Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mahalo for a beautiful Olaha for the visiting artist

Leonard Kubo, Dawn at Kewalo

My first morning in Hilo, Hawaii, where I am a visiting artist in the Art Department at the University of Hawaii, I walked a few blocks into downtown from the quaint inn where I am staying. My host, Art Department chair Michael Marshall, encouraged me to see the Spring show up at the East Hawaii Cultural Center in downtown Hilo.

I thought it was a terrific show, and when I reported for duty at the Art Department later that day I had a list of artists from the show to run down with Michael and his faculty. We went down the list -- she's a student, he's a former student, we know her, he's a lecturer here -- and ended up with only one blank. No one knew who Leonard Kubo was.

I really liked his painting. It was simple, spare and representational, with images of everyday, workaday Hawaiians. The Hilo Art Department and Poetry Scores are embarking on a longterm collaboration translating the work of Hawaiian poet Wayne Kaumualii Westlake into other media. We will work on Westlake's 1972-3 poetic sequence Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki, which deals with the poet's year working as a janitor on Honolulu's tourist strip. Moving into a major multi-media treatment of perhaps the world's greatest contribution to the literature of janitors, set in Hawaii, we are going to need some artists with a respect for the subject of workaday Hawaiians.

The Art Department at Hilo is currently housed down the hill from the main campus, where the department is administrated. When we went up the hill to the main campus and Michael checked his mailbox, there was quite a surprise. Hawaii is famously the land of Olaha, the home of the warmest welcome in the world, and here was a beautiful Olaha for the visiting artist.


Chris King
University of Hawaii - Hilo
Art Department

I saw in today's Hawaii Tribune Herald that you will be working on a project featuring a poem by Wayne Westlake.

Leonard & I knew Wayne from UH-Manoa poetry class days, and want to say thank you for paying tribute to him. He was a wonderful person, a gentleman and a poet. You hear of people saying about someone, "Everyone loved him" and wonder how that can be true, but Wayne really was a kind and decent and loving person, and very devoted to poetry.

I don't know how you chose Wayne's poem, but I hope when your project is done you will advertise it so we can be sure to see the finished project.


The letter was signed "Mari Kubo". The "Leonard" she referenced in the letter was Leonard Kubo! When I called them at the number on the letter, this was indeed the Leonard Kubo I had been looking for. Aloha!

I invited them to my public presentation on campus for Thursday, April 19. Leonard said maybe Mari could attend, but he had a gig. A gig? Yes, a gig -- he plays guitar. I rushed to explain the Poetry Scores model of translating poetry into music, visual art, movies and whatever media will have us, typically starting with music, because the people who founded Poetry Scores happen to be musicians.

Will you send us some of your music? I asked Leonard. In addition to being in our Wayne Westlake Art Invitational? Yes, he will send us some of his music, in addition to being in our Wayne Westlake Art Invitational.

Once you get to Hawaii, you learn a word in addition to Aloha, which we all learn on the mainland. Here, you also learn Mahalo: thank you.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Charity" has two streets to make it into an Art Invitational

This piece is "Charity" by Leslie Samson-Tabakin. I saw it this morning at a group show at the East Hawaii Cultural Center in Hilo, where I am a visiting artist this week. I was invited by the Art Department at the University of Hawaii - Hilo to teach the creative model of Poetry Scores, which translates poetry into other media, and to research a future project with the work of Hawaiian poet Wayne Kaumualii Westlake.

I went to the art show this morning scouting for visual artists who can help us translate Westlake's poetry into visual art. This piece of art leaped out at me in particular. We will be scoring Westlake's poetic sequence Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki, which is, among other things, an anti-tourist howl of native rage. This piece says all that to me.

"Charity" might have a more immediate Poetry Scores application. Coming up next month we have an Art Invitational to Wole Soyinka's poem Ever-Ready Bank Accounts, which has the line "Charity may be a one-way street." In a Poetry Scores Art Invitational, the piece must be titled after a verbatim quote from the poem being scored, so "Charity" could go right into that show without even changing the title.

I should have a chance to discuss these projects with the artist tomorrow, since my host Michael Marshall is driving me up to the volcano and we had plans to eat at the cafe where Leslie happens to work. It's been going just like that for us on this journey, as you'll see if you keep reading ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No, make the Marines zombies

Yesterday I flew to Hilo for an artist residency at the University of Hawaii dedicated to Poetry Scores. The flight from Dallas, where I connected, was eight and a half hours, so I was pleased to have an aisle seat. A man squeezed into the middle seat next to me, and his wife squeezed into the middle seat behind him.

"If only she was sitting there, I'd let you guys trade seats," I said, pointing to the young man in the aisle seat behind me. This comment alerted the young man to the situation, and he shot right up and took the middle seat next to me so the two spouses could sit together.

"He's nicer than I am," I said.

As I sat back down, the young man muttered something very surprising for someone who was headed to Hawaii. "I hate going back there so much nothing could make it worse," he said.

I got him talking. He was a 20-year-old U.S. Marine from Alabama returning to base in Hawaii from a rare visit home. His heart was in Alabama, on a family farm and with a high school sweetheart, his best friend for seven years and his future wife, if he lives that long. He's deaf in one ear from improvised explosive devices going off near him in Afghanistan and bound to Japan for a possible theater of conflict in South Korea later this year.

Hawaii is home until then. I wondered why the natural beauty wasn't enough to tide him over.

"Alabama is beautiful enough," he said.

When I said I'd heard Afghanistan was beautiful too, he whipped open his laptop and showed me what seemed to be very ordinary fields, pointing out which crops the Afghani peasants had planted. His unit's job was to keep one bridge and its artery road cleared of explosives. They built an improvised military post near the bridge. They only had enough tents to protect the sensitive equipment, so the men slept in the open air.

This guy had been sleeping in full combat gear on the ground in Afghanistan. I could see why taking the middle seat on an airplane was not a meaningful sacrifice to him.

I felt compelled to wake this young man up to the value of living in Hawaii, but it was a dead end. The Marine base occupied the most beautiful beaches, he said, but he was alone on the beach or with other Marines who felt alone. When he went off-base, he met resistance from people whose best beaches were occupied by what amounts to a foreign military. Hawaii, he said, was the one place he'd been spit upon for being a U.S. Marine.

"I read up on the history, trying to understand," this young man said. "The Marine base is built up on some of their most sacred sites. Now no one can get to them except the military." His reading for the flight was a book about the meaning of heaven. He understood how people could resent the military occupation of their sacred sites. "I hardly leave the base anymore," he said. "I like Afghanistan better than Hawaii. There at least I got to do my job every day."

I told him why I was flying to Hawaii. The community-based arts organization I co-founded plans to do a major project with a native Hawaiian poet, Wayne Kaumualii Westlake. After putting his long poem about being a janitor on Waikiki Beach to music, we will shoot a silent movie to that music -- a silent zombie movie.

"The tourists will be the zombies," I said. "The real people will be the janitor and his native Hawaiian friends. But you make me want to make the Marines real people too."

"No," he said. "Make them zombies. Most Marines are not like me."

Then he put his face flat on the foldout tray and slept all the way to Hawaii.

After we had arrived in Honolulu and I'd wished him and his girl well, he had one last thing to say to me: "Make the Marines zombies." Then he stumbled off toward the military base.


Image from The Mary Sue.

Friday, April 13, 2012

History of Poetry Scores for University of Hawaii-Hilo artist residency

I will be the guest of the Art Department at the University of Hawaii - Hilo for National Poetry Month 2012. Michael Marshall, department chair, asked me to prepare a 15-minute history of Poetry Scores as a preface to a screening of our movie, Blind Cat Black. This is what I will say. -- By Chris King, creative director, Poetry Scores

I’m really grateful to Michael Marshall, the Art Department here at Hilo and the other campus sponsors for my visit. Though they’re not here to share this with us, I’d also like to thank the great many artists working in various media who have contributed to Poetry Scores over the years. I’m a co-founder and creative director of Poetry Scores, an artist collective based in St. Louis that has regular, active collaborators in Los Angeles, Nashville, Chicago, New York, Salt Lake City, Denver, Athens (Georgia), Birmingham (Alabama) and Istanbul. And because of the way Michael Marshall has planned my visit to the islands, by the end of my stay I expect we’ll also have some active collaborators here in Hilo and Honolulu.

Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media. We’re a non-profit arts organization that started out (all the way back in 1989) as a rock & roll band, so it’s not surprising that our first medium was music. First, we were Enormous Richard (as in “Little Richard, only bigger”), an “alternative country” band before that phrase was invented to describe bands like us. Half of Enormous Richard were graduate students in English at Washington University in St. Louis, and without really knowing what we were doing we set to music scraps of poetry by the English mystic William Blake and scraps of prose by the British writer George Orwell. That band traveled the country for years and briefly shared a New Jersey record label with the Jewish outlaw country artist Kinky Friedman and the mass murderer folksinger Charles Manson.

Enormous Richard jamming on the road in the van, ca. 1992.

Enormous Richard evolved into the band Eleanor Roosevelt, where what would become Poetry Scores really started to take shape. We owe a lot to a guy named David Greenberger, who got a job at a nursing home in Massachusetts straight out of art school. He began to publish a zine, Duplex Planet, based on the amazing things these old people said to him. One Duplex House resident, Ernest Noyes Brookings, began to write a poem a day based on a topic that David would give him.

David Greenberger and Ernest Noyes Brookings

David had been in rock bands in New York City and knew people in the business, so he began commissioning bands to write songs treating Ernie’s poems as lyric sheets. I went home from a band gig on Cape Cod with a woman who played me one of these records, which fascinated me. I sent David some of our music, and in 1994 we ended up on Lyrics by Ernest Noyes Brookings: Volume 4.

Eleanor Roosevelt continued to experiment with what our guitarist called “literary sampling.” We set to music words from just about everywhere – the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, a Winnebago Indian autobiography, West African proverbs, a Jewish children’s song to summon rain. We had the most success with a song setting we did of a fragment of Meriwether Lewis’ frontier journal, where he is falling off the face of a cliff and barely saves his neck with the assistance of a pike-like instrument called an espoontoon. The song we wrote with Meriwether Lewis, “Espoontoon,” appeared in both an indie film (Omaha: The Movie) and on the second volume of “Insurgent Country” music released by the seminal Chicago label, Bloodshot Records, both in 1995.

Eleanor Roosevelt began to fade. We didn’t get famous, but we never got tired of traveling around the country together, meeting people and making music. We had accumulated our own recording equipment, so we decided to stay on the road and record other people – to go around asking people if we could pay attention to them, rather than asking them to pay attention to us. I earn a living as a journalist, and at that time I was a book critic for The Nation magazine in New York, so I knew publishers. We went and stayed at Curbstone Press in Willimantic, Connecticut, publishers of revolutionary Latin American and Vietnamese literature in translation, and we recorded some poets they organized for us. We were really struck by Leo Connellan, a poet from Maine who had this lobsterman twang and was at that time poet laureate of Connecticut.

Leo Connellan as a young poet in New York

Over two visits, we recorded Leo reading his entire 1976 hitchhiking epic, Crossing America. When we timed his reading, it was 38 minutes – exactly half the length of a fully crammed CD. Being musicians, we decided to write and commission 38 minutes of music that responds to Leo’s poem and is interwoven with the poet’s reading. And thus, the poetry score was born. We released Crossing America in 2003, and it was profiled on BBC Radio 3, which helped give us the courage to keep doing what we were doing.

It so happened that the first two poets we set to music – Leo Connellan and Ece Ayhan of Istanbul –

Ece Ayhan

died while we were making their records. You know, it’s pretty hard to stage a record release party for a dead poet. By the time we had become a fully-fledged not-for-profit arts organization with a Board of Directors (in 2005), our most active board members were visual artists. Together – and everything we do is completely collaborative – we hit upon the idea of releasing our records at art shows that also relate to the poem we’d set to music. After one solo photography show that responded to Crossing America, we evolved the concept of the Poetry Scores Art Invitational.

Here’s how it works. We ask about 50 visual artists to respond to the same poem that we’ve set to music. We require that they title their work using a direct quote from the poem. Then, we hang the work in the gallery according to where in the flow of the poem the language used for the title of the art appears. So, if the quote is early in the poem, the artwork appears early in the show. And in this way, in a sense, the poem curates the art exhibit. We also have 50 visual artists inhabiting the same poem with us for a certain period of time, which is very cool. Poetry Scores Art Invitationals – and we are about to produce our seventh of these things – are silent auctions where we raise the money to fund our projects.
"Freud's conbwebbed poem" by Dana Smith
"Freud's conbwebbed poem" by Kim Keek Richardson
From music and visual art, we moved onto movies. This was a logical progression. We had been making things we called poetry scores – long poems set to music as one would score a film – and the core of our group were fanatics for silent movies. So, we hit upon the idea of scripting, shooting and editing silent movies to our poetry scores. So far, we have finished one movie, Blind Cat Black, a silent movie edited to our musical setting of a Turkish poem by the late Ece Ayhan, translated into English by Murat Nemet-Nejat.
Still from Blind Cat Black
We have finished shooting and are just beginning to edit our second movie, Go South for Animal Index, based on a poem about the psychic fallout of the nuclear Bomb by Salt Lake City poet Stefene Russell.

Dan Cross shooting Go South for Animal Index on location in Cuba, Mo.

So, the basic Poetry Scores model has evolved into this: We pick a long poem that moves us, set it to music, release the poetry score on CD at an Art Invitational where 50 visual artists make work to the same poem, and then we go back eventually and make a silent movie to the poetry score. But, we’re an all-volunteer community-based group, and we desperately want to appeal to people who are not necessarily artists or poetry mavens. So, we have tried a lot of other things, and we’re open to just about anything.

For example, hats. One of the visual artists we work with, Robert Van Dillen, makes his own hats, so he has been translating poetry into hats for us. Since these hats went into Poetry Scores Art Invitationals, according to our rules each hat was titled after a direct quote from the poem we had scored. He made a hat called “Madness puts on a porkpie hat” to Blind Cat Black; he made a hat called “Trussed up with astral flowers” for Go South for Animal Index; and he made a very vertical hat that incorporates a very tall feather called “At apogee” to The Sydney Highrise Variations, a poem by Les Murray of Australia, one of the world’s most celebrated poets.

"At apogee" by Robert Van Dillen
Our art shows have evolved into art parties that tend to draw about 350 people, and we have to feed them. So, we started making food based on the poem we had scored. This was pretty easy last year, when we scored Incantata by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, because Incantata mentions all sorts of edible plants and stuff like chicken chow mein. We’re a bit more challenged this year. We’re scoring Ever-Ready Bank Accounts by Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate in Literature from Nigeria,
Wole Soyinka
where Soyinka writes about starving children reduced to eating things like flies, beetles and slugs just to stay alive. To make a point, and at the risk of making light of a terrible human tragedy, we’re probably going to let our guests go hungry and serve things like Gummy Worms and Tootsies Rolls on sticks, which will be a translation into candy of Wole Soyinka’s line of poetry “a kebab of houseflies.”

Detail from "Kebab of houseflies" by Leyla Fern King

As I’ve said, we very much want to reach everyday people. Everybody who has a dog or a car has to wash their dog or their car, so we translated poetry into a dog and car wash. In 2010 we scored Jack Ruby’s America by David Clewell, who was named Missouri Poet Laureate after we started our project with him. Many of you will remember that Jack Ruby was the Dallas nightclub owner who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the man arrested and charged with killing President Kennedy.

"Business is business" by Michael Hoffman
You may not know that Ruby’s defense that his murder was not premeditated hinged upon the fact that he had left Sheba, his beloved daschund, behind in his 1960 Oldsmobile when he went into the basement of the Dallas police station and killed Oswald. Clewell dwells on this incident in his poem, listing an inventory of everything in the Oldsmobile (including the dog), so we translated Clewell’s poem into a dog and car wash – and raised a few bucks for our projects.

Jack Ruby’s nightclubs in Dallas were burlesque clubs that featured softcore strippers.

"And it's getting all mixed up" by Michael Paradise
St. Louis, where we are based, happens to have one of the world’s greatest live burlesque scenes. So we partnered with our most beloved local burlesque performer, who is also a national burlesque star, Lola Van Ella, and we translated Clewell’s poem into a live burlesque show.

Lola Van Ella and David Clewell; photo montage by Mike DeFillipo

Taking that one step further, we commissioned an original costume for Lola to do this show, translating poetry into sexy clothes. We then auctioned off this piece of poetry costume – titled, from Clewell’s poem, “And you dance. With class.” – at the 2010 Art Invitational.

Becky Simmons arranging her collaboration with Lola Van Ella, “And you dance. With class.”

Lola is a beautiful woman with a rabid fan base, so we took the costume from her after the burlesque show, made a point of not laundering it and of announcing at the art auction that the costume had not been laundered since Lola Van Ella wore it and took it off. I know the buyer, a huge Lola fan, and she treasures her purchase like the relic of a saint.

Little G with her purchase from Jack Ruby's America Art Invitational

Okay, I’m going to stop at that point and briefly introduce the movie we’re going to show you this evening, which is a silent movie based on a Turkish poem about a transgendered streetwalker.

Toyy Davis as The Absent Minded Tightrope Walker in Blind Cat Black; photo by Wiley Price

This is Blind Cat Black, produced by Poetry Scores and directed by me. We didn’t provide a writer credit for the movie, because we didn’t want to distract from the writer of the poem, Ece Ayhan, or his translator, Murat Nemet-Nejat. I came up with the storyline, trying to bring to life some themes in the poem, without being too literal. We can talk about that after the movie, if anyone wants to talk about it.

I will say in advance the movie has had very mixed reactions. It premiered at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase in 2007, where it was not particularly well received. Somehow, the underground arts scene in Istanbul, Turkey – where the poem is based – got wind of the movie, and after asking me if they could screen it for a couple of years in a row, I finally got over the initial hometown rejection and sent them a DVD.

Poster for first Istanbul screening of Blind Cat Black

In 2010, Blind Cat Black was shown both in Istanbul and in the poet’s hometown of Connakle, where the screening was incorporated into a midnight visit to the poet’s grave. In perhaps our biggest and best exposure to date, Blind Cat Black screened last year at Contemporary Istanbul 2011, the largest contemporary art event in Western Asia.

I’m very proud tonight to add to the list of places where our movie has been seen: The University of Hawaii – Hilo.

So, let’s take a look at Blind Cat Black. With the closing credits, it runs almost exactly one hour, so we’ll have plenty of time after the show to talk about the movie or Poetry Scores in general or the poetry score project we hope to do here in Hawaii – with Hawaiian poet Wayne Westlake’s poetic sequence Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Kafka and the escaped snake

I had been reading Kafka in the Poetry Scores prop shop, and it was time to go. So I crossed the former horse stall to throw open the mini-barn door, and there was Nan standing in the alley. Nan is a friend of ours who is best friends with our prop shop landlady, who is also a friend of ours.

Nan walked over. She was poking in front of her what seemed to be an improvised cane. It looked like she had something to say to me.

I assumed she wanted to get from me a record I had painted that she wanted for a nephew. So I got the piece down from the wall of the prop shop and handed it over.

Nan seemed happy to take it, but I could tell it had nothing to do with whatever she wanted to say -- it seemed, urgently -- to me.

"What are we going to do about this snake?" Nan asked.


"Oh, you didn't know."

I didn't know!

"I thought Toni would have told you," Nan said. "She lost her snake."

Toni lost her snake? What snake?

"The neighbor found it in his garage and didn't know it was Toni's," Nan said, "and run it off."

A snake in the neighbor's garage? The garage next to the former horse barn where I'd just been relaxing for the past hour?

Now I understood the improvised cane in Nan's hand to be in fact an improvised snake poker stick. Nan had been poking for a snake outside the prop shop where I had been so peacefully reading Kafka!

Nan said what they always say. You know, she said the snake is harmless. She said it wasn't a very big snake. Apparently she thought six feet long wasn't very big for a snake.

Nan went off down the alley with her snake poker stick. I could see she had opened the horse stall next to the one we rent, which we also keep padlocked.

That was funny. I had just given the key that fits the padlock on both stalls to Toni, our landlady. We'd just did a hand-off in the street. I was standing in the street when Toni drove up and started parking on it. I thought our exchange was awkward because I was standing in the middle of the street and cars were coming toward me. Actually it was awkward because Toni didn't know how to break it to me that the llittle nook where I retire to read, play records and dream up possibilities was quite possibly snake-infested.

I told the story to friends that day. I put it to them square. "Do you ever believe them when they tell you a snake is harmless? Do you ever look at a snake, any snake, and really believe it is harmless?" All agreed, no.

Two competing possibilities occurred to me. I could wait for the snake to be found, dead or alive. Or I could decide that I could live with the possibility that a snake was going to slither out from under something while I was most at peace, and go back.

It was impossible to believe the snake was returning on its own or being brought in alive, and I figured if it got ran over that would happen blocks away and we'd never know. So I was either avoiding my peaceful nook indefinitely, or going right back in.

I went right back in the next day. I was greeted by a lost snake poster on the mini-barn door. It was somehow comforting to see the sign, as if there was no way the snake would hide out so close to a sign advertising for its capture. I went in.

No snake slithered out of sight.

The poster was good for another reason. Now I knew what the snake looked like, and it was bright and striped. This was not the sort of snake you could mistake for a stick on the ground, unless there are orange sticks with bright blue stripes on the ground.

I put on a record -- English Settlement, XTC, side 4 -- and sat down to read Kafka, making each and every motion (pick up record, take record out of jacket, take record out of sleave, lift lid on turntable, drop record onto turntable, drop needle onto record, turn to desk, pull out chair, sit in chair, pick up Kafka, read Kafka) fully prepared for that motion to disturb a six foot orange snake with bright blue stripes.

No snake.

That is, of course, after I looked at every inch of mini-barn space above my head to make sure a snake was not hanging from something, read to drop on me.

No snake.

Turn page of Kafka, no snake, open bottom desk drawer for footrest, no snake, prop up foot on bottom desk drawer, no snake, turn page of Kafka.

No snake.

That's kind of where we are now. Snake? Do something. No snake. Snake? Do something else. No snake.

I know, it's not perfect. But it's so much better than ...

No snake. Do something. SNAKE!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wole Soyinka poem curates Ron Buechele painting

"Clutching loud at plenty" by Ron Buechele, for "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts" 

The Art Invitational we are doing on May 18 at Mad Art is a little different for us. Since 2006 Poetry Scores has done one annual Art Invitational on the second Friday in November, and we plan to do that again this year. But the poems we want to score have started to pile up, so we decided to try having a spring and a fall invitational in 2012. For the spring we picked "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts" by Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Laurate in Literature, since banks have been so much on people's minds.

We knew we would have to bring in a fair number of new artists, because not everyone who just did a November 2011 show is going to sign up again for May 2012 (even though, of course, we are scoring a totally different poem). And we have done so, bringing in a great list of first-time (for us) artists: Bradley Bowers, Jeff Brawn, Hunter Brumfield III, Charles and Chalot Douglas-Book, Dr. Andrew Dykeman, JoJo Houle, Gina Montgomery, Robert Powell, John Pruitt, Pamela Speh, Mark Stephens, Mark Swain, Jeffrey Swanson, Timothy E. Wagner and Jess Witte.

But the beauty of the new baby does not tarnish the beauty of the old, and our go-to artists are not only some of the best working artists in St. Louis, they are our friends. So I went back to them with a little special pleading.

I pointed out that we do not require new work for an Art Invitational -- never have. I personally like it just as much when an artist takes the poem and goes through their inventory, in essence allowing a poem to curate their art and pick out just the right piece. In other words, the poem need not speak to the artist; it is also cool when the art speaks to the poem.

I told all of this to some of our "house" artists who had neither confirmed nor rejected the offer for the May 18 show. To make it even easier for them, I did something I very seldom do: I offered an interpretation of the poem, "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts," to help them choose a piece of art. I told them it was a poem about hunger, greed and self mockery.

Ron Buechele, for one, responded. He said he had a piece about gluttony and a piece about greed; come take your pick. So, I went over to his studio (at Mad Art, in a former police station) and allowed the poem to make its pick.

I know these pieces. Ron made them for his Seven Deadly Sins show, which I got to see. I couldn't believe he was donating one of these large and amazing paintings to our benefit show, or I wouldn't have been able to believe it if this were not St. Louis and he were not Ron Buechele.

I took another good look at the two pieces. I love them both. The poem liked Greed more. The poem is drenched in the color red, and this painting has a number of red accents, most vividly a red Jesus with a green dollar sign glowing inside him where a heart is supposed to be. As I kept reading Soyinka's poem and looking at Ron's piece, they started to have a good conversation.

Early in the poem, Soyinka provides an incisive image for greed: "Clutching loud at plenty". I looked at Ron's painting. It is a constellation of images fanned around a sexy vixen. Bottom left is a hand clutching money. Typical for Ron's work, this is a loud painting. Other than Jesus and the one mouth that is gagged, every mouth in the painting is hanging open, as if making a sound, a loud sound. The gestures, like Mighty Mouse's flying fist pump, are all loud. And there are plenty of these loudmouths and clutching figures depicted. This painting is nothing if not "Clutching loud at plenty".

Ron agreed. We had a match. A poem that Wole Soyinka wrote during solitary confinement in a Nigerian prison had just curated a painting Ron Buechele made in a former police station in St. Louis.


"Clutching loud at plenty" and some fifty other works of art will be on display and auction 7-10 p.m. Friday, May 18 at Mad Art, 2727 S. 12th St. in St. Louis. Proceeds will be split between artist, gallery and Poetry Scores. Our share will fund a release of a poetry score to "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts" by bicycle day of Istanbul.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Poetry Scores to host Art Invitational to poem by Nigerian Nobel laureate

"Across that broken road a fire that heals"
by Robin Street-Morris,
for "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts"

Poetry Scores will host an Art Invitational based on the poem "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts" by Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate in Literature from Nigeria, 7-10 p.m. Friday, May 18 at Mad Art Gallery, 2727 So. 12th. St. in St. Louis.

In a Poetry Scores Art Invitational, some 50 visual artists make art in response to the same poem, and title their work using a direct quote from the poem. The work is then hung in the gallery according to where in the flow of the poem the language used for the title appears.

"It’s a very special celebration of creative collaboration,” Wole Soyinka told The Alton Telegraph in a feature story about the project.

A complete list of artists confirmed for the show follows at the end of this post. It includes many of St. Louis' most beloved working artists, many of whom have national and international credits. For 2012, Poetry Scores has the benefit of Andrew Torch from the international Surrealist movement as guest co-curator.

All art will be available for sale in a silent auction. Bidding wars will be wrapped up throughout the night, starting at 8 p.m. with cash, credit and "Square" sales accepted. All art will come down off the walls and go home with buyers that night.

Poetry Scores also partners with SCOSaG to include child artists in its shows. A group of twelve children made drawings to "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts" with co-curator Chris King, creative director of Poetry Scores. Each of these child artists will have a piece in the "big people's show" on May 18, with the rest of their drawings on display in a separate space in the gallery.

Poetry Scores is a St. Louis-based arts organization that translates poetry into other media, including music, food, visual art, and digital cinema. Its Art Invitationals are fundraisers that allow the organization to produce and release its projects (primarily, poetry translated into music and digital cinema). However, Poetry Scores splits proceeds from all sales evenly with the artist and the gallery.

Poetry Scores' proceeds from the May 18 event will be used to fund a release of the poetry score to "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts" it is producing. The three-man Istanbul-based orchestra bicycle day is scoring Wole Soyinka's poem on commission. The intention is to produce a CD of the score in the St. Louis and a vinyl LP in Istanbul.

When interviewed by The Alton Telegraph, bicycle day gave its understanding of Soyinka's poem. “Wole Soyinka wrote this poem during solitary confinement in a prison in Nigeria, where poverty is so visible,” said Onur Karagoz of bicycle day. “To us, the poem says, ‘Embrace mankind. Embrace mankind. Embrace mankind.’”

Artists confirmed for the May 18 Art Invitational:

Gina Alvarez
Jay Babcock
Jenna Bauer
Kevin Belford
Bradley Bowers
Jeff Brawn
Hunter Brumfield III
Ron Buechele
Jon Cournoyer
Charles and Chalot Douglas-Book
Dr. Andrew Dykeman
Greg Edmondson
Thom Fletcher
Robert Goetz
Martha Rose Green
JoJo Houle
Chris King
Dawn Majors
Julie Malone
Tim McAvin
Claire Medol Hyman
Tim Meehan
Gina Montgomery
Carmelita Nunez
Hap Phillips
Robert Powell
John Pruitt
Tony Renner
Stefene Russell
Lyndsey Scott
Dana Smith
Pamela Speh
Robin Street-Morris
Jeffrey Sass
Janiece Senn
Daniel Shown
Mark Stephens
Mark Swain
Jeffrey Swanson
Andrew Torch
Amy VanDonsel
Timothy E. Wagner
Jess Witte

Admission to the event is free. All art on sale in a silent auction. Poetry Scores also will have for sale its many past projects. Mad Art will run a cash bar.

Questions? Contact Chris King at


Text of "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts"

Alton Telegraph feature on this collaboration

Twelve child artists respond to "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts"

SCOSaG children draw beetles, roaches, flies and slugs as food