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Album Reviews

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The Tortured Poets Department and The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology

by Taylor Swift, 2024

This past spring has brought treasure troves of musical growth with it. From Beyoncé’s excursions into the country genre to Sabrina Carpenter’s emergence as a pop music trailblazer, this has been a prolific era for music. One artist in particular has been at the forefront of shaping the music industry this year: Taylor Swift. In a characteristically monumental fashion, the Eras Tour showrunner came out with not one, but two new albums in April! Entitled The Tortured Poets Department and The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology, respectively, this latest album release and its 2 A.M. deluxe edition have pervaded the music charts.

 

Now, where to begin? I’m going to bring my bias into this review and begin with a Top 20 ranking of my own favorite songs from TTPD, including the Anthology additions.

 

  1. So Long, London

  2. Fortnight (ft. Post Malone)

  3. The Albatross

  4. The Prophecy

  5. Peter

  6. I Can Do It With A Broken Heart

  7. The Bolter

  8. How Did It End?

  9. I Hate It Here

  10. Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?

  11. The Black Dog

  12. My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys

  13. Guilty As Sin

  14. The Tortured Poets Department

  15. I Look In People’s Windows

  16. Fresh Out the Slammer

  17. The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived

  18. But Daddy I Love Him

  19. Down Bad

  20. The Manuscript

 

Although some criticize the heavy hand of Jack Antonoff’s synth-pop productions in the background of Swift’s latest album along with her Midnights album, there is an inherent catchiness that should be attributed to Antonoff’s collaborations. The background music that bears Antonoff’s signature has a rather cinematic effect on the listener. From the sweeping bass notes of “Fortnight” (which also blends in some of Post Malone’s musical traits) to the unsettling cheerfulness of “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” in opposition to its lyrics, the songwriting of Antonoff and Swift makes for addictive listening.

 

Where Swift and Antonoff shape a cinematic music experience, Swift and Aaron Dessner craft music akin to an artistic masterpiece. Lovers of folklore and evermore were far from disappointed by the five tracks co-written with Dessner, one being “So Long, London.” A truly heartbreaking mix of lyrics and echoing production, the farewell song reaches into the very heart of such emotions as heartbreak and grief with lines such as “You sacrificed us to the gods of your bluest days / And I'm just getting color back into my face / I’m just mad as hell cause I loved this place.”

 

The poignant lyricism of Swift does not stop at “So Long, London.” She more than exceeds the poetic influence anticipated in an album entitled the “tortured poets” department. Myth and literary influence alike arise in “Peter,” with its Peter Pan metaphor for a youthful love lost to time and distance, “The Albatross” with its titular homage to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and the undercurrents of “The Black Dog” as a symbol of death and not only the name of a bar.

 

The poet is often a reader first, and the fiction lover can find solace in Swift’s “rose golden glows” viewed in “I Look in People’s Windows” and the escapism of “I Hate It Here” where one can flee to “secret gardens” in the mind that “people need a key to get to.” The thread of fantasy and escapism woven throughout TTPD softens the blow of its harsher realities—one particularly sharp example of this being the reference to “death rattle breathing” in “How Did It End?” The darkest of poetry has found a release in Swift’s latest album, a therapeutic release of emotion from the songwriter and into listeners. There is a sense of being understood when one truly listens to Swift’s lyrics.

 

There are some purely lighter elements to the TTPD album that must be noted as well, such as the trending “Down Bad” with its humorous depiction of “crying at the gym,” the infectious energy of “FLORIDA!!!” featuring Florence + The Machine and the thinly-disguised diss track towards Kim Kardashian that is “ThanK u aIMee.” There is also a positivity to Swift’s complete and utter self-awareness conveyed through her songwriting. Even when creating fiction in her lyrics, Swift always alludes to elements of truth. There is an honesty to the falling apart that occurs piece by piece in “My Boy Only Breaks His Favorite Toys” and there is a coyness to lines like “I think some things I never say / Like, "Who uses typewriters anyway?" from the song quite recognizably entitled “The Tortured Poets Department.”

 

Social media has displayed a connection between fans of Swift and of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and this album has sealed that connection with such songs as “The Bolter” and “The Prophecy.” The minutiae of womanhood and identity is unraveled in the image of the elusive woman in “The Bolter,” the lonely heart in “The Prophecy,” the girl blinded by love in “But Daddy I Love Him,” and the woman reclaiming her power in “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” and “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived.”

 

Taylor Swift is at the peak of her career, for now. I have no doubt that she will continue to outdo herself. As Swift has resumed her Eras Tour celebrating her many years of music, it has now evolved into including a TTPD set. This latest set is vibrant with a sense of whimsy and showmanship, adding a fresh dose of magic to her already iconic performances.

-Schuyler Becker 

CSU Stanislaus

Book Reviews

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Insatiable: My Hunger for Life
by Shobhaa Dé. Harper Collins, 2023.

Insatiable: My Hunger for Life (2023) is an autobiography by Shobhaa De, the leading socialite from India. As the title of the book suggests, De writes of her life made of complex emotions, travels, food and experiences. De describes her life among the elite. But, her descriptions shadow class, caste and gender differences. She offers no representation to the subaltern. 

 

This is the second time I am reviewing a food story. Earlier, I reviewed the food story by Madhushree Ghosh that came out in 2022. Both the books discuss Jaipur, and were part of discussions at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2023. Is it possible to write a food story when you are a vegetarian only? The way these two books describe meat-eating seems to convey that non-vegetarian food varieties connect the populace and speak to their sentiments. It's just such a voluptuous way of representing food. 

 

While leafing through her memoir, one tends to read nothing of the prevalent discriminations in Indian society. She exhibits a high self-worth. When the preface opens, she is shown worried about the change of her name when she was a child. She is totally unconcerned with the challenges faced by people. It's better to talk about that Shobhaa! She shows no sympathy for the injustices against women, environment or the world in general. She cries when her self-worth is hurt. She has no tears to shed for underprivileged people. The narrative shows no philanthropic gesture on her part. She agrees to pay a lump sum amount to the astrologer because the horoscope is related to her. 

 

I like the cosmopolitan anchor in Insatiable. De has domestic help from various regionalities, and she appreciates food from various places all over the world. This turns out to be a memoir by a privileged woman who has access to places, things and food she likes. Dometic help is a call away, there are people to guide her with eateries, she has money to dispense with for reading out her horoscope. 

 

Half the time, she looks bothered arranging house help. She is ready to disburse any amount of money for that, and this is done in a way to show that it is actually the maids who are materialistic and self-seeking in nature. Insatiable leaves a deep impression on the reader’s mind but owing to the privilege of the lady. Personally, while reading the memoir, I was feeling exhausted at my own class position. I was comparing my material means with that of De. This actually made me love my family even more. I deliberated that this woman is happy when she gets what she loves, she undergoes mood swings owing to that so I must be happy to have a family which I love. 

 

I was exposed to vulnerabilities, class and gender after reading her. The way she structures her book, its form and presentation says that this is a book by no ordinary woman. Here is a woman, who gets to eat with the Nobel Laureates, and Amitav Ghosh, and Aamir Khan. She is recklessly open-minded, and unhesitant in mentioning the good things such as kinnow which we import from Pakistan. She also shows no qualms in commenting on body.  There is an entire discussion on breasts which preoccupy her imagination. She freely talks about sex and pleasure. Her husband is her biggest devotee. He likes to celebrate both minor and major events of his life with De.

 

Family ties are an indestructible part of De’s life. Her daughters take care of her, and she also dotes on them, including her son. Somewhere or the other, I believe food keeps her appetite for sex alive. When she is on a journey to celebrate her wedding anniversary, she has great food. Her privilege comes across in the very form of the text. She adjusts drawings before each chapter. 

 

So, here is a septuagenarian woman who, as the book shows, faced no struggles in her life. She has lived among the riches for so long, and this accounts for her insatiable craving. She wants wealth, wealth and wealth. She wants to be immersed in it. 

 

-Dolly Sharma

JECRC University, Jaipur

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Periodic Boyfriends
by Drew Pisarra. Capturing Fire Press, 2023.

The poetry book Periodic Boyfriends by Drew Pisarra was released on May 2, 2023. This collection of poetry uses titles that provoke chemical components in order to  provide a raw yet polished and unapologetic expression of experiences. The short poems are rife with intense imagery, placing the reader intimately into these situations. The work is sexual and heady, but brings much more than that to the table the deeper one reads.

 

Reading poems such as “Bismuth” where Pisarra places an emphasis on a fixation on the things people find the most illicit and what that brings out in those who perceive it. His final lines of “Stein's novel is cryptic… detective fiction minus the killer;/ my old tale’s no clearer than white Mylar,/ erotica sans modernist filler./ Murder’s hard to stomach. Condoms get soiled./ Lurid verse mixes the blue with hard-boiled.”exemplifies what his work in this series does perfectly. Pisarra uses an in depth exposure to experiences that often lie in the shadows, either by intention or force and brings it to the forefront of the mind of the reader.

 

Along with these aspects, Pisarra amplifies the mark that certain sexual and or intimate experiences leave on a person no matter how short an encounter it may be. Every aspect of this book acknowledges a sense of imprint whether it be from drugs, alcohol, hate-sex, interacting with one who wants to participate, but is terrified of being viewed as “truly” gay. He delves into fear, denial, and his own ability of personal acceptance of what has made him, him.

 

In that sense, the titles evoking the elements of the periodic table amplify that mindset, acknowledging the small and large factors that remain present whether they are truly seen or even want to be. There is so much behind the scenes of a person that is significant in some way to who they are and become, that Pisarra’s method of writing essentially forces the reader to see that. The vulnerability in writing in the way that he does allows for readers to possess an even deeper understanding of and connection to the work, with or without similar life experiences.

 

Personally, I love that he closes out the book with the poem “Lawrencium” consisting of phrases such as “The Categorical Imperative/ of Sex Apps heretofore also known as/ Bitch, Pick a Team.” and finally, “In matters of Gender,/ Race, Lustful Preference, and Body Type/ you be you. We’ll figure out where you fit.” These comments are a sensation that many people including myself have felt in needing to check off a box to be seen as valid. The idea of an overseeing body determining where one fits often lurks in the back of the mind of members of the queer community. A book like this existing in the current climate offers a sense that the described sensation spreads further than one often believes, and you do have a place even amongst a society that does not want you to. It offers a feeling of terrifying hope, and is a poetry book I would absolutely recommend.

 

-Essence Saunders

CSU Stanislaus

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