To wrap up my Open Book Residency, and to lead us into December, I thought I’d leave with a little goodbye present: a good ‘ol playlist! I don’t ever listen to music while I write - I get distracted very easily! But I love playlists - from mix tapes/CDs, to a folder on a USB stick passed back and forth, to Spotify playlists.
I never got around to making one for my first book of poetry How Do I Look? (Metatron Press) - so here it is! These are songs that I remember listening to during the time period that this book came together, songs that inspired the book, and/or songs that echo its themes:
1. Your Best American Girl - Mitski
Longing, identity, loneliness - there are so many themes in Mitski’s songs that speak to me. I couldn’t believe I had gone through over two decades of my life not having seen or heard an Asian woman onstage at a concert, in the spotlight. I’ll always feel a lump in my throat and my heart in my stomach when I listen to her songs. I feel like they would have really helped me get through high school - but they still help me process so much now, too.
2. Cry - Carly Rae Jepsen
My favourite CRJ song! I find her so effortlessly sweet and shameless, which is what I love so much about pop music in general.
3. Buzzcut Season - Lorde
Also my favourite Lorde song. I love her imagery, both so subtle yet surprising: Cola with the burnt-out taste / I'm the one you tell your fears to / There'll never be enough of us
4. Born To Die - Lana Del Rey
I remember listening to this song one night alone when I was feeling immense grief about someone who had suddenly passed away, and even though this song was the farthest thing from them, it just felt right. That said, it took me a while to warm up (and cool down) to Lana. I both have many and zero feelings about her persona - to the point that I almost forget she’s a real person most of the time. But I can’t help but be pulled into the cinematic quality of her songs - now often imitated, but rarely duplicated.
5. We Belong Together - Mariah Carey
This song used to make me very sad, because it played during a school dance while I danced with a boy who I don’t think actually liked me very much, and just did it out of pity. It now makes me happy as my go-to karaoke song. And, as I try to hit those high notes, it keeps me humble.
6. Hold On, We’re Going Home - Drake feat. Majid Jordan
This song is just for my poem “My Type,” which is also my shortest poem to date, at one line: Women who would make Drake cry.
7. Diamond - Lightning Dust
I heard this in Berlin, at an outdoor cinema, waiting for Force Majeure to start. My friend used her iPhone to ask what song playing. We both forgot about it until we flew home, and weeks later, she sent it to me. I was relieved it still sounded the same as when I had first heard it and was entranced.
8. Reflection - Christina Aguilera
I chose this just for the poem in my book called "Mulan (1998)." A white woman wonderfully singing a song all about looking, identity, perception - for a movie so formative for myself and my Chinese family in terms of representation growing up. Lots to unpack there!
9. It’s Not a Fashion Statement, It’s a Deathwish - My Chemical Romance
I had to include some MCR as a throwback to my high school days! I loved, and still love emo music. Its passion, aggression, and overall theatrics were especially appealing for raging high school emotions. Looking back now, I find it funny and sweet that “emo” stands for “emotional.” Shouldn’t all music be emotional?
10. Oh No! - MARINA
TV taught me how to feel / Now real life has no appeal - oof! I think about this line all the time. Sometimes I don’t know if I’d write at all if TV and film didn’t exist. That may sound dramatic, but I mean it - for better or worse, screens have taught me so much about how I “should” process emotions, how I “should” look at myself, at others.
11. Jolene - Dolly Parton
Desire, jealousy, vulnerability, desperation… this song has it all, and I absolutely love it.
12. Criminal - Fiona Apple
The way Fiona writes about lust, power, and shame - and their intersections - is incredible. I love how you can feel it gushing out of this song to the point that it can feel a bit uncomfortable, but you can’t stop listening.
13. All Is Full Of Love - Björk
The first time I ever heard this song was in high school, and it was the cover by Death Cab For Cutie - I almost always skipped it on the CD. When I heard the original years later, I remember feeling shivers. It ended up being a big inspiration for my poems about robots and desire because of its music video, which I am still haunted and hypnotized by to this day.
14. The Less I Know The Better - Tame Impala
I love how wistful and nostalgic this song is, even though I don’t actually relate to its lyrics at all. In a weird way, I hope that some of my more private poems give off this kind of energy - that even if you don’t fully know where I’m coming from, you’ll still feel enveloped by this kind of feeling.
15. Daydream - Youth Lagoon
I listened to this a lot while working as a server at a fish and chips restaurant, which is still one of my favourite jobs to date. If it weren’t for this job, I don’t think I would have written this book. It gave me the chance to listen to my favourite music all day, to leave work behind physically and mentally when it was done, and still have the energy to write when I got home - to daydream.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Sennah Yee is from Toronto, Ontario, where she writes poetry, short stories, and film criticism. Her first book, the creative nonfiction collection How Do I Look?, was published by Metatron Press in 2017. Her debut picture book, My Day with Gong Gong, was published by Annick Press in 2020.