Issue 22 Playlist

Music often plays a significant role in a writer’s routine. Whether it’s setting the tone for writing sessions or trying to find inspiration for our next story—there’s a song for everything.

So, we asked Issue 22 contributors what they listened to while writing or for a song that inspired/reminded them of their work. The result: a perfect mix of melancholy, sanguine, and longing.

Listen along as you read (or reread) Issue 22.

“Chinese Satellite” by Phoebe Bridgers | “He says, let’s move to Alaska.” by Stephanie Chen

“I love the way Phoebe Bridgers carefully builds a world—every phrase or bass line or melody or synth helps orient you within an exact emotional space—and then cuts through that with a clear line that is so emotionally naked, it feels like a slap in the face. Like it’s taken your breath away. I’m in awe of her ability to use a sense of imbalance to pull the curtain back, and hope I can figure out how to do something that might approximate that.”

— Stephanie Chen

“Soghati” by Hayedeh | “This Is Where We’re At” by Ashley Hajimirsadeghi

“‘Soghati’ is an iconic romantic Iranian song that is seeped with this notion that if the speaker could have this one person/object, they could have anything they desired; one of the lines/refrains roughly translates to ‘I can achieve whatever I want.’ My poem came from a lot of contemplation about family history and the current conditions women face in Iran, and it only felt natural to return to this song considering a multitude of factors: it’s by an Iranian woman who was in exile, its lyrics resonate, and it creates a larger conversation about women’s artistry in Iran and the diaspora.”

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi

“Sun it Rises” by Fleet Foxes | “Carrion” by Meredith Herndon

“For me, this song feels like it covers a lot of emotional ground similar to the journey in my poem. This song echoes the desire to hold beautiful things close while confronting the inevitability of loss.”

Meredith Herndon

“Bloodshot” by Julien Baker | “Twelfth Night” & “all things fast & not incredibly violent” by Elizabeth Hickson

“I was listening to Julien Baker’s Little Oblivions on repeat while writing these poems, which I like to think of as an alternative title for both. But if I had to pick just one song from the album that speaks to both of these poems, I’d pick ‘Bloodshot,’ with its opening stanza bringing to mind ideas of seeing, of being seen.”

Elizabeth Hickson

“Gilded Lily” by Cults | “Procne, Swallowed” by Arah Ko

“The desperation of the echoed chorus—Haven’t I given enough? Given enough?—haunts the listener as the repetition opens up new dimensions of loss. The line, ‘Always the fool with the slowest heart’ reverberates as especially heartbreaking when I imagine the sisters from the myth, Procne and Philomela, speaking to each other.”

Arah Ko

“Kokomo, IN” by Japanese Breakfast | “Notes for a Conversation on Flux” by Noreen Ocampo

“While I hadn’t yet listened to “Kokomo, IN” when I was writing ‘Notes for a Conversation on Flux,’ I’m convinced these two pieces are cousins in one way or another. I think Japanese Breakfast very beautifully arrives at and confesses what my speaker leaves unsaid.”

Noreen Ocampo

“Changes” by David Bowie | “Your Body” by Susan Holcomb

“I chose this song because my story ‘Your Body’ is about transformations, the way the body is always changing, and how we must be deluded if we treat bodies as if they can ever be made static or preserved. ‘Changes’ also feels aesthetically right for this piece because David Bowie and Queen and Elton John introduced me to a kind of performativeness and sense of irony: they have this operatic way of making life big, big, bigger than it’s even possible to hold—while also not taking it too seriously. I like the idea of laughing at yourself while still assuming a posture of grandeur, and I wrote ‘Your Body’ wanting to span a lifetime, reverberating between all the profound and hopelessly silly things that can happen to a body over the course of a life.”

Susan Holcomb

“Jolene” by Dolly Parton | “Daily Pilgrimage” by Angie Kang

“The song that reminds me of ‘A Daily Pilgrimage’ is Jolene by Dolly Parton. I think it’s fascinating how jealousy can reflect a motley of positive and negative emotions: insecurity, frustration, admiration, and desire. ‘Jolene’ is both a desperate plea to Jolene and an obsessive chronicling of her beauty and power over the singer; in my piece, this is paralleled by the deeply insecure narrator’s intense fixation and burgeoning parasocial relationship with their husband’s ex.”

Angie Kang

“Baby” by Caetano Veloso | “Wish Goblin” by Thomas Mixon

“This song has a bit of a soft apocalypse vibe going on, it’s very sweet, and soothing, but the lyrics are a bit odd—Carolina, gasolina, reading a tee-shirt? It kind of feels like gentle end of days, and I can picture Marlon listening to it with his kids, in the summer, no one at work, the grocery store dark, the internet barely functional. Plus it mentions swimming and ice cream, both important parts of my story.”

Thomas Mixon

“How to Disappear Completely” by Radiohead | “The Meat Man” by Will Musgrove

“Like the lyrics in Radiohead’s ‘How to Disappear Completely,’ the protagonist of ‘The Meat Man’ hopes to shut out the world around him. By creating the meat man inside slabs of pork bellies, he’s able to retreat into this hope of escaping. It’s his way of saying ‘This isn’t happening / I’m not here.'”

Will Musgrove

“Wonderful Life” by Smith & Burrows | “Not Everything Is Funny” by Maureen O’Leary

“This song is melancholy and beautiful and seems to be about beginning a venture with someone after a long time of being alone. The lyrics could come from the heart of either Lucas or Mary as they desperately volley their painful stories at one another: ‘They seem to hate you / Because you’re there / And I need a friend / Oh I need a friend to make me happy / Not stand here on my own.'”

Maureen O’Leary

“Break My Body” by Pixies | “Tits à la Flambé” by Paulette Pierce

“That song and many others from Surfer Rosa have a theme of body transformation and consumption of the body, both themes that my story, ‘Tits à la Flambé,’ deals with as well. There’s also a brash punk energy to the song that I think my story shares, a lawlessness that matches the ‘I’m just gonna write the super weird, niche thing’ mood I had when drafting this piece.”

Paulette Pierce

“Theme From Jerome” by Kishi Bashi | “Heart Mountain” by Cicily Bennion

“It’s a track from Kishi Bashi’s album Omoiyari, which is a songwriting project about the Japanese incarceration during WWII. While writing the album, Kishi toured the sites of Japanese incarceration all over the country, including Jerome, Arkansas, referenced in the title of this song.”

Cicily Bennion

“Pilgrims” by Julian Saporiti (No-No Boy) | “Field Notes from Day 7,969, a Ghost Story” by Uyen Dang

“Shortly after writing ‘Field Notes,’ this song came up in a conversation with a friend, who noted how all stories could be, in their own way, ghost stories. The song touches on something I want all my writings to touch: the sense that our past and our ancestors are intruding into the present, fuzzing the line between voices, tenses, places, sound and silence, history and memories.”

Uyen Dang

Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell | “(Re)Surfacing” by Rachel Laverdiere

“It talks about the intricacies of understanding love from both sides—the side that is mystical and magical and then the more realistic side that can shatter you and leave you feeling bitter.”

Rachel Laverdiere

“How Do I Say Goodbye” by Dean Lewis | “Resecting a Liver” by Jennifer Pinto

“This song reminds me of my piece, ‘Resecting a Liver,’ because I wrote it while my dad was very sick. It was my way of dealing with having to say goodbye to him.”

Jennifer Pinto