Season 3, Episode 13
Joyce Carol Oates + Katie Melua


Photo by Dustin Cohen

The final episode of SongWriter’s third season pairs legendary author Joyce Carol Oates with international pop star Katie Melua. Joyce reads her poem “Too Young to Marry, But Not Too Young to Die,” about the tragic drowning of a young couple. At a live performance in San Francisco organized by Poets and Writers magazine, Joyce describes different ways of interpreting the poem: as a dark romance, or as an ironic look at how teenage desire can seem absurd in hindsight.

“A lot of women in this audience are thinking, ‘No, we’re really glad we didn’t die with someone named Troy,’” Joyce says.

Katie Melua 2 - photo credit Rosie Matheson

Photo by Rosie Matheson

Katie Melua says that she is utterly obsessed with books, and has used the work of Fiona Sampson, Elizabeth Bishop, Ann Carson and T.S. Elliot as inspiration for her songs. Katie describes how her wild early success—her first record Call Off the Search sold 2 million copies in its first year of release—meant that it took her a while to fully explore the craft and discipline of songwriting. She found that the pressures of that level of success, and the demands of a hyperactive music industry, can affect a person’s judgment and wellbeing.

“I definitely learned that the hard way, when at 26 I suffered from a mental breakdown,” Katie says.

Now hard at work on her forthcoming ninth album (due in 2022), Katie says that she now understands success as related to the concept of sustainability.

“Am I living a life every day that is creative and as productive as I can be, and yet am I having moments to relax? Am I able to switch off?” Katie asks.

The song that Katie wrote in response to Joyce’s poem is called “Forever Sunlit.” The artistic key for Katie was a recollection of her own misbegotten teenage desires.

“I did want to have, like, the craziest romance, or the biggest heartbreak,” Katie says, “sometimes, in a way, just to have material to write songs!”

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