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Desert Island Discs

Poets share their favorite albums.

Jennifer L. Knox

Full disclosure: despite my seven-year stint as a third-chair clarinetist, my musical vocabulary is limited to simian gestures, deep nods, and stink-face grimaces. No doubt, if I could describe, in proper terms, how music does what it does, I would be a phenomenally wealthy woman.

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Jen Benka

My great-grandmother Phoebe was French-Canadian. My mother, who was named for her, studied in Quebec for a spell, and eventually became a French teacher. She had several albums by Edith Piaf that she acquired in the 1950s and 1960s, and certain Piaf songs—like the plaintiff yet commanding "Mon Dieu" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"— are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

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Brian Teare

Before poetry became central to my life, music was everything. From the ages of 13 to 21, I studied the flute, and for about five years during that time I also studied composition. When I wasn't practicing scales or Bach or Mozart, I was poring over scores by Brahms and Ravel or listening to the tapes I made from radio broadcasts of new music. For most of my adolescence, I had almost no time for or interest in pop culture, though friends from high school did introduce me to MTV, to Cyndi Lauper and Erasure, and to what was then called "college" music, bands like They Might Be Giants, 10,000 Maniacs, and Camper Van Beethoven.

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Jason Koo

Interesting how the iPod has made this whole matter of picking desert island discs obsolete. We're so spoiled! If electricity is on the island (via some wire hooked up by Elizabeth Bishop that "limply leashes the whole affair / to something off behind the dunes"), we're not bringing five albums—we're bringing all of them. The iPod has Crusoed the hell out of solitude; it's made it habitable in a way Defoe never could have imagined.

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Alli Warren

I am limiting my list to albums I own (either on vinyl or on CD).

Hank Williams, Sr., 24 Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, 1977, vinyl

This double LP will remind me, in my lonely island despair, to have a sense of humor about my desperation. And to sing-along. And to drink whiskey and remember all those times friends gathered and despaired of love, and hard living, together

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Dean Young

In no particular order:

Tales of Topographic Oceans by Yes.

I know it's not 1974 anymore so you can't listen to this in Ken's dorm room that had a parachute on the ceiling so it was like getting high in a cloud but this is an absolute hightide of prog-rock, marvelous musicianship, complex arrangements, wild mood swings, plethoras of melodies.


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David Lehman

You ask me to pick five records to take with me to a desert isle. Okay. Here's how I would attack the problem. My analytical intelligence takes over. I make categories and then sub-categories. On the baker's dozen principle, six equals five when that's what the dice show. And then I start making lists!

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Tony Tost

I have just been kidnapped by Harold Bloom. Heavy with wine and ill-intent, Bloom leans into me, touching his blade against my sternum, and mutters, "It's time, kid. You have yet to even find any of the other tests, let alone pass them, but, still, you must now face the severest and most ancient test of any bard—the selection of a canon."

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