When I was in my late teens and early twenties, trying to discover who I was as a writer, most of my texts were riddles of surreal images and stream of consciousness semi-poetics. They were untamed. Though at times, I wrote passages that I thought were exceptional, I struggled with honing in the lyrical content within a context. In 1998 Neutral Milk Hotel released one my ten favorite albums of all time, In the Aeroplane over the Sea. This is one of those works of art that both inspires me, yet haunts me with its genius. However, there is one verse on it that really helped me focus in on the creative dilemma I described above.
The only girl I've ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening, 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone
Now she's a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames
-from the song Holland, 1945
There's an undeniable beauty to the words that on the surface seem to make no sense, especially the "now she's a little boy in Spain", but that is what so attracted me to the lines in the first place. I think it was about the second or third listen when I realized this verse was talking about Anne Frank (one of my earliest literary influences). Like any great piece of poetry, the puzzle takes time to unravel, but once it does, once it's clear in your mind, the imagery and meaning of these lines is overwhelming. They stop me every time I hear them.
Through these lines, I learned that stringing together odd and beautiful images only reached their full potential when they were used for a deeper meaning that was beyond the showing off of creative language. It took me a long time to learn how to use this knowledge, but I think it's fair to say that now my books are filled with examples of what I learned thanks to two influential figures in my literary life, Jeff Mangum and Anne Frank.