Thursday, February 16, 2012

Poetry Scores announces new project: Wole Soyinka's "Ever-Ready Bank Accounts"

Poetry Scores is excited to announce a new project: a poetry score and art invitational devoted to the poem Ever-Ready Bank Accounts by Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate in Literature from Nigeria.

The poem is being scored by Bicycle Day from Istanbul, Turkey. Their bio is admirably succinct: "bicycle day is a three piece orchestra making quiet or big sound, from istanbul". We are delighted to work with these adventurous musicians.

The art invitational to Ever-Ready Bank Accounts is scheduled for 7-10 p.m. Friday, May 18 at Mad Art Gallery. 2727 So. 12th St. in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri.

We will be inviting fifty artists to make new work in response to Professor Soyinka's poem and title their work using a verbatim quote from it. We will then hang the art in the gallery according to where in the flow of the poem the quote used as the title appears. Poetry Scores has a guest co-curator for 2012, Andrew Torch.

Here is the poem, which appears in the "Poems of bread and earth" section of Soyinka's 1972 volume Shuttle in the Crypt and is reprinted in Early Poems (Oxford University Press, 1998). It was written during nearly two years of solitary confinement as a political prisoner in a Nigerian gaol.

By Wole Soyinka

Ever-ready bank accounts
Are ever red
Cash may be set on paper, all it reads
Is – Bread Bread Bread! Among a thousand fingers
Clutching loud at plenty, arms
Stacked too full of loaves cannot
Embrace mankind. Ever-ready bank accounts
Are never read where
Children slay the cockroach for a meal
Awaiting father-forager’s return
The mind of hungered innocence must turn
To strange cuisine – kebab of houseflies
On a broomstick prong; beetles broiled in carapace
Slugs are scientific stores of high protein –
They tell me – I never tried it yet.
Awaiting father-forager’s return with empty sack
He went and came that way these two-year gone
He will tomorrow . . .
                             I take the folded statement
Slipped below the grill. Discreetly. Below the solemn
Chiding glare of my good friend and foe
The bank clerk, the white-shirt guardian of the vaults
Of paper, mystic signs, those noughts and crosses
Which I bear – the language of his statement reads :
Charity may be a one-way street, it’s not
A one-man way of life. And like the ink
It’s printed on, I go red beneath
My black deceit, my bold and knowing
“Damn-they’re-late-again-with-that-cheque skin –
You know, my royalties, late again I see
It’s alright really, do present it at month’s end"
Cursing the last extortion I was guilty of
For falling prey to. I have observed it –
The latest cup of supplicating hands is always
Drier than the last. And rats are sleeker now
Whose raw-eyed thrusts dispute
Crumbs with new-hatched mouths of want. . . .

Now that was long ago, and yesterday, and Now
The longer statement trails a longer line
Of bread, and now again that mournful statement
Marred by sceptic stares – but HE we know,
He earns the sky, commands a fortune when he farts
And all it reads is that one line, one ledgered statement –
Charity may be a one-way street, it’s not
A one-man way of life – Your balance sir
Your balance is that figure etched in red. . . .

A page, a ready reddening reckoner falls open on
The seven-year lease on seven-floor heights
Of the seventh wonder of a pocket world
The seventh wonder of the seven-year plan of lies
Seven times grander than the last grandiose deceit.

Justify the seven-year lease on seven-floor heights :
“I’d live there if I could. I built that
Seven-tiered modest monster for a home
But duties of the seven-year plan demand
My absence thence, and how may seven-year seeds
Not yield a modest sevenfold green return?”

A balance sheet is waved, a flag on stolen heights
And who goes red invisibly beneath their black deceit?
And who turns red for who turns red, and who turns when
To light, across that broken road a fire that heals
From logs whose weight upon a great
Grandmother arched in pain still shapes –
A loaded question mark?

(c) Wole Soyinka

We have Wole Soyinka's personal permission to score this poem. We thank him for this privilege and also thank Niyi Coker of University of Missouri - St. Louis for tracking down the great man for us.

Our commission to Bicycle Day was motivated partly by our self-imposed Sister City relationship with Istanbul. Thanks always to our sister citizen there, Ipek Tuna.

For information about this project, contact Chris King, creative director of Poetry Scores, at

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