Our first project for 2012 is Wole Soyinka's Ever-Ready Bank Accounts, which we are subjecting to what has become the Poetry Scores basics: an Art Invitational (Friday, May 18 at Mad Art) and a poetry score (by the three-man orchestra bicycle day of Istanbul), with a silent movie to be named later.
That's what we do: We translate poetry into other media, Though now I am thinking me missed an opportunity to add a new, highly appropriate medium to this project: namely, translating poetry into a mobile. Because that's what Professor Soyinka did in prison.
He wrote Ever-Ready Bank Accounts while unjustly imprisoned during the Nigerian Civil War. We know an awful lot about what he was thinking when he wrote these prison poems, because he had a lot of time to do little else than think, languishing in solitary confinement, and he managed to keep a journal of his captivity, written in the margins of books and the insides of cigarette cartons.
He is a very brave man. He gives us the imprisoned mind unvarnished. He shares, not just the fact that he nearly loses his mind -- as one would expect, over 18 months of enforced solitude -- but the loopy, embarassing, often childish things he did to hang onto his sanity, or some semblance of it. This makes for some quietly terrifying reading. We talk casually of the mind "playing tricks with itself," but Soyinka shows us what this really means.
One of these childish tricks, one of the least crazy of them, is a Poetry Scores modulation: He translated poetry into mobiles.
It started with just the mobiles:
I began to work on Mobiles, the most soothing single creation in that dark place. From first making them spontaneously I began to design them first. The weighted end was the empty shell of my toilet roll closed and filled with stones and gravel, covered in cigarette foil to glint in the sun. They functioned smoothly on several points, finely balanced. They danced and bucked in the wind. I was never tired of watching the delicacy of the movements.
Then the poet worked poetry into the new medium:
And after the plain sculptured forms? The entire artistic gestalt! Light self-contained verses to fly in the wind. Single-verse lyrics plus invectives on my tormentors (in Spanish, the latter was always written in bad Spanish) I christened them poetry-sculptures, muse-on-the-air, poetrees, sculpture in verse, etc. I made chaplets of wood and paper, wrote out verses and watched them fly.
Wole Soyinka has been remarkably engaged in our project, for a Nobel Laureate who didn't need to be bothered. He told The Alton Telegraph that Poetry Scores is "a very special celebration of creative collaboration," and he is doing a local radio interview on KDHX (9 p.m. Monday, May 14). This is a clue as to why. He is an old hand at this stuff!
Now, I guess it's up to us to translate this prison poem of his into a mobile. Or maybe we just just add the mobile to the standard Poetry Scores inter-mediary treatment, in honor of this courageous and playful poet.
Picture from Juniper Books.