Personals-cover-183x300Today, Ian Williams gives us his collection of songs that helped him write his Griffin Poetry Prize-shortlisted collection, Personals. Rock on.   

I was living in the States while writing Personals, thinking about Canada, thinking about distances. If this playlist is background music, consider it distant background music, coming from the neighbour down the hallway who listens to his music a little too loudly. He might have a hearing problem. You don’t talk much to this neighbour and maybe you should, except you can’t reconcile the man you see who wears polarized sunglasses with the man you occasionally hear humming his music inside his apartment. Also, you suspect you don’t know enough about the Red Sox to carry a conversation with him. Really, you just want to embrace him. But being a man, you anticipate misunderstandings and so you sit at the dining table instead and write Personals.

1. Tragically Hip, Ahead by a Century

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Best lines:

And that’s when the hornet stung me

And I had a feverish dream.

Those lines epitomize a prevalent sensation of our age—mounting panic.

2. Dent May, Born Too Late


This is an infectious, head-bopping song of the sort you hear in H&M while contemplating suspenders. It can set off an epiphany.

3. Sarah Harmer, Almost


Personals is a collection of almost-love poems where connections fall shy of satisfaction. Sarah Harmer begins “Almost” with “I almost dialled your number.” In my poem “Sixteen,” the speaker waits desperately for a phone call. Maybe Harmer should have called. Before “Call Me Maybe,” Harmer was singing, “Call me please.”

Best lines:

When we say sometime later
You know we don’t say when.

4. A Girl Called Eddy, Somebody Hurt You


If they ever make a James Bond movie of a poetry collection, I’d propose this song as the Bond song of Personals. It would fade in over the description of loneliness in the epigraph.

Best lines:

You’re lonely like only the broken can know,

Aching for love but afraid to show.

5. Nina Simone, Ne Me Quitte Pas


Simone has the ghostly voice of a woman braiding her hair for the night.

Best lines:

Je creuserai la terre
Jusqu’après ma mort
Pour couvrir ton corps
D’or et de lumière

Also the ending, as she’s leaving us:

Laisse-moi devenir
L’ombre de ton ombre
L’ombre de ta main
L’ombre de ton chien

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas

6. Gabriel Fauré, Élégie 


While writing Personals, I played in a community orchestra on Tuesday nights. I’d go from making music in a group to making poems alone, from being a dog to being a cat.

7. Bonus track: Marvin Gaye, I want you


Desire, not consummation, is the heart of Personals.

Best lines:

I want you, the right way. I want you. But I want you
to want me too. (I want you to want me too.)

Go here to listen to the whole playlist on Youtube.