Clayton Eshleman: From an Interview by Irakli Qolbaia, the first & last questions - [What follows are two sections from a longer interview conducted by the Georgian poet and translator Irakli Qolbaia, in which Eshleman takes on two key ...
Saturday, June 12, 2010
My windy introduction of Clewell for our Missouri History Museum program
At 7 p.m. Thursday, June 17, Poetry Scores will kick off its (half) Year of Ruby in the downstairs Lee Auditorium of the Missouri History Museum with "Jack Ruby and the FBI: A Poetic Exploration," featuring Missouri Poet Laureate David Clewell reading from part of his long poem Jack Ruby's America that embeds what might be called a conspiracy theory for why Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. This, or something like it, will be my introduction.
I would like to thank you for coming out tonight to see "Jack Ruby and the FBI: A Poetic Exploration". I am Chris King, creative director of Poetry Scores, which put together tonight's event. I would like to thank the Missouri History Museum for sponsoring the event and promoting it. The initial promotions promised Missouri Poet Laureate David Clewell and parapolitical researcher Kenn Thomas. In the end, we only have Clewell. This means we will get out a little early and get over to The Royale a little early for the afterparty and to chew over what we have heard tonight. It also means, sorry, you will get a little more of me and of Poetry Scores.
So, I am going to talk for a few minutes about Poetry Scores and the work we are doing with David Clewell's great poem Jack Ruby's America. I will talk a bit about the poem and how we will approach it tonight. And then I will introduce the poet laureate of our state, who will read from some parts of Jack Ruby's America that might have turned up in the FBI file of Mr. Ruby, who of course shot dead Lee Harvey Oswald, who of course had been arrested and charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Police Officer J.D. Tippit.
Tonight's event kicks off The Year - or half-year, I guess - of Ruby that Poetry Scores has organized around Clewell's poem. Poetry Scores is a Missouri non-profit arts organization that translates poetry into other media. Our core form is in fact the poetry score, where we set long poems to music as one would score a film, then release them on CD.
These scores tend to be difficult to reproduce live, so we hit upon the idea of releasing the CDs in conjunction with an Art Invitational, where we invite 50 or so artists to make new, original art that responds to the poem we have scored. The artist is required to title their piece after a verbatim quote from the poem, and then we hang the art in the gallery space according to where in the flow of the poem the language chosen for the title of the work appears. In this way, in a sense, it is the poem that hangs the show.
Then, since we have these things called "scores" and we had started to branch out into other media, and because I adore silent cinema, we began to write, shoot, and edit silent movies to our poetry scores. Up until now we have released four Poetry Scores CDs and made a movie to one of them, "Blind Cat Black", which premiered at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase two years ago and next month is screening in two cities in Turkey.
Turkey? "Blind Cat Black" is by a Turkish poet, Ece Ayhan, who is enjoying something of a renaissance right now. Like two of the four poets we have scored to date, Ece Ayhan died while we were scoring his poem, and as we all know death is good for business when it comes to poets.
We are already done, more or less, with our score to Clewell's poem, though we encourage him to live long enough to see us release the score on CD, and so put us over the .500 mark for poets successfully living through the experience of having their poems set to music by Poetry Scores. In fact, we intend for Clewell to live long enough to see the silent movie we plan to eventually make for our Jack Ruby's America score, which Clewell and I sort of hit upon together when he was telling me about a zombie marionette show he had seen recently. (We like to have zombies in our movies; just one of those things.) Since it would be a bore to do yet another feature film around Ruby and Kennedy based on archival footage, and we could never afford to shoot live action on location in all these famous Dallas locations, I am thinking to do our Jack Ruby movie as a silent marionette movie - a silent zombie marionette movie.
The zombie puppets, I am thinking, will be the mobsters, the gangsters. And this brings us around, finally, to our theme for tonight, "Jack Ruby and the FBI: A Poetic Exploration".
For many Americans and armchair historians all over the world, the murders of Kennedy, Tippit, and even Oswald remain unsolved mysteries. We saw Kennedy and Oswald killed, on television or in newsreel footage. In the case of Oswald, we even saw quite clearly who killed him: the hero of our poem, Jack Ruby, born Jacob Rubenstein, a tough Jew from Chicago. But Oswald was killed - by Ruby - before he had his day in court, and he denied having killed the president or the police officer. Famously, Oswald said, "I'm just a patsy." And our criminal justice system prosecutes conspiracy to murder as well as murder itself, so anyone who doubts the lone gunman theories - what Clewell's poem calls "Oswald, only Oswald" and "Ruby, only Ruby" - would have to classify these murders as still unsolved.
Clewell's poem offers a theory for what happened in Dallas during those November days of 1963, and since it accounts for a conspiracy, it is by definition a conspiracy theory. But it is a conspiracy theory offered in a poem, and it is the poetry that interests us foremost. Tonight, David Clewell will read from part two, "The Chicago Cowboy", of this five-part poem, Jack Ruby's America. As you will hear in a moment, Clewell opens the section with two epigraphs that deny Ruby had any connections to a larger conspiracy to kill the president and rub out the "patsy," Oswald. One is the very famous quote from The Warren Commission Report: "We could not establish a significant link between Ruby and organized crime."
As this part of David Clewell's poem unfolds, however, we see that the poet has established some "significant links between Ruby and organized crime". After we finish the poetry score and come back to make a silent marionette zombie movie out of Jack Ruby's America, if we cast the mobsters as zombies, we'll definitely be making us some zombie puppets.
Now I'd like to introduce my dear friend, the great poet and - thanks to First Lady Georganne Nixon and an obviously intelligent commission established by the governor - the poet laureate of the State of Missouri, David Clewell.