Smith  (George Harrison’s sad-sack acolyte)
  • “I am the Cosmos” by Chris Bell

If you’re like me, you never need to listen to the Beatles again.  You simply select a track in your head and push play.  –Eric A. Thomas

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