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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at and a music writer for and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk of course.

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Posted: October 10, 2017

A poet’s love of music shines through in ‘Liner Notes’ collection

Written by: Aimsel Ponti
Front cover of "Liner Notes" Image courtesy of North Country Press

Front cover of “Liner Notes”
Image courtesy of North Country Press

When I read the prelude of Gary Rainford’s new poetry book, “Liner Notes,” I knew I was going to connect with it because he speaks of pretending to be a member of the Bay City Rollers when he was 7 years old, singing “Saturday Night.”

This brought me to my own childhood memory of doing my best Joan Jett, standing on my desk at home singing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Actually, come to think of it, I was probably lip-syncing. But more to the point, this guy lives and breathes music, and therefore he’s a friend of mine, even though we haven’t met yet.

Gary Rainford at a book reading in Topsham Photo courtesy of the author

Gary Rainford at a book reading in Topsham
Photo courtesy of the author

Rainford, 48, lives year-round with his family on Swan’s Island, off the coast of Maine near Mount Desert Island, where he serves as the code enforcement officer and plumbing inspector, when he’s not writing poetry, teaching English online or running his creative writing literacy incubator, Island Verse Story Lab. “Liner Notes” is his second poetry collection, preceded by “Salty Liquor,” and is his tribute to songs, musicians, poetic form and his love of singing in the shower and playing air guitar.

I read it in one sitting a couple of days ago and enjoyed it immensely because not only does he have a distinct way with words, he paid homage to many artists I’m a fan of, including Nina Simone, Bjork, Tom Waits, Natalie Merchant, Fiona Apple, Richard Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Debbie Harry and even Frank Sinatra.

I reached out to Rainford via email because it seemed only fitting to have a written-word exchange. Before I share that conversation, here are a few of my favorite lines from some of the poems in “Liner Notes.” From “Human Behaviour” he writes, “Twenty-two hours of day/light in the summer and tireless night/of winter Bjork erupts.”

From “Blue Skies,” about Ella Fitzgerald: “She tells her son/a soft smile on her face/fish jumpin’, the cotton high, and where the livin’ is easy.” From “Tiger Lily,” about Natalie Merchant: “Into the microphone/Fierce barefoot tremors/land of delicate dreams.” From “Pure Imagination,” about Fiona Apple: “Seeking nectar Fiona Apple/Slim shoulders, hollow bones, ruby throated feeds at a flower.” And from “Fox Hunting,” about the woman who once played a concert at my very own high school, the aforementioned Joan Jett: “Blue eyeliner, Gibson Melody Maker guitar slung low/Hips grinding/Sweaty tattoos.”


What inspired the poems — live performances or ones you saw elsewhere?

The Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson pieces are based on live performances. Elvis was at the university at Orono, and Thompson raised the roof in Portland, probably more than a few years back now. The context for the other poems is mostly from YouTube performances or (NPR) Tiny Desk Concerts. The Mark Sandman piece was based on the movie “Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story.” That the performances were live was important. I wanted to capture real moments, artists at work making art.

Can you talk about the writing process for this collection and when it happened?

I never wrote so effortlessly or joyously — even the poems that brought me to tears. I wrote “Heartbreak Hotel,” the Elvis Presley poem, as a response to a video a Facebook friend posted on my feed. That was fall 2015. That experience was so powerful that it inspired a few others. By the time I had six or eight poems, a concept was beginning to develop. By Thanksgiving that year, I wrote the PJ Harvey poem, “Fox Hunting,” and the manuscript wrote itself from there, each new piece folding into the other. All 64 poems were finished by June 2016. That summer I spent editing and shaping the poems that still needed work. North Country Press had the manuscript two days after Thanksgiving 2016.

If you could go back in time and see any artist who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?

Lemmy Kilmister or Vic Chesnutt. Although these two artists couldn’t be more different, they both embody a certain purity or authenticity as musicians. Lemmy’s warty voice and Chesnutt’s edgy, honest lyrics touch my soul in ways that bring me a weightless pleasure like no other. It’s as though their pain, which is greater than mine, gives me a bit of relief. And hope. It would be a gift to experience these artists live.

How do you consume music these days?

I consume music online. I listen to Pandora at home. In my truck, I listen to Sirius XM. I also use YouTube for music. I purchased/downloaded the new Roger Waters album, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” this summer. I probably haven’t bought a vinyl record since high school 30-plus years ago. CDs? Probably haven’t bought one in a decade.

Are you able to hang onto some of the magic you felt as a kid about music as an adult, and if so, how?

The magic of music as a kid was my gateway into poetry. As a poet, words – the sounds and rhythms – are as important to me as their meanings. Now, as an adult, poetry keeps music alive in me. I listen to music and hear the poetry. Anne Lamott in her book “Halleluiah Anyway” says, “Singing is breath that is larger than yourself, so it joins you with space, with community, with other realms and our deepest inside places.” Poetry teaches me that this life is not about me, that it’s about others. This in-centering of myself keeps me tuned to new music. Plus, as a family, my wife, daughter and I love watching “The Voice.” Hearing and watching these singers keeps music fresh and alive for me.

“Liner Notes” can be purchased at the North Country Press website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble online and Sherman’s bookstores. Or swing by your favorite local bookstore and ask them to order it for you.


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