The Music Connection: Reflecting on “Self: A Musical” by Joel Lee

I do not consider myself a person who is overly inspired by music. I freeze up whenever someone asks me if I have a favorite band. My iTunes is filled with old songs that I purchased in middle school (every album Taylor Swift has ever produced and some Green Day), and I do not listen to music when I write. Still, I find the connection between music, writing, and art to be a fascinating one, particularly when considering how greatly music can shape our lives. Personally, hearing the opening notes of a certain song can transport me to another place and time. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey brings me back to high school dances: loud music, dark rooms, groups of my friends, our throats raw from scream-singing along. In contrast, I cannot listen to the song “Nine in the Afternoon” by Panic! at the Disco anymore because it reminds me of a friendship that ended badly. When I listen to it, I always feel a tightening in my chest and an anxious flutter in my stomach.

I am not alone in these experiences. The connection between identity and music is addressed in a wonderfully engaging essay found in Artful Dodge 50/51, where Joel Lee tackles the linkage between music and self in his idiosyncratic memoir, “Self: A Musical.” Lee uses the frame of nine different albums to explain how he sees himself and how he has grown as a person. With the help of laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes achingly raw, personal anecdotes, Lee takes the reader on a journey through not only his taste in music, but his struggles with depression and his search for meaning in his own life.

“I demanded an answer for pretty much everything,” Lee writes, “and in this case the best anyone could tell me was that I had a chemical imbalance. I had no trauma to blame, no horrific youth, no terrible tragedy to lament. I merely had neurons that somehow didn’t go where they were supposed to land.” I was moved by this simple explanation of depression because I think that, like other invisible illnesses, depression is often stigmatized. We want clear, concrete reasons for why we are feeling a certain way, and sometimes, as Lee points out, there is simply no complex, tragic answer. However, Lee stresses that music provided something of a relief from the frustrations of his diagnosis. He explains that an album titled I Get Wet by Andrew W.K. “saved [his] life.” Music gave him a “sense of solidarity” in a time “where [he] was desperate to feel something, anything…when [he] felt absolutely no ability to connect with the world around [him].” In fact, Lee’s story not only inspired me to diversify my own iTunes library, but also prompted me to think more deeply about how I manage tumultuous emotions and how I interact with my friends and family who have depression. Lee’s essay is a testament to the power of music in our lives, celebrating its ability to shape our interactions with the world around us and its capacity to help us understand ourselves.

—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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A Kafkian Door

Hello to all Artful Dodge readers and enthusiasts! It’s my first year in service of this literary magazine, and I have spent much time getting to know the ropes of its many workings. This summer, I’ve spent most of my time sitting at a desk in Lilly House, perusing old issues of the Dodge and reviewing the brief literary reflections of my predecessors, which I will be posting every once in a while in the near future. Alone yet not alone, I work in a room lined with words that I understand more than I do people.

At first, even this room was out of my reach. Despite my efforts and those of the English department, I was unable to access the inner sanctum of Lilly House for a week. It was like an old fairy tale; I would come to the door every day only to be rejected by a little red light and an annoying BEEP BEEP BEEP. That meant yet another trip to campus access; either they thought I was a regular or they thought I was nuts. “It should work after graduation,” they said. “Try again tomorrow,” they said. So I tried again—BEEP—and again—BEEP—and again—BEEP—until I heard the lock beeping relentlessly even in my dreams.

Then, while reading Jeff Gundy’s essay about his trip to Prague in Artful Dodge 52/53, “Nobody’s City,” I ran into Gundy’s reflection of a Franz Kafka story, “Before the Law,” where a man waits at the entrance to a court all his life, being told that he’s not allowed in, and right before he dies, the gate “made only for [him]” is shut. On his visit to Prague, Gundy sympathized with this man as Gundy himself tried to make some kind of stronger contact with Kafka. Gundy was even locked out of the Kafka Museum, just as I was locked out of Lilly House. In a way, both of us were waiting to get into our own courts, wondering if we were going to be admitted or if the door would only “creak open as [we] walked away.”

I made it into this room, but many doors still stay closed, no matter how hard I knock. Every time I feel like I know all I need to know about working for the Dodge, a new puzzle arises. As for Gundy, he never made it into the museum, but he and his wife toured other parts of the city, taking in the history and beauty of the place. He was never able to break down all the doors surrounding Kafka either, though much of the trip he spent wondering what Kafka might have thought as he walked down the streets of Prague. These thoughts were closed to Gundy, but there are some doors we have no need of opening in order to see what’s beyond them. It is the simple desire for knowledge that is most important; the very puzzles we search to solve are the bread on which we live. I know very little about Kafka, but this story opened my mind just a crack. Reading presents many doors and opens others, which must be why I enjoy it so much.  When you pick up a book (or a literary magazine), who knows what rooms might await inside?

—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor

Interested in reading “Nobody’s City”?  Check it out here!


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Artful Dodge Editor Daniel Bourne Launches New Website

Our head editor, Daniel Bourne, has a new and improved website! The website features selections of his poetry, essays and translations. You will also find biographical information, news, and interviews with Daniel Bourne himself. A special page “Lost and Found Poetry” invites you to read poems by Daniel that might not be available otherwise because the work has never been collected in one of Daniel’s books or the original source ceased publication before the age of the internet when so much work became available online. To see all of this for yourself, click here.

–Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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New Skies Ahead: Announcing Our Next Reading Period

After a month that included a total solar eclipse and multiple meteor showers, what could be more exciting than the skies opening to reveal….

A new Artful Dodge reading period!

Yes, this September we are getting out our telescopes and searching the skies of Submittable for your art, stories, poems and essays. Foreign languages are fine as long as well translated. Our new reading period will run from September 1st through November 30th

During these months there will be an autumnal equinox—and an evolving celestial firmament. Let the shifting of skies and seasons light up your new writing!


–Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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College of Wooster Alumni and Artful Dodge Contributor To Present Their Poetry

I love poetry readings. They are a place to come together as a community of writers, readers, and book lovers to celebrate the power of language and story telling. In a few weeks, I hope you will join me to celebrate poetry and listen to two truly fantastic writers read their work. On July 19th 2017, from 7-8:30pm, Danny Caine and Philip Metres will be inspiring listeners with the power of their poems at Mac’s Backs-Books, an independent bookstore in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I am so excited for this event. I have had the absolute pleasure of working with both Danny and Philip, and can attest that not only are they passionate and driven poets, they are also incredibly kind people. They also have ties to the College of Wooster and Artful Dodge! Danny Caine graduated from the College of Wooster in 2008, where Artful Dodge editor-in-chief Daniel Bourne advised his Independent Study thesis. Philip Metres is a professor at John Carroll University and an accomplished poet who has been published in Artful Dodge several times.

If you are in the Cleveland area, I sincerely hope you will join me for what is sure to be a night of incredible poetry. For more information, check out the event on Facebook.


–Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor


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Artful Dodge Contributor Lynn Powell’s Award Winning Book To Be Published This Fall

Over the course of its 30 plus years of existence, Artful Dodge has been proud to feature a variety of writers, both emerging talents and seasoned professionals. One such writer is Lynn Powell, poet and creative writing professor at Oberlin College. Her latest book, Season of the Second Thought, won the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, and will be published by the University of Wisconsin Press this November. One of the poems featured in this upcoming collection found its first home with Artful Dodge many years ago! “October Edge” was first published in Artful Dodge 44/45.

October Edge

 Mapless and skidding again on a backroad prickly with teasels
and the skeletons of lace, you glimpse a non sequitur
of nirvana: a woman in wings on the sidewalk stoop
of The Church of the One True Freedom.
She glances up from an open book—

But you will not brake today for grace.
You round the reckless curve, past outbursts of orange with no faces
forced yet on them, past bins and barrels of crimson wholesale fruit,
and tombstones disheveled in the drizzle, staggering after
their long-lost ballast of grief—

the blurred signs vanishing like everything else
in the hindsight horizon, and the black tires committing
your incendiary heart farther, faster, out past the charred trunks of the
the miles of martyrs with feet held fast
to the banked flames of their own making.


I love how this poem, particularly the second stanza, captures the paradox of October. There are both “outbursts of orange” and “disheveled…drizzle.” I have often heard the expression that autumn is a time of change, and Powell has captured the in between-season anxiety of that transformation so well. That, paired with the image of a woman wearing wings and “the miles of martyrs,” makes this poem beautiful and engaging.


To read more about Lynn Powell’s latest book and how you can buy your very own copy this fall, click here.


On behalf of everyone here at Artful Dodge, Congratulations, Lynn!


–Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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A New Type of March Madness: Announcing Our Next Reading Period

Before the cruel mud of April, the Artful Dodge is falling down the rabbit hole–and hoping there’s plenty of great literature to land on. (Perhaps we’ll find ourselves delighted to land on yours especially). We will be accepting submissions from March 1st through the 31st.

So roll up your trousers! Hie thee to thy ravens and thy writing desks! We’re curiouser than ever to see what you bring to our Wonderland.

To paraphrase Grace Slick, “Feed our head.”




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