Saturday, December 13, 2008

Poetry Scores on the BBC (radio transcript)

After Lij and I produced the first poetry score, Leo Connellan's Crossing America, I spent a few weeks looking for spoken word shows on the radio and mailing out review copies. Perhaps it says something about our hometown favorite KDHX and its show "Literature for the Halibut" that the only other station that followed up with me and produced a show on our project was the BBC.

Specifically, BBC Radio 3, and more specifically even than that, its brilliant and whimsical show about the language arts, "The Verb", hosted by the Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan along with writer and rock musician Peter Blegvad, whose obscure music I have listened to since college. I took their call from the New York Bureau of the BBC, then later nagged them for a CD of the show, which Stefene Russell faithfull transcribed.

Note: At the time of this taping, we used to be called Hoobellatoo, an organization that produced poetry scores and released them on an imprint called Skuntry, which gave people three odd terms to learn. Now we are called Poetry Scores, we make poetry scores, and we release them on an imprint called Poetry Scores. So, there.


“The Verb” on BBC Radio 3
Interview with Chris King

Ian McMillan: "T" is for the. One of the great words. A verb, not very exciting. THE Verb, exciting. A woman walked into a room. Which woman? What room? THE woman walked into THE room. Ah, that woman, that room. The. Great word. Try living a day without it. “U” is the United States – and Leo Connellan. As you know, here at The Verb, we're always looking to discover and re-discover writers. In many ways, Connellan is perfect for The Verb. Have a listen to this:

Plays part of Crossing America.

Ian McMillan
: Leo Connellan hitchhiked across America in the 1950s and wrote about his experiences in an epic poem, Crossing America. It's been written of him that “his texbook is raw life, and his words can be understood by anyone.” He writes in the tradition of Charles Bukowski, of the leather-bound A to Zed of the Academy. Chris King works for Hoobellatoo, a group of musicians and artists which specialize in poetry, music and folklore, and he joins us from The Verb's New York studio to tell us the story of Connellan.

Chris, it's an interesting story how you happened to record that Crossing America epic, isn't it?

Chris King: Yes, Ian. We were rock musicians who got tired of being rock musicians. When you're a musician, you go around the country or the world, and you ask people to pay attention to you. And that gets a little boring. So we decided to go around the country and ask people if we could pay attention to them. And we started doing a folklore project, living out of my car with a mobile studio, and that's how we stumbled across Leo. A publisher put him in front of a microphone and he read the very piece that you just played, the last piece of Crossing America, and we just hit the floor.

Ian McMillan: And that wonderful job – he worked as a typewriter ribbon salesman. It's like the perfect Beat job, isn't it?

Chris King: Yeah. He had hard years, and the poem Crossing America, it's about hard traveling. Adam Thorpe, earlier [on the program], wrote about searching for a bed, coming back from Germany, and Milosz, who was on the program, on tape, wrote about, his book, The Roadside Dog. I thought about all these things in connection to Leo, and we ourselves traveled hard recording the poem. We really did live out of a car, where we had a really poor little studio set-up, and we really traced Leo's steps in music, in our car. Of course, he hitchhiked, but we had tires under us, what in America they call “a rubber tramp,” because at least you have rubber tires on the road with you.

Ian McMillan: I'm thinking that you do get a Robert Frost influence, don't you, as well?

Chris King: Yeah. He was a Mainer – Leo was from Rockland, Maine, and Robert Frost was of course a great poet of New England. And what I loved about Leo was he didn't write about the quaint sage Robert Frost. He wrote about the hard man who could survive those brutal winters of New England.

Ian McMillan: Now we're going to hear an excerpt from a poem which isn't about Maine – it's called "Green Vermont."

Plays "Green Vermont."

Ian McMillan: Chris, the music, in all kinds of different styles, gives the whole album a different facet. Were you tempted at all to simply put out the words on their own?

Chris King: Well, not really. We were musicians who got into poetry through meeting poets, honestly, and the music was always what we could bring to it. And that was our way to really live with Leo, even after he had passed. You know, I said that Leo was gone, but he's not gone. I walked through Central Park on my way to the New York Bureau of the BBC today, and I saw, sleeping in the park, one woman on top of one man on a rock. And it was a cold night in New York last night. And that is one of the beginning images of Leo's poem. He says, "I lay on the floor and let her use me for a bed." When I saw those young lovers in the park today, I thought, well, Leo lives.

Ian McMillan: Peter Blegvad, here's someone who works with music and words. How do you feel about this marriage of Leo's voice from beyond the grave, these words?

Peter Blegvad: Well, it sounds great. I'm looking forward to hearing more of this CD. I mean, it is a dicey proposition, often, spoken word and music, although it has a long tradition, from the jazz poetry experiments made in the ‘40s and ‘50s, right up to the present day with Hal Wilner being one of the foremost producers who's explored this genre. But you have to gauge it very sensitively, because the music can overwhelm the evocation of the words.

Chris King: Yeah, we orchestrated the record so that the reading is never bedded over the music.

Peter Blegvad: Right.

Chris King: It's always separate, so that each has its own statement and comments on each other. In a way the music gives you time to refresh your mind. Poetry's so involved; I like to have the musical interlude to think about it. We're doing a record for Les Murray, the great Australian poet who I'm sure is no stranger to The Verb. Les liked the approach we did, and that's why he wanted to do it. He says yeah, you want to think about something, you want the music as a break from the words.

Ian McMillan: Thank you very much, Chris. And you can get all of “Crossing America” at www.hoobellatoo. I'll spell that, H-O-O-B-E-L-L-A-T-O-O dot org. That's hoobellatoo dot org. The website is an absolute delight, full of the most amazing, Verb-friendly things. Details on our website, which is also amazing, and full of the most Verb-friendly things. for The Verb. I'll pause, while you stand.



"Green Vermont"
(Leo Connellan, Chris King)
Three Fried Men
From Crossing America


Note: the Hoobellatoo website no longer exists, just this blog. Crossing America is in print and is available by contacting us or at most independent book and record shops in St. Louis.

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