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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We'll Always Love You But That's Not The Point

Great Reserves


The first Shit Girls Say video went viral sometime in late 2011. You remember. A guy in a wig says, “Can you pass me that blanket?” and “What’s my password?” because those are things that girls say. Critics of the video and its creators claimed that most people say things like “Can you pass me that blanket?” at one time or another, gender notwithstanding.

Some forms of contemporary female speech have the quality of a low hum, like the sound I imagine a cloud of bees would make. It feels like it’s there to fill gaps, to distract and ease the faultiness of modern conversation — whose faults we owe, maybe, to a more general and well-documented mood of distraction in the culture. We look up from our phones, say something, look back down at our phones, write something to someone else who is not there. And girls — adaptable and socially attuned as we are — have the capacity to bridge those gaps with seemingly superficial and effervescent ways of speaking to one another.

Of course, there is something sad about this form of speech, which takes no pleasure in originality, and instead serves to make people feel comfortable. These phrases are like compulsive tics of speech — said just to say something, almost to oneself. It makes me think of the process by which, as a woman in my mid-twenties, I learned to use exclamation marks in my text messages and emails. I did it to create the feeling of ease I described above: I didn’t want other people to think of me as harsh or biting, and I wanted to provide a feeling of acceptance and enthusiasm. But now that I do it, I often feel like I can’t go back.


The Roches are three sisters from New Jersey: Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy. They made the album that most of their less die-hard fans care about — self-titled, and produced by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp — in 1979. Their music is most accurately described as folk music, with beautiful three-part vocal harmonies and strange, sometimes dissonant arrangements. They write witty lyrics, some of which are also silly. In 1979, on Saturday Night Live, they performed a manic a cappella version of The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. In their brashness, they remind me a bit of the theater kids I knew growing up.

The Roches remind me of the nuances of female speech because their lyrics often articulate the shared sentiments of womanhood in a startling way. Of all their songs, people are most attached to the slow and deliberate “Hammond Song,” written as if spoken by an older sister to a younger sister, warning the younger girl not to “go down to Hammond.” The song makes the ages-old argument against doing what Felicity did, following a man without first taking care of oneself. “We’ll always love you, but that’s not the point,” they tell the wayward one, and, “You’d be okay if you’d just stay in school.”

Watching and listening to the Roches of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the years of their youth, I want to describe them as innocent. But it’s a description that may say more about the observer than the observed.

The Roche sisters seem to exist in a pure, girlish space that is either pre-adolescent or pre-Lewinsky, depending on how specific you think such innocence is to the 1970’s and the influence of second-wave feminism. Either way, they display a lack of self-consciousness in their demeanor, clothing, and songwriting that simply doesn’t have a modern equivalent: they are often coy without appealing to anything so narrow as “sex appeal.” The cover of their 1980 album Nurds shows them butt-bumping the camera — a cheeky joke, but not at all raunchy.


I recently took part in an argument about whether the new Diablo Cody movie Young Adult is misogynistic. On the surface, this argument, like the similar arguments I’ve had about movies like Bridesmaids or Knocked Up, doesn’t interest me. Good stories, we learn in writer’s workshop, should be true to themselves before being politically aligned. But a lot can be surmised about the political and cultural milieu into which stories are introduced by observing repetitions among characters and storylines.

In college I took a class on genre theory, and because I found the classification of genre to be a helpful way of thinking about stories, I have continued to think about them as falling into one of four categories: romance, satire, tragedy, and comedy. Of course, many stories engage more than one category. The thing about Young Adult, or — to take one example — the ever-popular Mad Men, or the Shit Girls Say video, as well as many other products of the culture, is that their portrayal of women is largely satirical or tragic. And that isn’t to make a criticism of the artists responsible for them. But when I watch Mad Men I sometimes feel a little scared, as if all the air is being sucked out of the room. Those women are chronically sad.

In the history of literature, much has been done with the sad woman, and even more has been done with the woman so empty, spoiled and materialistic that she can only be parodied. The Roches give me the same good feeling that I got when I read Harriet the Spy, another relic of 1970s New York girlhood. Women, like men, have great reserves of mischief and playfulness and, to be simple about it — happiness. And there is no law that says these characteristics can only be allotted to the pre-pubescent and the radically naive.


In a classic episode of My So-Called Life, Sharon tells Angela that once you have sex, you can’t go back to just making out. And the Roches say that if you go down to Hammond, you’ll never come back. Of course, experience often bears out the truth of these hypotheses. Once you’ve come around to the legitimately tragic parts of being a woman, or found yourself saying things you never thought you’d say in the interest of making conversation with the girl selling you a pair of $200 leggings, it can make you feel like Peggy Lee sounds when she sings, “Is that all there is?” — in other words, cynical and asthmatic.

Poignantly, Maggie and Suzzy Roche’s 2004 collaboration is titled Why The Long Face? Why indeed?

Elena Schilder is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about American Beauty.

"Hammond Song" - The Roches (mp3)

"No Shoes" - The Roches (mp3)

"We Three Kings" - The Roches (mp3)


In Which We Only See With Young Eyes

The Comfort of My Mother and The War


I think of reading a book as no less an experience than traveling or falling in love.

Jorge Luis Borges was born in the center of old Buenos Aires in late August of 1899. The particular date of was of no importance to young Jorge, who despised his own birthday. He did not like gifts when he had done nothing to receive them.

with his sister at the palermo zoo in 1908

Jorge was constantly in ill health. He could not see or speak clearly. He loved tigers and there was one at the Palermo Zoo. If he could persuade his mother to take him there, he would plant himself obtrusively in front of the tiger cage, refusing to leave. His mother feared what would happen if she tried to drag him away.

young Jorge's drawing of a tiger at age four

His mother gradually began to use the threat of removing his books at a sort of blackmail. His father possessed an elaborate library of over a thousand volumes. (Clearly he did not anticipate the e-book.) The senior Jorge Borges had tried his hand at poetry, penning a sonnet or two before he set his vocation temporarily aside in favor of practicing law. His father took charge of young Jorge's education in a few crucial ways, using an orange to explain Plato's theory of forms.

He did not enter school until he was eleven, wearing huge glasses and a jacket and tie his mother purchased specifically for the big day.

By 1913, he had moved on to secondary school. He did decently well in some subjects, barely passing French, drawing and geometry. His first story appeared in the school's literary magazine. In it, a tiger kills a black panther, but then is himself killed by a man's arrow. He titled it "The King of the Jungle." His byline simply read "Nemo."

1914. Dr. Borges moved his family to Geneva, where he planned to get an eye operation. He and his wife agreed to send their children away to school in England so they could tour the continent as a way of revitalizing their marriage. A German ship, the Sierra Nevada, set course for Bremen, and this family was on it:

Because of the chaos that surrounded the Great War, an English education rapidly became impossible. The only subject that Jorge was able to excel at, given his lack of French, was Latin. Language became his only strength; he taught himself German to read Schopenhauer in the original.

His father's attempt to reunite with his wife was a failure. The man sampled the prostitutes of Geneva at his leisure. Dr. Borges' now-teenage son began to write for the first time, crafting sonnets in French and English, largely patterned after Wordsworth. He embraced the German expressionists as soon as he discovered they existed. In due time, all of these literary possibilities were supplanted by Walt Whitman.

He made his first Jewish friend, a boy named Simon. He taught his first clique how to play the Argentine card game truco. The first woman he fell in love with was a Czech named Adrienne. He could barely bring himself to speak in front of her and she was completely uninterested in eighteen year old Jorge.

His other romantic forays were thwarted by his shyness and the general uncleanliness of Geneva's women.

His first girlfriend was named Emilie, and he was entranced by her green eyes and red hair. He was possessed by a ginger. By the next year, he spoke of her as an object, writing his friend to ask if he had sampled Emilie's wares.

When his father found that Jorge had never consummated his relationship with Emilie or any other woman, he gave the boy the address of a brothel. On his way to the landmark Jorge was consumed by the idea that if his father knew the place, he might well have been with the same woman. Jorge was unable to rouse an erection, so his father took him to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a weak liver.

His father gave him a long manuscript. "What's this?" Jorge asked him. "My novel," his father said.

His family traveled a bit around Europe before a sojourn to Majorca. He later described Berlin as one of the ugliest cities in the world.

Although the family returned to Geneva, Jorge never completed his high school education. His relations with women were reduced to a platonic friendship with a whore he called Luz. He wrote to his friend in March of 1921, "I tell you, I really loved that Luz. She was so playful with me and behaved with such ingenous indecency. She was like a cathedral and also like a bitch."

Jorge and his mother

The family returned to Buenos Aires later that year. Some of his childhood haunts remained familiar to him, but most now were opaque and foreign to his eyes. He wrote to his Spanish buddy, "Don't abandon me in this exile of mine, who is overrun by arrivistes, by corrupt youths lacking any mental capacity and decorative young ladies."

He fell in love with a girl, and the feeling was mutual. Her name was Concepcion Guerrero, and she was the daughter of Spanish immigrants from Granada. Her father taught elementary school, and the family lived in the poverty stricken orillas. He could not bring himself to apprise his mother of the relationship. "God knows how it all will end," he wrote.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Jackson" - Craig Finn (mp3)

"When No One's Watching" - Craig Finn (mp3)

"New Friend Jesus" - Craig Finn (mp3)



In Which We Address The Skaters

My Own Invention


The usual anagrams of moonlight — a story
That subsides quietly into plain historical fact.

– John Ashbery, “The Skaters”

Late last August I crossed a bridge over the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana, and, looking east, saw a dense cloud swelling behind the mountain. I couldn’t tell whether it was a thunderhead or a plume from the huge forest fire that was growing through the nearby Blackfoot Valley. There had been rain and there had been fires in the mountains to both the east and west of town so the air just sort of hung there, heavy with water and smoke.

A lot of things were ending. The short Montana summer — properly spent drinking in public and idling down majestic rivers in an inner tube — was ending and along with it, more or less, my life. In spring I had finished a graduate program in creative writing, and I managed for the summer to postpone my departure from writer-land. But fall in Missoula was closing in on me, and I wandered from coffee shop to burrito shop to bar feeling uniquely unsure what to do with myself. Post-graduation ennui is not original — it afflicts everyone with nothing better to worry about. But to go from happily aimless to unhappily aimless, following an experience that in retrospect was both profound and pointless, to stand alone on the cusp of a cold gray season, it can seem quite convincingly poetic.

It was around that time that I found a recording of John Ashbery giving a reading at the Washington Square Art Gallery in New York in 1964 of his long poem “The Skaters,” which became an object of minor obsession for me. Poetry at its heart is a game of endurance, and through his sixty-year career Ashbery has become the unlikely patriarch of the American poetry establishment, winning every major literary award, including most recently the National Medal of Arts — all in spite of his work’s utter bizarreness. Influenced by the Surrealists and the Symbolists, his poetry evades traditional demands for subject and narrative, moving liberally from image to image and speaker to mysterious speaker.

Ashbery was far from his future eminence at the time of the recording, one of a vanguard of strange young poets that would come to be known as the New York School, along with Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, and Kenneth Koch. He had published his second book, The Tennis Court Oath, two years before, and it is maybe still the most difficult of all of his twenty-five collections, containing poetic experiments that are, in Ashbery’s words, “so fragmentary as to defeat most readers.” The time following the release of The Tennis Court Oath was a pivotal one in his career. In his speech upon receiving the Robert Frost Medal, Ashbery said that the poems of The Tennis Court Oath were “a stage on the way to something else, which I knew nothing of then, when I would be able to reassemble language into something that would satisfy me in the way my early poems had once done but no longer did.”

That “The Skaters” was written in a period of artistic in-between-ness does something to explain my attachment to it in the fall. The recording is forty-seven minutes long, meandering in the poem’s four sections through a strange repertory of places and voices, wondering about the weather, travel, and the use of narrative. The original setting of the reading is very present in the recording, which is one of its pleasures — cars honk their horns, trains rumble by, and his lively audience laughs at lines as tame as “Mild effects are the result.”

I listened to “The Skaters” so many times that it took on a kind of Ouija-board mysticism for me. I felt I was one of the characters materializing and dissolving in the kaleidoscope eye of the poem — Helga in Jersey City, maybe, or the apartment-dweller who feels “cut off from the life in the streets,” or a figure in the sad old-fashioned vision of poverty, with its geranium in a rusting tomato can. “All this, wedged in a pyramidal ray of light, is my own invention,” writes Ashbery; it was invented, but it couldn’t have been a false vision, because I was living in it. My studio apartment in a converted motel in downtown Missoula, with hotplate and mini-fridge for a kitchen, heavy brown curtains and olive shag carpeting, was the poem’s adopted home, as much the true setting of the reading as the Washington Square Art Gallery in 1964.

“The Skaters” is a beacon when I try to reconstruct my memories of this fall. I remember mostly the weird and sad things — I got pneumonia right before Halloween and didn’t feel better until Thanksgiving. I had a job selling coffee in an outdoor outfitting store and once one of my co-workers detailed to me the circumstances of all of the boating deaths in the state that year. I used to listen to the poem while I was making dinner and one time I broke down in tears, crying into my cutting board. “You look like you’re in a movie written by a man,” I said to my reflection in the mirror on the wall in front of me, a woman crying while chopping vegetables.

Something came up over the mountain and I couldn’t tell if it was rain or smoke and this is all I remember about it. “Nature is still liable to pull a few fast ones,” Ashbery writes in “The Skaters,” and this is one main idea — the activities of nature, particularly storms and fires, are figures for impermanence in the poem. Rain and snowstorms appear in every section, always threatening forces that impede action. In the second section an oracular fire fountain is created, displaying a detailed spring scene. The action of fire is to consume, and the fountain devours its own images, leaving the outline of a landscape in ashes, until “this vision, too, fades slowly away.”

Fire, weather, sex, and everyday experience: these are the models of a kind of movement which has no beginning or end point, which erases itself with repetition, whose rhythms are its meaning. Opposing this is movement with a reasonable trajectory — progress toward a destination or the single consequential gesture, as exemplified by travel, romance, or history. The second section of “The Skaters” discusses travel, associating it with the projections of fantasy. “This cruise can never last long enough for me,” Ashbery writes. “But once more, office desks, radiators — No! That is behind me./No more dullness, only movies and love and laughter, sex and fun.”

With increasing self-consciousness, travel becomes a metaphor for the idealized course of life — “Here I am, continuing but ever beginning/My perennial voyage, into new memories” — and modes of travel elide as the symbolic meaning inflates. “The train we are getting onto is a boat train,” declares the speaker. “And the boats are really boats this time.” It is clear in the poem that travel as a notion is inconsistent with reality: the more elusive fluctuations of nature, the humdrum grief of modern life.

Nor in fact is this movement consistent with the ever-turning mechanism of poetry. This is where “The Skaters” functions as a covert poetics, as good a statement as I have found on how Ashbery’s famously enigmatic poems work. The central image, a group of ice skaters on a winter day, illustrates the kind of spontaneous coordination that he is replicating, with each skater “elaborat[ing] their distances” and then returning to the mass of other bodies, indistinguishable from the next. This alternating motion speaks to a poem like a snowstorm, a poet whose genius is to recreate this effect. “Neither the importance of the individual flake,” he writes, “nor the importance of the whole impression of the storm, if it has any, is what it is,/But the rhythm of the series of repeated jumps, from abstract into positive and back to a slightly less diluted abstract.”

The mission, it seems, is to create a poem that is closer to the true experience of perception. “The carnivorous way/Of these lines is to devour their own nature,” the poem says of itself. “Leaving/Nothing but a bitter impression of absence, which as we know involves presence, but still.” This is why Ashbery’s poems are often so difficult to decipher; the lines seem to evaporate the moment they are read, like a dream or a season leaving the mind with a determined impression but few specifics. The contours of a cloud, a one-room apartment tracing its angles, a feeling weary as a white sky.

I spent much of the fall trying to write a poem called “Hard Feelings,” collecting unusable phrases like “I’m as sad as I can” and “You just want to have someone else around.” Then as now, I wanted to create a testament to that indeterminate time, to feeling dissatisfied and confused, to not much happening. But to do this requires a return to the kind of travel-movement. Sentiments are monumentalized; certain details are exaggerated and others are left out. What speaks more to this romanticism than my effort not only to know “The Skaters” but actually to be in it?

“The Skaters” is preoccupied by the idea of “leaving out” and of which details survive — that narrative requires the intentional selecting of what will evoke feeling, and history, the “natural” erosion of what is unimportant. Both create inaccurate accounts, not because they are incomplete, but because their emphasis on particulars distracts from the anonymous repetitions that carry life’s true meaning. As Ashbery writes, “There is error in so much precision.” It sure is cozy, though, the cloak of memories and fantasies and possessions — “Through the years/You have approached an inventory/And it is now that tomorrow/Is going to be the climax of your casual/Statement about yourself,” he says in the last section of the poem. To make and remake ourselves. It’s only human.

Indeed, for all his proclaiming in “The Skaters,” Ashbery seems ambivalent about any attempt to escape the bounds of narrative, though he does want to rework it. “I am fascinated,” he writes, “with the urge to get out of it all, by going/Further in and correcting the whole mismanaged mess.” The poem resembles Ashbery’s description of Giorgio de Chirico’s surrealist novel Hebdomeros, with its central character, “a kind of ‘metaphysician’ who evolves through various landscapes and situations.” “In this fluid medium,” Ashbery wrote in his 1966 review of the novel, “trivial images can suddenly congeal and take on a greater specific gravity, much as a banal object in a de Chirico painting — a rubber glove or an artichoke — can rivet our attention merely through being present.” In the same way, the people and objects that occupy “The Skaters” don’t dictate the meaning of the poem, instead acting as momentary resting places for the reader’s attention.

Recently I found tucked under my mattress a page of lists I made in September: “Goals for This Week,” “What I Want To Happen This Week,” “This Week I Will….” I’d begun writing a lot of these letters, lists, and reminders to myself to allay existential panic. My favorite of that week’s lists is at the bottom of the page: “Uncertainty I’ll Allow For,” with its three items, “employment, friendship, love.” In post-grad school life as in poetry we must allow for some ambiguity; there is more than one right answer, if there’s an answer at all. The angst just doesn’t end.

It is lucky, then, that memory is as unsound as history or narrative — it helps provide the impression that things eventually get resolved. Even if I’m still living with the same unknowns, still crossing the same bridges and bumming in and out of the same coffee shops, looking back now, the fall’s uncertainty only says a cryptic but profound certainty. My memories point, if not at something, at least in the same direction. “Scarcely we know where to turn to avoid suffering,” writes Ashbery. “I mean,/There are so many places.”

Considering the geography of Missoula it is a lovely coincidence that “The Skaters” is in a collection titled Rivers and Mountains. The title refers to Chinese landscape scrolls; in an essay about space in poetry, Ashbery wrote of the perspective in these scrolls, “The incorrectly rendered space [turns] out to be something far more enchanting than space in the world could ever be.” This is something close to my purpose in stockpiling memories of this fall: to say something more precisely but less accurately, to see the whole expanse from one vantage. Hard feelings and uncertainty I’ll allow for. Something about a whiskey sky turning through the valley. A bench by the river in the sand-colored grasses.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Missoula. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about The Bachelor.

Photographs by Zoey Farber.

"Aurora Lies" - Work Drugs (mp3)

"Daddy Bear" - Work Drugs (mp3)

"Ice Wharf" - Work Drugs (mp3)