Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jellysquid death squad w/ Eric reaching for beer

Local musician and producer Eric Hall won the bidding war at our recent Experiential Auction for the experience of local self-taught artist Dana Smith painting his band.

He purchased the experience for his new band, N. Nomurai. Elsewhere, I've tried to relate the fascinating story behind this project (with a lot of help from Eric himself), and also posted up here a photo Dana shot of the band on stage as part of his portrait process.

Now, Dana writes to Eric, "here's the progress on the painting [above] ... it's rather large, 30 x 40. So far so good ... but I did have a question. I recall one time when I sent you a photograph of you performing at Mangia and you didn't like the photo 'cause it had you smoking in it and you didn't want to promote that kind of activity in photographs of you (understandably). So, my question is ... in this painting you're reaching for a beer, any objections to keeping the beer in the painting or would you rather I take it out?"

I've heard no objections from Eric, which makes sense - cigarettes, bad; beer, good - so here is Dana's painting in progress.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Letter from Les Murray, or Jabba the Hutt

The great Australian poet Les Murray (subject of our 2009 poetry score) sent me this letter some years ago, apparently in response to a package I had sent him that included baby photos of my daughter Leyla Fern King (born April 8, 2003) and a long essay I wrote about sweating out her birth. The illustration here is the photo he is referring to in his self-deprecating "Jabba the Hutt" wisecrack.

Quadrant mentioned here is an Australian magazine which Les serves as literary editor. He has published a few of my essays and cotranslations in it, though in this letter he seems to be passing on whatever I had sent him for consideration. The magazine was originally started as a CIA front, which explains his Cold War reference, and remains conservative politically. Les has been painted as a conservative by radical Australian academics, but as this letter shows he actually has a disdain for politics - including leftist politics, which is what landed him in the radical academic crosshairs.

The day of recording he mentions was when we recorded his reading of The Sydney Highrise Variations for the 2009 poetry score, along with his "mouth music" for the score, which will have to be heard to be believed.

Like most of Les' letters, this was very generously accompanied by the signed typescript of one of his recent poems. I have several of these documents in The Skuntry Museum Library; they are of inestimable value to me and probably of real value on the archive market, if I were the sort of cad who sells things given to me by my famous friends.


Letter from Les Murray

Congratulations to Karley, to Leyla and to you. Well done, well born, and all hale and handsome after! I like the name "Leyla" very much. I know it means "night" in Arabic, and it was the name of a cousin I grew up with in amity and good cheer.

Thanks indeed for the photos. The ones that don't show the splendid ladies of the house are good too, in reminding me of a delightfully crazy day. Fancy conveying Jabba the Hutt in your car.

After seeing you & yours, I went down to Florida where I became the centre of a saga: I got mislaid in Jacksonville. I'd told the U. of Fla. that I was coming in to that city by United at 7 p.m., but when I arrived no one was there to meet me. This went on & on being true.

I finally decided to phone the university. As I went to read off the number on my one live credit card, it fell down between the phone & the wall of the booth, apparently beyond retrieval. I then raised Cain & Donald Duck till the airport maintenance men came & fished it out with tools, whereupon I went off to the Ramada, resolving to phone my hosts in Gainesville the next morning.

I'd just got into my first deep sleep when the phone rang in my room. Impossible! But it was indeed for me. Three girl students had searched Jacksonville's motels in the hope they'd find me, and lo. Two hours later & they put me back to bed in a grander place in Gainesville, so that the next night but one I could and did read to 300 students & others who wore shorts in honour of my "Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever" poem. They live that dream. But in the meantime the laconic director of creative writing told me of his relief at not having to retire in the odium of The Man Who Lost Les Murray.

I liked Florida, it's old villages under big shady live oaks, its Confederate graveyards and truck-tyre alligators, and all the four billions of water bubbling & squeezing up in its ponds.

After Gainesville I went across to London. One gig I was proud of was in the Oxford Union, the debating centre where politicians of the future learn their debating tricks: I drew a capacity crowd at noon on Boat Race Day, the deeply social event where Oxford & Cambridge universities race long narrow 8-man boats against each other with real rivalry & effort. Having got my capacity crowd in competition with that, I consider I won this year's race & am the Head of the Rivers, worthy of my tea and cucumber sandwiches anywhere in the kingdom.

Thence to Leipzig in the former East Germany, to schmoose with Fredy's German translator, a very painstaking fellow but drily cheerful with it. He and his lady showed me their handsome town, with J.S. Bach thundering away on the organ in St. Thomas' Lutheran Church and the former secret police still labouring away in their ugly mustard-yellow building but without police power now, or respect. They still do social case-work, but for insurance purposes, since neither state nor public wanted to feed them in jail. My first clerical jobs had that strong whiff of penal servitude in thir drudgery.

Thomas has been doing a fine job on Fredy, but insisted that I check every point & line, to eliminate any misconstructions. The book's to come out in German next March, at Leipzig Book Fair. The Italians are getting it out in November this year -- without having consulted me on anything. Fine, by me, so long as they've got their facts right. Thoroughness versus the virtue of sprezzatura that Italians pride themselves on. Dash, flair, the Ferrari touch ...

Quadrant? Well, here's a sample copy [now in The Skuntry Museum's Les Murray Papers]. My dream is of being ed. of a purely literary mag., with no blasted politics. No businessman of even slightly hard head would look at such a thing, or anyway none has, so I'm stuck with this ex-Cold War journal on bad paper. At least I can keep the Derrida-Foucault jargoneering out of it, and the ed. gives me carte blanche with my end of it, which is the rear end! plus the windows of verse that light the gloomy corridors.

I wish someone would print your piece on our recording day in NYC: it's a hoot! I can't, because I have a rule against publishing reviews of or pieces on me. I'm much tempted by your 3- or 4-level piece on - what? - thinking of other things wile sweating out a first birth. It leaves utterly in the shade my reading of Rayne Kruger's history of the Boer War during the birth of our Clare.

Love to you & Karley & Leyla. Oh, and how am I batting just now? Cheers - Les



By Les Murray

The house has stopped its desperate traveling.
It won't fly to New Orleans, or to Hungary again,
though it counts, and swears, in Magyar.
It is left in English with its life suspended,

meals in the freezer, clothes on airy shelves,
ski badges prickling a wall chart of the Alps.
The house plays radio, its lights clock on and off
but it won't answer the phone, even in Swiss German.

Since the second recession of helped steps
the house quotes from its life and can't explain:
dress-cutter's chalk. Melbourne Cup day 1950.
skullcaps. Wartime soy flour, with an onion!

All earlier houses and times, in black and white,
are boxed by aged children visiting to dust this one
on its leafy corner and still, for a while, in colour.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When Lyndsey met Sali

Despite my shameful sloth in connecting people with the experiences they purchased at Poetry 2008 Experiential Auction at Atomic Cowboy, some of the experience donors and buyers are forging their own connections.

John Eiler purchased Lyndsey Scott's experience of an art happening in her studio that results in the creation of a hero doll. At the time, he planned on doing it as an art party for his 5-year-old daughter, Claire.

Since then, we learned that his 20-year-old daughter, Marcella Sali Grace, was raped and killed in Mexico.

Now, he sees the experience as another opportunity to honor Sali, and the hero doll they will create will be Sali hero doll.

Last night, John and I were headed to The Stable to discuss a statement to the press about Sali's death and the status of the case against her confessed killer. Lyndsey's studio is right down LinkCherokee Street, so I called and invited her to join us so we could show her the memorial John prepared for his daughter.

Lyndsey answered her phone and said she was already on her way to The Stable for dinner. Life has been like that for me, lately. Either coincidences are in the air, or this is just a small town.

After we had a beer and shared a delicious jerk chicken pizza, we went out onto the patio, opened up John's laptop and showed Lyndsey the photomontage of this young woman who lived so many lives in such a short time. I sketched Lyndsey's face ash she watched the tribute to Sali.

She was awed, as people tend to be when they consider the girl we had and the girl we lost.

"Tonight," Lyndsey said, "I met Sali. I am just getting to know her. It's nice to know her."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Torch is a Surrealist, not an accountant, nor warrior

Local artist Andy Torch has decided upon a fragment of K. Curtis Lyle's poem “Nailed Seraphim” to use as the basis of his painting for the 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational:

He was an accountant not a warrior
They ruined his reputation and that was all he had

What will Andy make of that? Who knows? That's why we play the games. Ooops, World Series slip. I mean, that's why we wait for them to make the art.

But we can look at Andy's website , or reflect upon his past work, and imagine for ourselves. (Kicking, somewhat, into pregame analysis voice, here.) You know, Andy is a card-carrying Surrealist, so look for something out of the dream world. The ineluctable absurdity of the accountant. The irreducible arbitrariness of numbers. Or some shocking disjunction, some flagrant foul from the warrior's gruesome world puncturing the office grey of the accountant's cubicle.

Or some conversation between colors, like the piece he did for the 2007 Art Invitational dedicated to Stefene Russell's "Go South for Animal Index," which is showcased above. Andy also made a piece for the original 2006 "Blind Cat Black" Invitational, a strange and beautiful piece that now hangs on my dining room wall and is also reproduced on that there Torch Art site.

The assignment Andy and the other artists are up against: to make a new piece of art that responds to the poem (“Nailed Seraphim,” in this case) and is named after a verbatim scrap of language from the poem. The work will be displayed and positioned around the space, according to where in the poem the language chosen for the title of the artwork appears. This makes for a fascinating and perhaps unique curatorial experience, in that the poem itself basically hangs the show.

The language Andy chose is toward the end of the poem, so his painting will likely appear toward the end of the show. We already expect the Gene Harris sculpture "Nailed" will open the show, since that word, as the first word in the title, opens the poem.

The 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational will be held Friday, Nov. 21 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, 3100 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood, Mo.

All work will be sold on silent auction, with the artist setting the opening bid. It’s a one-night event, so the art will go home with someone on Nov. 21 or 22, and all accounts will be settled the night of the show.

Poetry Scores is a St. Louis-based arts organization that translates poetry into other media, including music, visual art, film, beer, food and experiences. For more information on the invitational, contact Chris King at brodog@hotmail.com or Robert Goetz at r_goetz@hotmail.com

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The time Les Murray almost died

For 2009, Poetry Scores is setting to music The Sydney Highrise Variations, the great Australian poet (actually, the greatest Australian poet) Les Murray's meditation on modernity, vertical space and the rise of the city.

Though I have met Les under extraordinary circumstances and would venture to consider myself one of his vast number of international friends, Poetry Scores is far out of our depth in comprehending the sources of his work, since none of us working on the score have ever so much as visited Australia.

So we enlisted the help of Les' biographer, Peter F. Alexander, who has tentatively agreed to footnote Les' poem for our score and to provide an essay about the poem in the context of his life. I have just finished reading Peter's penetrating and evocative biography of the poet, Les Murray: A Life in Progress, which I read in less than two days, pausing only to sleep and interview Barack Obama by telephone. I was interested to see that the bio makes no mention of Les' epic poem about Sydney, so Peter has volunteered for an altogether fresh piece of work, which makes his offer to help us more impressive (and exciting).

After finishing the book, I contacted Peter at home in Sydney, where he is finishing a book on the South African writer Alan Patton. I wated to know if we could publish here the breathtaking prelude of A Life in Progress, which chronicles the time Les nearly died. He agreed. This piece is published courtesy of the author and his publisher, Oxford University Press, and we ask that anyone reading this prose and loving it as much as I do contact Peter before making any use of it. The photo of Les recovering from the incident is by his wife, Valerie Murray, also borrowed from Peter's book, also not ours to give away.


Chapter 1: Prelude

Do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered —T. S. Eliot

At 11.15 on the morning of 18 July 1996 an ambulance drove onto the long bridge over the Manning River outside Taree, and in brilliant winter sunshine sped across it towards Newcastle, the siren wailing briefly as it passed through knots of traffic. The vehicle contained only one patient, a big man with the brassy complexion and sulphurous eyes of someone affected by severe jaundice. The medical records travelling with him named him as a Mr Leslie Allan Murray, and included the results of a CAT scan showing a large liver abscess; the accompanying notes clinically remarked that the patient was a diabetic suffering near-complete renal failure, that there was evidence of gas in the liver abscess, and that septic shock was setting in. Immediate surgery was indicated.

He was in great pain, but sedated into calm. He lay semi-conscious, unable to see the passing forests and the occasional glimpses of scalloped, surf-fringed coast, but knowing exactly where he was because he knew every turn of this road like the inside of his own pocket. The ambulance raced south, over the Manning River, up which his great-great-great-grandmother had sailed in 1851 and beside which the Murrays had prospered and multiplied. Past Purfleet, as on the morning he had come by, aged twelve, behind his mother’s hearse, and had seen a then-unknown Aboriginal man, Uncle Eddie Lobban,[1] remove his hat and bow his head in a gesture of mourning never forgotten. Past the turn to Old Bar, where cousin Leila lived with her memories of his childhood; onto the fast multi-lane stretch south to Coolongolook and Buladelah.
This was the length of Pacific Highway that traversed his Country, the stretch, crowded with holiday traffic, that he had fixed in the mind for ever in ‘The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle’:

It is the season of the Long Narrow City; it has crossed the Myall, it has entered the North Coast,
that big stunning snake; it is looped through the hills, burning all night there.
Hitching and flying on the downgrades, processionally balancing on the climbs,
it echoes in O’Sullivan’s Gap, in the tight coats of the flooded-gum trees;
the tops of palms exclaim at it unmoved, there near Wootton.

Through the edge of the Kiwarrak Forest, over the Bungwahl Creek, down to Nabiac where he had been born fifty-eight years before. The ambulance siren announced his presence now again briefly, and he thought of that birth and how it had killed his mother twelve years later: at least the family had risen far enough for him to have an ambulance now.

South to Wang Wauk where his father had cut timber years before, snigging it out with a bullock-team. Over the Wang Wauk River, which upstream has its humbler beginnings in the creek beside which he had lived all his childhood and youth. It was up that valley, which his family had once owned in its entirety, one of the sacred places of the mind with its forested hills and its winding rock-strewn streams, that there lay the abandoned remains of the tiny house in which he had been brought up, and from which his father had been evicted in such bitterness in the early 1970s. And there, within a kilometre of the ruined foundations of his childhood home, was his beloved Forty Acres, the farm he had planted with fruit trees, the dam he had dappled with lotuses brought from Kakadu, and the little house in which his wife Valerie, packing up at this moment to follow the ambulance, was doing the last-minute checks. As she was about to walk out, her eye fell on the big oil-portrait of him above the sofa, and she burst into tears.

The big man in the ambulance wondered in sedated calm if he would ever traverse these roads again. Through Coolongolook, where he had stood on the banks of the quiet river one evening at the end of 1956, watching the mayflies, and had known that he was going to be a poet. Through the stately forests of O’Sullivan’s Gap, where the goannas beg for picnickers’ sandwiches; past Wootton and Buladelah, where the still presence of the Myall lakes can be felt, and on south towards the smudge of Newcastle, the steel city, his mother’s city, first visited with her at the age of four, all unforgotten:

John Brown, glowing far and down,
wartime Newcastle was a brown town,
handrolled cough and cardigan, rain on paving bricks
big smoke to a four-year-old from the green sticks.
Train city, mother’s city, coming on dark,
Japanese shell holes awesome in a park,
electric light and upstairs, encountered first that day,
sailors and funny ladies in Jerry’s Fish CafĂ©.

The pain came in waves which the pethidine allowed him to float over. He had planned to refurbish his parents’ graves and had not done it. Now, he thought with drugged satisfaction, his own name could be added to the stone with little extra cost. His one regret was that he had not finished Fredy Neptune: now he would die not knowing how it ended.

The ambulance howled its way through early afternoon traffic, and found the John Hunter Hospital forewarned. The big man was wheeled into casualty and checked. The verdict was alarming: ‘He’s nearly dead’. He was prepared for surgery immediately. Convinced he was dying, he felt neither fear nor regret at the prospect. Wheeled rapidly down wide corridors, he stared unblinking at lights passing rhythmically above him:

Ribbed glass glare-panels flow
over you down urgent corridors,
dismissing midday outside. Slow,

they’d resemble wet spade-widths in a pit;
you’ve left grief behind you, for others;
your funeral: who’ll know you’d re-planned it?

God, at the end of prose,
somehow be our poem—
when forebrainy consciousness goes

By 4 p.m., within two hours of admission, his chest was being opened, as his wife, struggling towards the hospital through the traffic, was rammed from behind at a traffic light. The last thing he heard, as he sank into drugged darkness, was the surgeon remarking, ‘We might lose this one’.

Within hours of his admission the John Hunter Hospital got the first of the hundreds of phonecalls. This harbinger of the storm was from London: ‘This is Clive James. How’s Les Murray doing?’ The writer and broadcaster is a name to conjure with in his native land, and there was a brief fanfare of silence from the woman on the switchboard before urgent internal enquiries began: ‘Who is Les Murray?’ James was glad to tell her: ‘You’ve got the most important poet in Australia there. I’m sure you’ll take good care of him’.[3] And one of his surgeons, Peter Saul, who read and collected Les Murray’s volumes, was able to add to this answer: one of the best poets writing in English, his country’s foremost literary voice, the unofficial Australian Laureate. Saul could have said, though he did not, that his extraordinary patient was a former farm-boy who could read more than twenty languages, and lift the back of a motorcar by hand: ‘This man, who warms cold ground by lying on it, who handparks his car...’ He did not say that Murray was that rarest of beings, a writer through whom a national consciousness shapes and expresses itself. The receptionist’s hesitation is understandable: ‘Who is Les Murray?’ was not a simple question. To approach an answer to it we have to go back to the beginning.


[1] Les Murray later learned his name: Eddie Lobban was well known to the Purfleet community. Murray’s addition to the typescript of an early draft of this book: PA.
[2] ‘You Find You Can Leave It All’. All poems not otherwise attributed are by Les Murray.
[3] Interview with Clive James, Cambridge, 3 January 1999.


I'll be back with many more reflections from Peter's wonderful book.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gene Harris, "Nailed," for 2008 Art Invitational

Gene Harris has completed his piece for the Nailed Seraphim Art Invitational, titled "Nailed" and evidently an homage to African power figures.

The Invitational will be held Friday, Nov. 21 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, 3100 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood, Mo.

A copy of “Nailed Seraphim” is available on the poet K. Curtis Lyle’s blog: http://downtownatlantis.blogspot.com/2008/09/nailed-seraphim.html.

The assignment: to make a new piece of art that responds to “Nailed Seraphim” and is named after a verbatim scrap of language from the poem. The work will be displayed and positioned around the space, according to where in the poem the language chosen for the title of the artwork appears.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jellyfish death squad band painting in progress

Eric Hall was the high bidder on the experience of having Dana Smith paint his band in live performance at the 2008 Poetry Scores Experiential Auction.

Eric, a man of many projects, is sharing that experience with his newest band, N. Nomurai. As I explain in a post on my personal blog (with lots of help from Eric's finely crafted band bio), this band takes its name and performance concept from a jellyfish that is proliferating posthumously in the Japan Sea after raids on it by jellyfish death squads.

The band MySpace page now has a folder of pictures Dana took of the band performing live at The Way Out Club. The one I have posted here looks like the best candidate for a painting to me.

We at Poetry Scores very much look forward to the finished painting!