When The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas came out, I was already a devoted and convinced fan, but it was that album’s opening track, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton” in combination with some of the poetry I was reading at the time, that seemed to somehow raise the stakes for me. I was living in Akron, Ohio, some poetry school behind me, teaching reading at an elementary school, and feeling separated from anyone else who wanted to devote their lives to making poetry. I know I’m not alone in adopting this particular song as a rallying cry for not being afraid, but that is what it became. It gave me permission for unashamed pursuit, and a sense of urgency and belonging. It was right around this exact time that I started Octopus Magazine and wrote the first few poems of what would become The Man Suit.
A few years later when I had returned to school for poetry, and was living in Lincoln, NE, I met Mathias Svalina. In his basement apartment, tacked up onto the wood paneling across from the bathroom in his hallway, were these exact words from that song: When you punish a person/for dreaming his dream/don’t expect him to thank/or forgive you. It was through this song, and this exact bar in that song, that I knew we were both capable, if we stuck together, of being undeterred. Together, the two of us started Octopus Books in those months.
So last night, biking along the east bank esplanade in Portland to the IPRC for a Futuretense Books reading, when I again saw these exact words as grafitti on the wall beneath the Morrison Bridge, I felt reminded of this urgency, this absolute necessity, another 5 years later, as if I was somehow supposed to see it in this brief window of time before it gets painted over. Other people were biking and jogging past it and not even turning their heads to look. In this song I feel dedicated, undeterred, and not alone. Thank you for this song, John Darnielle, for putting your hand on the back of my neck every time it plays, and every time I see it written on some wall. To another five years. Hail Satan.