Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Jesus Freaks" (Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Robert C. Goetz)

Etching by Robert C. Goetz. Provisional title
supplied by blogger: "Like a man lost on a beach."

This is an image of an etching that Robert C. Goetz made in St. Louis at the time he was scoring poetry by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake for the inaugural Poetry Scores Hawai'i project, Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki.

"Somehow, scoring Hawaiian poetry translated into this image from a stark and domesticated vantage point," Robert notes. "A Midwestern interpretation -- potted banana plant, me in underwear with guitar. A scant amount of clothing, my typical setup when sketching out songs, like a lost man on the beach. There's an ocean of possibility and the hard way of getting anywhere."

I had included Robert in the songwriting process for the Westlake poetry score before Wayne's friend and editor, Richard Hamasaki, took over the Westlake project as executive producer. Robert ended up sharing with Richard demos for three songs he had scored from Westlake's Waikiki sequence, "Jesus Freaks," "Lost" and "Out of Mind," and it was "Jesus Freaks" that made it off the cutting floor.

"It was my most scant score of Wayne Westlake's Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki material," Goetz notes. "It had three chords and a blues progression. I tracked vocal and guitar through one mic and made no effort to add key or tempo change. It's all feeling. I literally read Wayne's poem and strummed chords over it twice and then pressed 'record.' I erased the first take and kept the second."

Richard Hamasaki is an inventive and experienced producer of what he calls Amplified Poetry. From his home base on Oahu, he helped to guide Robert's score of "Jesus Freaks" that he was finishing in St. Louis.

"Months went by, and I maintained an email thread with Richard Hamasaki, about finalizing the song," Robert notes. "Richard asked me to separate guitar and vocal, so I tracked them separately. The album cut is my first guitar take, and first and second vocal takes. The second vocal was done while enjoying some Argentine Malbec. I took the next day off from work and added drums. Drums took 7 takes."

Now that Richard could hear more of what was going on, he could hear more of what he wanted to hear.

"There's a big jump that happens to the sound after I submit my isolated track demo to Richard," Robert notes. "We email back and forth about other instrumentation, and it's quickly resolved that I ask Adam Long to help with cello, production and mixing. Richard is also intrigued by my suggestion of Mark Buckheit's lap steel. Richard tells me that steel guitar is a Hawaiian tradition."

With Adam Long and Mark Buckheit's assistance, Robert completed a brilliant score to "Jesus Freaks" by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake.

free mp3

(Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Robert C. Goetz)

Performed by Robert C. Goetz
Vocals, acoustic guitar, drums: Robert C. Goetz
Cello: Adam Long
Electric Lap Steel Guitar: Mark Buckheit
Recorded, mixed and produced: Adam Long and Robert C. Goetz
Executive production: Richard Hamasaki

Robert adds a footnote about our friend Hunter Brumfield III:

Hunter story ...

Drums took 7 takes because drums are the hardest when you track them last. I remember Hunter tracking drums and insisting on recording them first, before anything.

One evening long ago I caught Hunter in the parking lot of the Schnucks on Arsenal. He was buying beer for a recording session happening off a South Grand side street. We shook hands, and he asked if I wanted to maybe add some guitar or something to a new batch of songs.

The first thing he did when we got to the studio was pop a beer and get behind the kit. Engineer pressed record, drums got tracked, we popped another beer while Hunter laid down guitar. We had another beer while Hunter did vocal.

Years later, I understand the one-man-band approach through watching Hunter. Drums after guitar is almost impossible, because rhythm is everything and you find yourself chasing the song rather than propelling it.

While tracking drums for "Jesus Freaks," I chased it. If you listen, "Jesus Freaks" skips, but by the skin of my teeth.


Robert and I were playing with Hunter Brumfield in the Poetry Scores house band Three Fried Men at the time Hunter killed himself. I'd like to say we consider Hunter's suicide an aberration and entertain the notion that our collaboration with him continues. As Bernard Leach said after his pottery colleague Soetsu Yanagi died, "Yanagi is gone but the friendship has deepened."



George Washington's Birthday - At Honolulu Zoo" (Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Judge Nothing)

Wayne Kaumualii Westlake
Photo by Mark Hamasaki

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Poetry Scores will translate Wittgenstein's "Tractatus" into other media

Ludwig Wittgenstein, roughly as he appeared
in his mid-20s while conceiving of and writing the Tractatus.

Poetry Scores is excited to announce a new, open-ended, international translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) into other media, starting immediately with music.

We will score the original English translation commissioned and edited by and credited to C. K. Ogden and largely performed by F. P. Ramsey, who met privately with Wittgenstein concerning his translation and benefitted from the author's own corrections.

This translation was published by Ogden in 1922 in his International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method (an imprint of Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London), with an introduction by Wittgenstein's mentor and friend, Bertrand Russell. The 1922 English publication was transcribed for Project Guttenberg's online archive, which is the source we will provide to mediators who participate in our Tractatus project.

We have permission from the literary trustees of the Wittgenstein Estate at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. We thank them and Routledge, which inherited the Kegan Paul titles and keeps the Tractatus in print, in the later translation by David Pears and Brian McGuinness. The publisher confirmed that Ogden and Ramsey's Tractatus has entered the public domain in the U.S. and U.K.

It is especially gratifying that our composers will be writing songs with Ogden and Ramsey as well as Wittgenstein. C. K. Ogden was, among many other things, an ancestor of Poetry Scores. In 1929 Ogden made a studio recording of James Joyce reading a passage of Finnegan's Wake, making Ogden a pioneer in the translation of poetry into sound -- and a pioneer who entered the game at the highest level it has ever been played, documenting one of world literature's immortals in his own voice.

We will start by translating Ogden and Ramsey's translation of the Tractatus into music. The Tractatus is a philosophical treatise (that's what its title means in Latin, treatise) written with the style and daring of a prose poem. Because of its length and what Ogden calls "the peculiar literary character of the whole," we don't think it's advisable to assign the entire Tractatus to composers in advance. Instead, we will start with one pair of co-composers and some simple rules that we will all follow as a gradually growing group.


Mike Burgett of The Lettuce Heads, first commissioned co-composer
of the poetry score to Wittgenstein's Tractatus

Carl Pandolfi of The Lettuce Heads, first commissioned co-composer of the poetry score to Wittgenstein's Tractatus

We have asked St. Louis songwriters Mike Burgett and Carl Pandolfi of The Lettuce Heads to start us off. They have been given the Project Guttenberg transcription of Ogden and Ramsey's translation of the Tractatus.

The Lettuce Heads on Confluence City (mp3s)
* Love Lead (Mike Burgett)
When I Plant My Garden (Carl Pandolfi)
* "Nice As" (Mike Burgett)
* "
Wake Up Call" (Carl Pandolfi)
* "
Imagiverbaration" (Mike Burgett)
* "Open air" (Carl Pandolfi)

We have asked Mike and Carl to start scoring the Tractatus musically at the beginning, with the evocative title.


G. E. Moore supplied the title, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which means "Logical-Philosophical Treatise" in Latin. (Wittgenstein's own title, Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, means the same thing in German, the language in which the book is written.) The Latin title by which this great work is known has powerful name magic, and we expect Mike and Carl to score just the title as the first song of the score, somewhat in the spirit of an opening credits song in the silent film this poetry score will soon become.


After the title, we have asked Mike and Carl to keep going with the dedication and score it as the second song:
It's poignant to think about this dedication to a dead, dear friend in light of what Wittgenstein says about the Tractatus in the preface that immediately follows: "Its object would be attained if there were one person who read it with understanding and to whom it afforded pleasure." It's impossible not to hear some heartache at the loss of one beloved person who would have read this book with understanding and taken pleasure in it.

David H. Pinsent

David Hume Pinsent and Wittgenstein, who was two years older, were intense friends at Trinity College, Cambridge and long-distance traveling companions, at the considerable expense of Wittgenstein's very wealthy father. Pinsent heard many of the foundational ideas in the Tractatus when they were first coming out of Wittgenstein's head. Pinsent heard many of these ideas before anyone else in private lectures at Cambridge and on long sea journeys to Iceland and Norway.

After the second of their overseas vacations, Wittgenstein abruptly left Cambridge to live in Norway, where he thought the seclusion would help him think through his problems in logic. The two friends were further separated by the World War. Pinsent then died and in fact disintegrated in the air over Frimley in Surrey at the age of 26 while co-piloting a test flight at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. The plane he was co-piloting broke into five parts in mid-air, and no trace of his body was ever recovered.

Meanwhile, Wittgenstein finished the Tractatus while serving the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the War. Mysteriously, he found the clarity he needed to complete his life work in the danger of firefights, rather than a village solitude. His work also took on new ethical and even metaphysical dimensions after Wittgenstein experienced combat on the Eastern Front (and a form of salvation through wartime re-readings of Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief).

"I had always hoped to be able to show it to him some time, and it will always be connected with him in my mind," Wittgenstein wrote of the Tractatus and Pinsent. He was addressing Pinsent's mother, Fanny, after hearing of David's death. "I will dedicate it to David's memory. For he always took a great interest in it, and it is to him I owe far the most part of the happy moods which made it possible for me to work."

The memory of David H. Pinsent that Wittgenstein puts at the beginning of the Tractatus presents a musical opportunity. For Pinsent and Wittgenstein were a musical duet, with Pinsent on piano and Wittgenstein whistling. They played together in this way so often that Pinsent referred to it in his diary as their "customary" or "usual" way of playing music. (Pinsent's diaries were published as A Portrait of Wittgenstein as a Young Man.)

Wittgenstein and Pinsent were musical junkies -- Bertrand Russell said Wittgenstein's obsession with music was so intense it diminished his accomplishments in philosophy. Their favorite composers were Beethoven and Mozart ("the actual sons of God," Wittgenstein called them), but the Pinsent/Wittgenstein repertoire for their piano/whistling duet was Schubert.

So we are encouraging our composers to use piano and whistling, at some point and in some way, in their compositions -- starting with Mike Burgett and Carl Pandolfi. "Mike is one mean whistler," piano-playing Carl said when he heard of this project.


We have asked Mike and Carl to keep moving and score the motto Wittgenstein chose as the third song in the score. Wittgenstein's motto for the Tractatus is a quote from the Austrian writer Ferdinand Kurnberger. In his edition, Ogden left the Kurnberger quote untranslated in German:
MOTTO: ... und alles, was man weiss, nicht bloss rauschen und brausen gehort hat, lasst sich in drei Worten sagen.
In their translation of the Tractatus, D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness translate this scrap of Kurnberger as:
MOTTO: …and whatever a man knows, whatever is not mere rumbling and roaring that he has heard, can be said in three words
The fact that Ogden leaves the Kurnberger quote untranslated gives us an opportunity to sing some of Wittgenstein's native German near the beginning of our score of the Tractatus. We have asked Mike and Carl to score both the Kurnberger and the English translation as one song.


We were advised to score Wittgenstein's Preface (Vorwort) to the Tractatus by the independent Wittgenstein scholar Jaap van der Does, based in Soest (central Netherlands), who is consulting for us (as a volunteer, like everyone else working on the project).

"From a philosophical point of view, it's crucial in coming to grips with the text," Jaap wrote to us regarding the Preface. While Poetry Scores is approaching the Tractatus as a prose poem, we certainly don't want to hide or obscure the philosophy. So we will score the Preface.

Independent Tractatus scholar Jaap van der Does,
who is consulting for Poetry Scores on our project.

The Preface (Vortwort) is written in eight taut paragraphs of prose, beginning with the most startling opener for a book of philosophy ever written: "This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it -- or similar thoughts."

It seems that these eight paragraphs should yield one song each for a total of eight songs, but this starts to become more controlling than we wish to be. We only ask that the composer(s) always stop at the end of one of Wittgenstein's complete thoughts and not fragment any sentence or proposition.

It also remains to be seen whether Mike and Carl will want to keep going and score the Preface after the three short pops of title, dedication and motto. They have our invitation to do so, but we shall see.

After the prose Preface, it is on to the numbered propositions of the Tractatus proper.

Wittgenstein used an exact numbering system for his propositions that encoded how his propositions were dependent upon other, previously stated propositions. Proposition 1 stands alone, for example, but Proposition 1.1 is dependent upon Proposition 1, Proposition 1.11 is dependent upon Proposition 1.1, and so on.

Wittgenstein took pains to number his work exactly and to explain his numbering system in a footnote. So perhaps we should score and sing the numbers? However, in stretches of the Tractatus where there is a flurry of brief numbered propositions, we'd be singing nearly as many numbers as words. That could start to sound silly and distracting from the poetry (philosophy).

So, we asked our independent Wittgenstein scholar, Jaap van der Does, who is also a musician and poet. His response:
I have always liked to compare the Tractatus with Anton Webern's music (formal, condensed, intense, spiritual) ... Even if this is too far removed from your music, you might want to toy with this analogy. So, instead of singing the thesis-numbers I would try to find musical analogues, such as rhythmical patterns, chords with certain intervals, etc. 
Another way to exploit the analogy, independent of the numbering, would be to alternate a blues-scale (six note series) with the co-blues scale, the remaining six notes (without being too strict about it, of course). It seems this might give a nice alternation of blues and pop-like music
That is good advice we are passing along to our composers. As Jaap later added, "Erik Stenius, an early commentator, once observed that the numbering gives the Tractatus a musical structure."


Wherever our first composer(s), Mike Burgett and Carl Pandolfi of The Lettuce Heads, stop in scoring the Tractatus, they will share a demo of their work with us. Then they will work with us on deciding which composer to commission next.

It will be up to each composer where they stop. We expect them to move forward and take as much of the Tractatus as they need to score one song, but if they feel compelled to keep moving and score a multi-song suite, that would be an option. We only ask that each composer stop at the end of one of Wittgenstein's complete thoughts and not fragment any sentence or proposition.

Each composer added to the project will help Poetry Scores pick the next composer who comes after them, mindful of the text that comes next and what kinds of songs it might inspire or demand. In this way, we expect the Tractatus to travel all over the world, picking up composers as it goes.

We will post the demos in sequence as we get them, and then go back later and add (in the spirit of dependent propositions) evolving drafts of all the demos. Then, eventually, we will post the final recording of each song. We propose to make all of these recordings freely available from the Poetry Scores blog. We propose to declare publishing credit for the songs as shared equally between Wittgenstein, Ogden, Ramsey and each of the musical composers.

When we have enough final recordings, in sequence, to release a Volume 1 of the Tractatus poetry score in some physical medium (vinyl, cassette, CD), we will go back to the literary trustees of the Wittgenstein estate at Trinity College and come up with an equitable publishing plan.

In the meantime, we will be initiating parallel scores of the Tractatus in visual art, selfies, cinema, happenings, and anything else that comes to mind. We encourage anyone, anywhere who wants to translate the Tractatus into any medium to contact Poetry Scores creative director Chris King at Please include links to examples of your work (and a selfie).

Poetry Scores is an all-volunteer international arts organization based in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., that translates poetry into other media. We believe poetry is an alternative, sustainable form of positive energy that can unite people and nations. We borrow a motto from our mentors at Curbstone Press, taken from the revolutionary Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton: "Poetry, like bread, is for everyone."

Keep track of Poetry Scores and the Tractatus mediations on the Poetry Scores blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Ogden and Ramsey's translation of the Tractatus is available for download at Project Guttenberg.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"George Washington's Birthday - At Honolulu Zoo" (Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Judge Nothing)

It's amazing that Judge Nothing's first contribution to a Poetry Scores project was to a Poetry Scores Hawai'i record and the commission came from halfway across the Pacific Ocean.

This is amazing because Judge Nothing is from Alton, Illinois. Poetry Scores has its roots in a rock band formed by two boys from Granite City, Illinois, just a few miles downriver from Alton. That band, Enormous Richard, grew up in the same St. Louis music scene and on the same national indie touring circuit as Judge Nothing.

And their invitation came from Richard Hamasaki on the island of Oahu!

Richard Hamsaaki produced the first Poetry Scores Hawai'i record, Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki, musical settings of a poetic sequence by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947-1984). Richard was Westlake's friend and became his editor. He is largely responsible for this poetry seeing the light of print from the University of Hawaii Press and being recommended to us by Michael Marshall, our partner at the University of Hawaii - Hilo.

Richard is also a seasoned, talented producer and performer of what he calls Amplified Poetry (spoken word amplified by music), so it was natural for him to take the lead in producing the musical adaptation of Westlake's poetry. Poetry Scores (mainland) sent Richard some suggestions for songwriters, and of those songsters Richard commissioned scores from Judge Nothing, Robert C. Goetz and Three Fried Men. We're blogging those bands' poetry scores of Westlake.

Judge Nothing just blazed through Westlake's poem "George Washington's Birthday - At Honolulu Zoo." Their pop punk aesthetic has seldom been stated with this intense degree of purity.


"George Washington's Birthday - At Honolulu Zoo"
(Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Doug Rafferty)
Judge Nothing 

Recorded and mixed by Doug Rafferty


For more information on Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki and for CD ordering information, contact producer Richard Hamasaki at

Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947-1984) is in print with the University of Hawaii Press.


"Christmas Day, 1972" (Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Three Fried Men)



"Christmas Day, 1972"
(Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Chris King, David Melson)
Three Fried Men

Wayne Kaumualii Westlake
Photo by Mark Hamasaki

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Christmas Day, 1972" (Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Three Fried Men)

The "Catholic church" in Waikiki referenced
in Wayne Kaumualii's poem "Christmas Day, 1972"

Christmas season 2013 is underway, which seems an opportune time to call attention to "Christmas Day, 1972," one of mainland Poetry Scores' contributions to the first Poetry Scores Hawai'i musical project, Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki, settings of a poetic sequence by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake produced by Richard Hamasaki.

This record became very much Richard's project, which made sense when we first developed the collaboration with him and Michael Marshall, director of the Art Department at the University of Hawaii - Hilo. Richard was Westlake's friend and editor; without his efforts, Westlake's sole book of poetry in print -- Westlake (University of Hawaii Press, 2009) -- would not exist. Richard also is a seasoned, talented producer and performer of what he calls Amplified Poetry.

Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki is a marvelous record that mixes Amplified Poetry (spoken word amplified by music) with song settings of poems, Westlake's poetry treated as lyrics. Three of the songsters Richard selected for the project, after looking over Poetry Scores' previous records and suggestions, were Judge Nothing, Robert C. Goetz and Three Fried Men. We'll be blogging those bands' poetry scores of Westlake.

Three Fried Men, the Poetry Scores house band, was commissioned to score "Christmas Day, 1972." Richard said he thought many Hawai'i-based artists would shy away from the blatant sacrilege in this Westlake poem. Perhaps Richard really did his homework and learned that Three Fried Men and Poetry Scores have their roots in the goofy St. Louis band Enormous Richard, shameless purveyors of sacrilege ca. 1990.

Three Fried Men's score of this sacrilegious Westlake poem started with a home demo by David Melson, who wrote and orchestrated all of the music himself. Your humble blogger, Poetry Scores creative director Chris King, attached Dave's song to Westlake's poem and came up with the vocal melody. The recording was enabled by Nick Barbieri and his generosity with his portable recording equipment. Mark Buckheit delivered the smoldering electric guitar.

The band prefers a version with more of Mark's guitar, and less vocal, but this mix was Richard's call. Meghan Gohil of Hollywood Recording Studio did the mix (and remixes).


"Christmas Day, 1972"
(Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, Chris King, David Melson)
Three Fried Men

Nick Barbieri - drums, ukulele
Mark Buckheit - electric guitar
Chris King - vocals
David Melson - acoustic guitar, bass, keyboards

Recorded by David Melson, Nick Barbieri and Meghan Gohil
Mixed by Meghan Gohil at Hollywood Recording Studio


For more information on Down on the Sidewalk in Waikiki and for CD ordering information, contact producer Richard Hamasaki at

Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947-1984) is in print with the University of Hawaii Press.


Image of the Catholic church in Waikiki borrowed from Rachelle Bowden's blog

Wayne Kaumualii Westlake
Photo by Mark Hamasaki

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First shoot for our next movie, "Jack Ruby's America"

Poetry Scores started shooting our third movie, Jack Ruby's America, on Sunday, November 24, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the day that Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald. One of our main house actors, with us from the beginning, Neal Alster, is playing Ruby. We are shooting on location, mostly, at Polish Hall in Madison, Illinois. Our first shoot was a scene in Ruby's office at his burlesque club, the Carousel Club. We shot it in the old paneled office at Polish Hall. The JFK portrait and flag were already in the office when we scouted the location. All we did was take everything else out of the shot.

For this picture, Dan Cross (left) is co-directing (with Chris King). Dan is a veteran filmmaker who runs a film program across the river. He joined the Poetry Scores movie unit part-way through the Go South for Animal Index shoot as a zombie extra, and ended up sharing every major credit on the production side as well as editing the movie single-handedly with only the most vague directions. Dan is also director of photography on the Jack Ruby picture and camera one. On the first shoot we had V. Elly Smith as camera two. That is Elly in the flame-red wig.

Elly was in the flame-red wig because she is also acting in this picture. For our first shoot we tackled "Jack Ruby talks business with the new girl," and Elly played one of four new girls who hear Jack's spiel to the newcomer. We are excited to work with Elly, who shot a good one-third of our previous movie, as an actor. She is one of the most tireless and positive colleagues in a mostly tireless and positive St. Louis movie scene.

Another house actor who goes back to our first picture, D'Mari Martinez (right), is playing another of the four new girls Jack talks to in this scene. Here D'Mari is watching a reference film, Naughty Dallas, with Michelle Koelling. Michelle is a welcome newcomer to the Poetry Scores movie unit, also playing a new girl reporting to work at the burlesque club. I had fun watching them watch Naughty Dallas. I brought the reference film on VHS thinking the actors would want to look at costumes, but D'Mari and Michelle just sped through all the scripted action to get to the next burlesque dance sequence. We are negotiating with our old friend Lola van Ella to give our new girls some burlesque lessons, and there is much anxiousness in the cast about getting up there and actually shaking jelly and dropping garments in front of a motion picture camera. We'll see how this goes.

Our fourth new girl for the first shoot was Tabitha Hassell. We are an all-volunteer operation and can hardly expect anyone to miss work to make our movies for free, so Tabitha had to rush her new hair dye job around a busy work schedule and showed up at the end when we had to rush a bit ourselves. We got her take, though. Tabby is actually an industry professional -- she runs security for many regional big name film premieres. Rather than pose for the movie camera, she is usually confiscating them with a rental cop on her shoulder.

We found Tabitha through her uncle, Jocko Ferguson, seen here managing talent morale with the star of our picture, Neal Alster. Jocko found us the Polish Hall location for this shoot and got us in the door there (got us in every door in this quirky old place). Jocko is a Poetry Scores board member, food translator (most recently, he translated an Anne Sexton simile into some tasty cube steaks) and lead production assistant on the movie unit. Jocko is also a kind of Poetry Scores mascot, since he is almost universally liked. Jocko never met a stranger and never ran anyone off (not for long).

The "new girl" shoot would not have been possible without the varied talents of Barbara Manzara, who did hair and makeup for the new girls, costume-consulting for the entire cast, and touched up the really bad spray-on black hair dye job co-director Chris King gave to the star, Neal Alster. Barbara also has a major role in this picture as Jack Ruby's sister and business partner, Eva. Barbara played opposite Neal in our most recent movie, Go South for Animal Index, the lonely wife of a pent-in nuclear physicist at Los Alamos. We like the way the Coen Brothers cast their movies like a repertory theater company, always picking the same actors, mindful of their previous roles and connections to other ensemble actors in previous roles. I think Barbara and Neal are going to be eyeing each other in our movies for a long time to come.

Co-producer Mali Newman also worked this shoot hard, with costumes and props and eyeballing everything. We owe Mali to our earliest days as a movie unit, when KDHX Community Media helped us to recruit and train production assistants for our first movie, Blind Cat Black. Mali worked (and invested) her way into co-producer status on Go South for Animal Index. She is also a Poetry Scores board member, a poet in her own right, and an actor in our movies. Jack Ruby's life and milieu did not include many choice roles for African-American actors, but there is a Cuban storyline where we will find the right roles for Mali.

Co-producer Marty Luepker of Cars on Film also came by to bless the first shoot, in the company of an aspiring young filmmaker, whose name I have not retained but who had a very positive vibe. Marty himself is one of the sunniest operators on the scene. He is wrangling cars and props for our Ruby movie. In fact, he lightened our prop load by one item while standing right there at Polish Hall, by spotting and pointing out some big, long, multi-colored, rectangular tickets for some game the hall is running that will be perfect for the racing slips Jack Ruby peddled at the horse track in Chicago as a boy.

Jack Ruby (Neal Alster) with three of his four new girls, played by Michelle Koelling, V. Elly Smith and D'Mari Martinez. Notice all of the new girls at the burlesque club are fully clothed in this shoot. We are shooting a silent movie to a musical score of David Clewell's poem, Jack Ruby's America. Basically, we are shooting to an existing soundtrack, and two-thirds of the 70-minute score / soundtrack / movie is Clewell performing his poem. This particular scene was shot to "Jack Ruby talks business with the new girl," a monologue that ends the main Carousel Club section of the poem / movie and leads directly to the death in Dealey Plaza and its aftermath.

Clewell makes a point -- just before Ruby gets dragged into a murderous conspiracy -- of going back to a more innocent, workaday moment in the life of a strip club owner, when he tenderly warns the new girl about the dangers and the rules of the game. So we followed Clewell in having the new girls all show up best dressed for traveling, ready for a respectful business meeting after they have already passed the onstage audition. In my readings into the Carousel Club scene, Ruby did snake on his dancers, particularly on the new girls, but Clewell leaves the casting couch out of his poem so we're leaving it out of our movie. I have learned a lot since the first day of our first shoot on our first movie, Blind Cat Black, when we piled thirty-five people with fake gore on the floor of CBGB and shot a simulated zombie orgy!

Interested in working on this picture? Email Poetry Scores creative director Chris King a head shot and a body shot in a plain, old-fashioned (late 50s, early 60s) suit or dress:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why we put zombies in our movies

The absent-minded tightrope walker (Toyy Davis)
gets ready to walk the zombie bar in "Blind Cat Black."

Last night, Poetry Scores bestowed its 2nd Larry Weir Memorial Chair in Zombie Dramatics during a brief onstage ceremony following our first appearance in an international film festival, as Go South for Animal Index closed the 2013 St. Louis International Film Festival.

More, later, on the awarding of the Weir Chair, once we have a proper picture of the new chairholder, Bob Putnam, sitting on Larry's chair. For now, in response to a friend who attended the SLIFF screening and asked why we put zombies in our movies, I want to explain why we put zombies in our movies.

There are definite reasons I'll get to, but it wasn't a conscious, deliberate decision. It started quite by accident.

When Poetry Scores first decided to start making movies, I approached KDHX for help recruiting and training a movie unit. To work out those arrangements, I met for lunch with executive director Beverly Hacker and Aaron AuBuchon, who ran the KDHX video program at the time.

The first movie we wanted to make was Blind Cat Black, based on the poem by Ece Ayhan, translated from the Turkish by Murat Nemet-Nejat. Ece Ayhan's poem is intensely imagistic with Surrealist atmosphere and technique. I was small-talking with Beverly and Aaron about ways to adapt that Surrealist atmosphere and technique to our movie, when Aaron said, "There are all these zombies running around St. Louis. Why not put some zombies in your movie?"

Aaron meant what he said literally -- he is close with the Zombie Squad, an interesting group (I began to learn from Aaron) that mix a thing for dressing up like zombies with emergency survivalism preparation and community blood drives. And ZS is just one large, intelligent segment of a diverse (you might call it) zombie subculture in St. Louis.

I liked the idea right away. Blind Cat Black is chock full of undead imagery; indeed, the blind black cat of the poem's title carries "in its sack a child just dead." Our movie was going to follow the translator's suggested story skeleton for the confusing poem: the coming of age and disintegration of a boy (perhaps, transgendered) prostitute. I figured the zombies would be perfect characters for the underworld where the prostitute makes his/her living. Aaron put me in touch with some zombie wranglers, and Dale Ashauer cast a zombie subculture for our movie.

I noticed an instant change that immediately endeared zombies to me. Instantly, our movie was way more interesting to almost everybody. Before we added the zombie storyline, I was going around town telling people we were making a silent movie to a Turkish poem. People could not have shown me their rear end any sooner. People fled from me. But when I found myself telling people we were making a silent zombie movie, suddenly people were buying me drinks, telling their friends about our movie, helping me cast their friends. Zombies made making movies in St. Louis easier.

Adding the genre element instantly opened up our project to a wider range of interested (and interesting) people, which is part of the mission of Poetry Scores: to get poetry off the page and into people, all sorts of people. As the Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton said, in a motto we borrowed from our friends and mentors at Curbstone Press: "Poetry, like bread, is for everyone."

I made the brash decision that all of our movies would have zombies.

Poetry Scores takes long poems, puts them to music, then makes silent movies to that music. We turn a poem into a soundtrack, and then make a silent movie to that soundtrack. So we already know the movies we are going to make next, because we have been making the soundtracks for years before we started making movies. I thought about the movies on our agenda, and right away I could figure out a zombie storyline or cast element for every one of them:

Go South for Animal Index - We adapted Stefene Russell's poem about the making of the atomic bomb into a fable of Los Alamos. We made the uranium miners and millers the zombies. Stefene made that easy for us. Her uranium miner from Shinkolobwe asks, "Why a corpse as me should be afraid?"

Jack Ruby's America - David Clewell presents Ruby as a product of the Chicago Mob who is moved to Dallas as one kind of Mob operative, who later becomes another, very different, historic and notorious kind of Mob operative. The zombies in this picture will be the Mob muscle, the goons, the gunmen. This gives us the option of having Ruby grow gradually more zomboid as he gets sucked into the Mob conspiracy (according to Clewell's poem) to cover up the Mob conspiracy to kill Kennedy.

The Sydney Highrise Variations - We want to make Les Murray's poem about the rise of Sydney (and cities generally) into a tramp in the city movie. The tramps from the old town that is overbuilt by the new city will get almost all of the screen time, but be the only people in a large cast of mostly zombies. The zombies will be all the new urbanites who drove the tramps out and down.

Phantom of the Dreams' Origin - Andreas Embirikos' Greek Surrealist classic (translated by Nikos Stabakis) gets creepier things than zombies in its morning cereal. The challenge would be to make a movie to Barbara Harbach's score of this bizarre poem that does not have zombies.

Crossing America - Our first poetry score was to Leo Connellan's centennial hitchhiking epic, and we were supposed to have made the movie by now, but the beautiful young Virginia couple who were going to go hitchhiking with our movie unit went splitsville instead. The zombies in this picture will be tramp bums, once we find a new beautiful young couple.

I'd go so far as to say you could imagine a compelling zombie storyline or cast element in every work of literature ever written. In an age of marketing genre mashups, there may even be a cottage industry in producing zombie remakes of the classics. I do know that once we got into making movies with zombies, I began to see zombies everywhere. And really, that's one way I explain the enduring fascination and appeal of zombies: it's realistic cinema. Because in every office, in every bar, in every family, there is somebody who is less truly alive than the other people and perpetuates his or her voided life by sucking the brains, energy and soul out of the more alive people.

Not that our zombies suck brains out of skulls or obey any wide range of what I take to be zombie tropes. (I myself don't watch many zombie movies that we don't make ourselves.) In Blind Cat Black, our zombies are pretty zomboid and gored out and (spoiler!) they do stomp our hero/ine to death at the end. But for Go South for Animal Index, the poet didn't want literal zombies in the movie. Stefene wrote her poem for Nevada test site Downwinders who suffer wasting cancers, and she was uneasy with the similarity between the effects of her friends' physical suffering and zombie gore. So we went with method zombies for our uranium miners and millers. They dress in ordinary workclothes -- boots, jeans, white T-shirts -- and wear no makeup as they move lifelessly through their labors.

For the Mob muscle in Jack Ruby's America, who knows? We just started making that movie the morning of our festival screening and have a lot of difficult problems to solve. But, if we can, I would like to gore out our zombie Mobster muscle, the goons who flank the Capones, Marcellos and Trafficantes, keeping their mouth shut unless they're shoveling in pasta with red gravy, waiting for the order to kill.

Lydia McGhee, Joyce Pillow and Jocko Ferguson get their
method zombie on as Debased Cogs in "Go South for Animal Index."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Poetry Scores history lesson: the Polaroid Broomstick Selfy

Poetry Scores is still winding down from our successful celebration of Anne Sexton's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which we translated into music, visual art, food, cocktails and even a psychotherapeutic relationship (more on that later).

We also added a new medium, for us: the Selfy (sometimes referred to as "Selfie," by people who don't like the letter "y" as much as I do). Since "Snow White" is a poem about what happens after someone looks in the mirror, we asked people to make a Mirror Selfy -- a self-taken photograph of yourself in the mirror. Since Poetry Scores translates poetry into other media, we needed to get the poem into the new medium somehow, so we asked people to title their Mirror Selfy after a direct quote from Sexton's poem.

This open commission resulted in a nice gallery of Snow White Mirror Selfies. It also made us want to add a Selfy poetry score component to all of our projects from now on. It seemed to connect with more people where they are. Not everyone will want to take the time to write a song, make a painting or shoot a film from a poem, or have those skills, but people are always updating photographs of themselves and anyone can do it.

As a matter of fact, for those who want to get a head start on the next one, our Spring 2014 project is going to be Ten Dreamers in a Motel (1955) by Josephine Miles, and soon we will issue an open call for Motel Selfies. Since it's a ten-part poem, we will encourage people to shoot a ten-part sequence of Motel Selfies, with each Motel Selfy taking its title sequentially from one of the ten parts of the poem.

The Selfy score may become an important part of our future in making Poetry Scores more accessible to more people, but it's really nothing new for us. Poetry Scores was producing selfies before we were Poetry Scores and before selfies were selfies.

Poetry Scores evolved from the field recording collective Hoobellatoo (which evolved from the folk rock band Eleanor Roosevelt, which evolved from the alternative country band Enormous Richard, which evolved from the arts organization Single Point of Light).

In the years when the rock band Eleanor Roosevelt was mutating into the field recording collective Hoobellatoo, we made a series of sweeps up the East Coast with a mobile recording studio packed into a cartop carrier, doing field recordings of ourselves and others on location.

This was before everyone had a camera in their pocket. Our portable camera back then was a Polaroid. One of the guys had learned the trick of posing for a Polaroid portrait, then hitting the little button on the camera to take the picture with the other end of a broomstick. Call it a Polaroid Broomstick Selfy.

This is me, in an era of longer hair and larger eyeglass frames, wielding the broomstick as Elijah "Lij" Shaw and Joe Esser pose with me on a Wayne, New Jersey back porch where we were probably getting ready to eat a bunch of food. Lij, Joe and I were in this thing going back to our Washington University campus rock band Enormous Richard. We had been refueling our bodies on the road in Joe's hometown of Wayne, New Jersey since our first East Coast tour, ca. 1992.

I keep turning up Polaroid Broomstick Selfies and will be posting others that feature the Grebo raconteur Nymah Kumah, jump blues legend Rosco Gordon, and the editors of Curbstone Press, publishers of Latin American revolutionary literature (and Vietnamese fiction) in translation. (Our Fall 2014 project, Tavern (Conversatorio) by Roque Dalton, was published in English by Curbstone Press. You guessed it .... Tavern Selfies.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jocko's Snow White Cube Steaks

Poetry Scores food artist Jocko Ferguson, right, visiting with
his friend Karley M. King at Poetry Scores' Embirikos barbecue

We have received some recipe requests for the Snow White Cube Steaks that our food artist Jocko Ferguson translated from Anne Sexton's poem Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Poetry Scores always tries to cook from the poems we translate into other media, treating food as a medium. That was fun with the Sexton poem. She describes the seven dwarfs as "little hot dogs," so Jocko served little wieners. He got gummy worms for the worm-like loll of the wolf's tongue. The notorious apple in the poem was translated into apple pie (and Poison Apple cocktails).

As for the cube steaks, Jocko pan-fried them from a simile Sexton employs when the jealous Queen is scarfing down what she thinks is Snow White's salted-down heart, but actually is boar organ meats.

Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter,
and I will salt it and eat it.
The hunter, however, let his prisoner go
and brought a boar's heart back to the castle.
The queen chewed it up like a cube steak.
Now I am fairest, she said,
lapping her slim white fingers.


So cube steak seemed like a good anchor for our food table at our celebration of Snow White at Mad Art Gallery. Jocko cooked to scale from this simple recipe:
Jocko's Snow White Cube Steaks


2 -3 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons dried, minced onions
3 -4 pieces cube steaks
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon steak grill seasoning
salt and pepper

1 Melt butter in skillet, add minced onions and cook 1-2 minutes.
2 Mix flour, paprika and grill seasoning together and place on a plate.
3 Season steak with salt and pepper, then dredge through flour mixture, making sure not to coat the meat too heavily
4 Cook for 3-5 minutes on each side depending on size of meat.
5 Serve immediately.


At the Mad Art celebration, Jocko was serving cube steaks graciously donated by the legendary O'Connell's Pub. Thanks to Jack Parker and O'Connell's for the steaks!

They were a critical contribution to a multi-media translation of the poem. At one point I heard "cube steak" read from the poem and then sang from Ann Hirschfeld's musical score of the poem while people were eating cube steaks. I heard a gasp and saw several people looking at their cube steak like they were eating a poem.

Thanks also to for a recipe that looks remarkably like Jocko's.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A gallery of 'Snow White' mirror selfies

We asked people to take a mirror selfy and title the photograph after a phrase in Anne Sexton's poem "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Here is what we got, presented in the order their titles appear in the poem.

"Cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper"
Gina Dill-Thebeau

"open and shut"
Hunter Brumfield III

"She is white as a bonefish"
Kim Wingett

"eaten, of course, by age"
Chris King

"You will dance the fire dance in iron shoes"
Nick Barbieri

"The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred --
something like the weather forecast"
Sharon Derry

"And the mirror would reply"
Tim Meehan

"Pride pumped in her like poison"
Rene Spencer Saller

"Suddenly one day the mirror replied,
Queen you are full fair, 'tis true,
but Snow White is fairer than you."
Prinsess Tarta

"you are full fair, 'tis true,
but Snow White is fairer than you."
Heather Pillow

"Until that moment Snow White
had been no more important
than a dust mouse under the bed"
Gina Dill-Thebeau

"Bring me her heart,
she said to the hunter,
and I will salt it and eat it."
Sharon Derry

"Now I am fairest, she said,
lapping her slim white fingers."
Ipek Subasi

"The birds called out lewdly"
Nicky Rainey

"The birds called out lewdly"
Gina Dill-Thebeau

"Talking like pink parrots"
Cem Subasi

"And the snakes hung down in loops"
Ann Hirschfeld

"They asked her to stay and keep house"
Heidi Dean

"she came to the seventh mountain"
Robin Street-Morris

"Beware of your stepmother, they said.
Soon she will know you are here."
Beth Owen

"While we are away in the mines
during the day, you must not
open the door."
John Parker

"The mirror told"
Ann Hirschfeld

"and so the queen dressed herself in rags
and went out like a peddler to trap Snow White."
Ree Cee

"This time she bought a poison comb"
Michelle Koelling

"This time she bought a poison comb,
a curved eight-inched scorpion,
and put it in her hair and swooned again."
Erica R. Brooks

"Snow White, the dumb bunny,
opened the door
and she bit into a poison apple
and fell down for the final time."
Dawn O'Neall

"Though they washed her with wine
and rubbed her with butter
it was to no avail."
Stefene Russell

"A prince came one June day"
Jay Alan Babcock

"And still he would not leave"
Scott Intagliata

"The dwarfs took pity upon him"
Scott Intagliata

"First your toes will smoke
and then your heels will turn black
and you will fry upward like a frog,
she was told.
And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure"
Anita Jung

"And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure"
Heather Corley

"Meanwhile Snow White held court"
Deb Douglas

"Sometimes referring to her mirror as women do"
Amy VanDonsel

Want to play? Take a mirror selfy, title it from the poem and then email it to or post it to Poetry Scores on Facebook or Twitter.

This is all part of Poetry Scores' celebration of Anne Sexton's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," done with permission of Linda Gray Sexton and the Anne Sexton Estate.