Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Dumb Bunny" (Anne Sexton, Ann Hirschfeld)

So like I was saying, Poetry Scores is hosting another "Reading at The Royale" 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, July 25 at The Royale public house, 3132 South Kingshighway. It's a free event.

Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media. In addition to five poets (Stefene Russell, Chris Chable, Chris Parr, Kristin Sharp and Uncle Bill Green) and a fiction writer (Edward Scott Ibur) all at liberty to perform their work through the medium of Noah Kirby's sculpture With Solid Stance and Stable Sound, we'll also have some poetry translated into song.

The theme for the reading is "Bombs & Monsters," since we are celebrating the reprint of the artbook/CD of our poetry score to Go South for Animal Index by Stefene Russell, which is a bomb & monster poem.

Ann Hirschfeld will be our guest songster at The Royale, performing (with Mark Buckheit) songs from her poetry score of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Anne Sexton, which she is scoring on our commission with permission from the Anne Sexton Estate. The queen in this poem is a monster!

Here is a demo of a sketch of one song from her score in progress, "Dumb Bunny":

"Dumb Bunny" scores this part ofAnne Sexton's poem:

the mirror told,
the queen came,
Snow White, the dumb bunny,
opened the door
and she bit into a poison apple
and fell down for the final time.
When the dwarfs returned
they undid her bodice,
they looked for a comb,
but it did no good.
Though they washed her with wine
and rubbed her with butter
it was to no avail.
She lay as still as a gold piece.

It also picks up, as intro and outro, two separate lines that will have been scored earlier, as they come earler in the poem:

You must not open the door
She will try once more


Poetry (c) Anne Sexton
Music (c) Ann Hirschfeld


Image by Mathew Rose, borrowed from http://matthewroseartworks.blogspot.com/2010/12/dumb-bunny-stencil-prints.html

Monday, July 16, 2012

Poetry Scores translated a Greek Surrealist poem into a BBQ

Roland Franks (Poetry Scores Curator of BBQ, contributing actor and competitive BBQ chef) manning what is understood to be the world's first Greek Surrealist BBQ grill, located in the state streets neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri.

Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media, and though we are artists and tend to focus on artistic media - music, paintings, sculpture, movies - we try to branch out. Yesterday, we translated poetry into a potluck BBQ.

The poem is Phantom of the Dreams' Origin by Andreas Embirikos, translated from the Greek by Nikos Stabakis. This poem is just jammed with things you can eat, and we asked people to bring something named in the poem to eat raw or throw on the grill. The grill was curated by Roland Franks, an actor in our movie unit who also is a competitive BBQ chef on summer weekends.

Jocko Ferguson, a board member who roadies for the movie unit and plays zombies, brought chicken breasts to throw on the grill. (Embirikos writes of "breasts.") Our board treasurer (and actor in our movies) John Parker brought big floppy mushrooms to grill. Karley M. King, who acts in our movies, brought pineapples to grill (Embirikos writes of being "brilliant and sensitive as a fruit shop," opening the door to all fruit.

Karley M. King ("fruit," construed as pineapple) visits with Jocko Ferguson
("breast," construed as chicken breast) at the Embirikos BBQ.

Paul Casey, who plays a huge role in the next movie we will release and is a big help with props, brought fruit to eat raw, including grapes, a fruit that gets a specific mention in Embirikos poem, which is a sequence of prose poems, one of them titled "Winter Grapes".

It is a very nutty poem, with almonds and hazelnuts, so I brought a Turkish sweet with hazelnuts sunk into powdery white candy. The poem mentions quinces only to say we have none, and though Stefene Russell (board secretary, poet, actor, visual artist) brought quince jelly, no one got around to eating any, so where Embirikos writes, "We have no quinces," at the end of this BBQ you could say no one had any quinces to eat, or we had no quinces.

Jay Alan Babcock, a visual artist (we cast in the last movie but were not able to use), brought limeade he made with his son Owen (one of the prose poems in Embirikos' sequence is titled "Lime"), which was my very special favorite treat of the day. The poem mentions both coffee and ice, so I brought a Thermos of hot coffee  and Leyla Fern King, actor and visual artist, brought ice that was combined into iced coffee.

I can't believe this poem has no "milk" or "honey," such dreamlike substances, but I brought canned milk and locally hived honey to sweeten the one iced coffee I served to board member and actor Amy Broadway.

Broadway herself was on the Nicky Rainey alternative menu plan. Most of us were working from an ingredient list I culled from the poem, but Nicky (poet and newest board member) went her own way and found "mole," refence to the mammal, but she added an imaginary Mexican accent and brought the thick chocolate sauce of the same spelling. She also encouraged Broadway to interpret the "bugle" in the poem ("bugle-calls of roaring vultures") as the conic corn chip Bugle.

As if anticipating just such a revel, Stabakis translated an Embirikos word as "refreshment," usefully authorizing any refreshing drink of any kind. There was a fair amount of refreshing going on. I am a stalwart advocate of St. Louis tap water, have never tasted any better, and really nothing is more refreshing than water, so I brought a giant pitcher and kept filling it up with water from the spigot on the side of the house.

It was so damn hot that day I actually brought home on the floorboard of my car the last pitcher of water I drew from the spigot, iced cold with Leyla's Greek Surrealist ice. It was so damn hot it just would have seemed sacriligeous, a sin against the sun, to throw out that cold water in that burning heat (and my spouse likes her kitchen utensils to come home). I still have half of that pitcher of water from the BBQ, and just now it occurs to me that I will bottle it and save it as souvenir Greek Surrealist St. Louis tap water.

Roland with his people. One of the reasons we want to translate poetry into
non-artistic media is to involve people more likely to go to, say, a BBQ
than a poetry reading. Roland's friends got right away
what we were up to and got a kick out of it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My friend Joe Falco's sister Edie Falco watches over me

Yesterday I finished one forbidding stretch of a movie we have been working on for three years with this great actor looking over my shoulder: Edie Falco. I used to work with her brother Joe Falco at a magazine in New York, and after one of her occasional visits to see her brother and meet his friends, Joe hooked me up with a signed portrait.

Without planning any moviemaking mojo or symbolism, I moved the picture of Edie from a place in my basement workspace where you couldn't see it so good to a more prominent spot on a different wall.

Only after I finished the somewhat nerve-wracking task at hand did I notice I had moved Edie just in time for her to watch me do some final scenic architecture on my editing script.

Any moviemaker reading this post will lap and weep on my behalf, to see I have invoked the treacherous word "final" for any semblance of a script.

Unlike the talented sister of my buddy Joe Falco, Poetry Scores makes silent movies that are edited to long musical settings of long poems. The scripts I prepare have no dialogue because we use none, they just describe what I hope we capture visually in each scene.

So, if we perfectly execute my shooting script, then when we are finished shooting I should be able to scribble out "shooting" on the script and write in "editing" and hand the same document over to our editor. But there is no such thing as perfectly executing anything in the world of no-budget amateur moviemaking.

Our method has evolved in such a way that at least I know now how we will arrive at the unexected. We take my shooting script and try to get the best cast available to the best location available, and then depending on the vagaries of the location and any surprises (pleasant or otherwise) as to who we can get to act (and when) that day, we improvise.

As I was saying last summer, in the movie we are still working on we improvised a major minor storyline around my neighbor's gift to me of a watermelon. This fat little thing looked just like my mental picture of the Fat Man nuclear bomb. Our movie, Go South for Animal Index, is based on an atomic bomb poem by Stefene Russell, so we took the watermelon and literally ran with it -- that is, Thomas Crone's swaggering soldier character Buster Jangles literally ran with it. This gave Crone's character new things to do with a scientist wife character I really wanted more screen time for, and it kept going from there.

When you find new screen time for a character, you need more screen time. As we all know from reading the entertainment stories, major talking movie pictures tend to run over budget and balloon in length as the director keeps adding new scenes. In a Poetry Scores silent picture, we are limited to a piece of music we already have created, so we can't just go making our movies any longer.

At least that's what I thought, until this last picture. Local moviemaker Dan Cross came aboard half way in our shoot as a shooter, and as an experienced editor he grasped right away that we had more story to tell from our footage than we could fit in the 58 minute poetry score Matt Fuller and I had produced to Stefene's poem. As I kept listening to Dan, it began to sink in that we certainly could make the poetry score longer.

One technique we use for scoring poetry is to compose, commission or curate an instrumental with the feel of that phrase or line of poetry and use the phrase or line as the title of that instrumental. So all we really had to do was compose, curate or commission as many new instrumentals as we wanted and then sequence them into the score in places where we need to use more scenes we shot, provided we could keep the pace and feel of the poetry score.

So we went back to our archives, picked out some more tracks by Middle Sleep, our beloved early 1980s post-prog rock improvisers from the Hollywood Hills. Go South employs a very talented local musician, Tory Z. Starbuck, in one of the roles that got bigger thanks to the watermelon, since Tory's wacky nuclear scientist plays opposite Crone's soldier character in the movie's final scene, and we had to make more of Buster Jangle's final scene since the character had more presence now. And then of course Tory has a way of making more screen time for himself whatever he does.

So, I talked the situation through with Tory -- who was then an anxiously expectatant first-time father -- and he ran right out and composed three perfect keeper pieces of music: a kyoto piece (that is just right for a confession scene with the General that turned out much bigger than my shooting script called for), a long fractured snyth rock thing (that is just right for the dramatically expanded finale between his scientist and soldier Buster Jangles), and a lightly cheesy spaghetti Western that stole my heart for the closing credits track.

So ... the task has been upon me ever since was to bust open a nice, somewhat tidy editing script for 28 scenes and make it fit a poetry score with 33 pieces of music. And now I had a totally different dynamic of major characters from different storylines to juggle in a silent medium with no language to provide plot and character clues. In a silent movie, you really have to think about the dynamics of who you see when  if you want to get the audience to follow a whole lot of very different characters -- in Go South, tramps, soldiers, a tramp who becomes a soldier who reverts to a tramp, a general, a professor, scientists, scientist wives, a scientist's kid, a priest, tribal healers, tribal people, a tribal healer who works a day job at the Army comissary, zombie uranium miners, zombie uranium millers, zombie bomb targets) for 81 minutes.

That's what I finally (ha, ha, ha) finished doing yesterday, under the watchful gaze of Edie Falco. Was she my lucky charm? I am taking the position that she was my lucky charm. From now on I will move this talismanic picture around with me whenever I am hung up on rewriting a shooting or editing script.

On this job I also figured out at some point I needed to get the scenes off the linear page and onto an array of frames where I can see the whole architecture of the movie in one sweep and be able to walk around it and think about it and move things around.

That was a breakthrough, and I will break down weep when this workroom I've assembled to finish this editing script finally becomes the basement guest bedroom.

As for that Edie Falco, very cool chick. We called my oldest sister "Chick" and Joe's older sister reminded me of my older sister: obviously smart, obviously tough, obviously straightforward and candid. My sister, who was a beautiful woman, used to talk about running errands while looking "hagged out," which meant there would be no major production for makeup or coordinated outfits. I doubt Edie Falco could look like a "hag" if she tried, but she seemed to make a point of coming to see her brother just looking like somebody going to see her brother at work. She presented herself and carried herself on these visits in a way where it would simply have been impossible to give her any kind of a movie star treatment. This was your friend from work's sister and she was just coming through to see him and to take a look at the people in her brother's life. What she did for a living was the furthest thing from her mind.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Translating Greek poetry into food and voice this Sunday

So like I was saying, we are going to try something new with the poem we are scoring for the fall, Phantom of the dreams' origin by Andreas Embirikos, translated from the Greek by Nikos Stabakis. We are going to translate the poem into a potluck barbecue.

This is happening this Sunday, July 15 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the home of Roland "The BBQ Dude" Frank, 4750 Michigan (between Itaska and Delor).

Please note we have chopped two hours off an event that was scheduled for 3-8 p.m. We don't want to conflict with a shoot Thomas Crone is doing for Half Order of Fried Rice starting at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Our concept is simple. Phantom of the dreams' origin is just larded with references to foodstuffs. So we are asking people to read the poem by clicking on that there hyperlinked poem title, pick out a food named in the poem, and commit to bringing that food on Sunday.

The BBQ Dude will have a grill hot, so you can bring something named in the poem to grill. Or you can prepare a dish in advance. The poem names many foods that are tasty raw. The choice is yours. Note that that there original post lists all the foods named in the poem.

Here is who/what I think I know we have coming already:

Chris King - fish
Jocko Ferguson – [chicken] breast
John Parker with family - mushrooms
Jeff Brawn - nuts
Stefene Russell - quinces
Amy VanDonsel - watermelon
Amy Broadway - fruit
Also RSVP'd with no mention of foodstuff: Ray Brewer, Martha Rose Green, Heather Corley, Tim McAvin. I expect more.

Roy Kasten will be set up in the basement of Roland's house with a mobile recording studio to record people reading lines from the poem for the poetry score, starting with the part of the poem that mentions the food they brought.

Fun? Fun. Come? Come. RSVP with your ingredient to brodog@hotmail.com.


Images are quinces Stefene Russell is bringing to the table.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jack Kerouac on revising poetic co-translation

I just read Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums (1958) by accident. I read it to see how Kerouac handled the character modelled on Albert Saijo, but after finishing it and never encountering a Japanese-American free spirit, I figured I had made a mistake. Now I see the Saijo character Baso figures in Big Sur (1962), not Dharma Bums. So it's back to the library for Big Sur.

I was introduced to Saijo by Kevin Diminiyatz, a lecturer in the Art Department at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. We are starting a Poetry Scores Hawaii offshoot in partnership with the department, and Kevin suggested that we do a project around Albert's work.

Though a Japanese-American from California, Saijo settled near the end of his life and died at Volcano, on the Big Island of Hawaii, just up the Volcano Road from Hilo. I expect we'll find the right Saijo poem to score in his collection Outspeaks published by Bamboo Ridge Press of Honolulu.

In Dharma Bums, the perennial second fiddle, hero-worshipping Kerouac is focussed almost singly on Gary Snyder, named Japhy Ryder here (except in one spot where Kerouac loses track of his roman a clef and calls Japhy "Gary"). Reading the book was hardly a waste of time, for The Dharma Bums has the best fictional treatment I have encountered on one of my favorite human activities: co-translation.

The Kerouac character is squatting in the Berklee cabin of the Snyder character when he gets interested in his friend's translation-in-progress of the Chinese poet Han Shan.


I bent over his shoulder and watched him read from big wild crowtracks of Chinese signs: "Climbing up Cold Mountain path, Cold Mountain path goes on and on, long gorge choked with scree and boulders, wide creek and mist-blurred grass, moss is slippery though there's been no rain, pine sings but there's no wind, who can leap the world's ties and sit with me among white clouds?"


"Course that's my own translation into English, you see there are five signs for each line and I have to put it in Western prepositions and articles and such."

"Why don't you just translate it as it is, five signs, five words? What's those first five signs?"

"Sign for climbing, sign for up, sign for cold, sign for mountain, sign for path."

"Well then, translate it 'Climbing up Cold Mountain path'."

"Yeah, but what do you do with the sign for long, sign for gorge, sign for choke, sign for avalanche, sign for boulders?"

"Where's that?"

"That's the third line, would have to read 'Long gorge choke avalanche boulders'."

"Well that's even better!"

"Well yeah, I thought of that, but I have to have this pass the approval of Chinese scholars here at the university and have it clear in English."


It's an exchange that will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked collaboratively on a translation. Kerouac has captured a classic ying and yang of cotranslation, with one translator (Snyder) pushing for adding more context and implied grammar from the target language, while the other translator (Kerouac) pushes for a more blunt, stark, literal translation of the source.

Note that this insightful passage about revision in poetic cotranslation is the work of the ballyhooed master of "spontaneous prose". The Beats gave generations of writers the liberty to let their words flow without revision of editing, but in fact they were skilled revisers and editors of themselves and each other.

For the outcome of this wrangling over the revision, we can look to Snyder's published translations of Han Shan (1958):

     Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
     The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
     The long gorge choked with scree and boulders

I'd say Jack helped him out here.


Image of Kerouac retyping his scroll of The Dharma Bums borrowed from Pitoucat.