Monday, February 25, 2013

The strange story behind "Short Life"

Frances Densmore recording Mountain Chief at the Smithsonian.

So like I was saying, the Poetry Scores house band Three Fried Men has a gig this Wednesday, February 27 at Nico, opening for a Fred Friction cover band as part of a benefit for Fred's new record (with Jason Hutto producing), Murder Balladeer. A new guy I've never played with before, guitarist Mark Buckheit, expressed interest at rehearsal in the sources of our songs, since Poetry Scores sets other people's words to music. I thought it would be fun to explain this to Mark and anyone else who wants to listen.

We will open our set at 9:30 p.m. with "Short Life," a song first recorded by the Poetry Scores precursor band Eleanor Roosevelt in 1995 for the record Crumbling in the Rain, still digitally in print. It's one of the first songs I wrote on guitar by myself, though the words didn't start with me.

I got the basic kernel of the lyrics from a 741-page tome called Teton Sioux Music by Frances Desmore. It was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1918 as Bulletin 61 from the Bureau of American Ethnology. It's preposterous to remember this in these sequestered days of a Congress dominated by people who seem bent on destroying our federal government, but the feds used to pay salaried ethnographers to prepare 741-page reports on things like songs the Teton Sioux sing to themselves.

I learned of the former existence of the Bureau of American Ethnology and its reports by reading the liner notes to Jerome Rothenberg's anthologies of ethnopoetries, Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin. Rothenberg and other pioneering poets combed these dusty volumes looking for the kernels of poetry, often plucking a few lines of song from many dense pages of exposition and setting it forth as a poem. I found it exciting to turn these fragments of poetry back into song, though a new song, in a new idiom.

With our song "Short Life," I clearly went back to the source. The notes I unearthed just now from my 1990s road journals reference page numbers in Densmore's bulletin, not any anthology. On page 297, Densmore documents the melody and lyrics of a song sung by a Teton man named One Feather

          an elk
          am I
          (a) short life
          I am living

It is a song from the Elk Society, composed of men who had dreamed of an elk -- the song of an elk dreamer. I see only now, in researching this post, that Densmore credits her translator, Robert P. Higheagle, who therefore shares a credit for this song with One Feather.

In our setting of these lyrics, I flipped the bottom and top halves of the stanza, and also turned it into a question.

          short life
          I'm living
          am I an elk?

I found a second verse in another Teton song that Densmore transcribed, again with the help of Robert P. Higheagle, from the singing of a man named Old Buffalo.

          the fox
          I am
          I seek

As you might guess, it's a song of the Fox Society, men who dream of foxes. Again, I flipped the stanza over and turned it into a question.

          something difficult I'm seeking
          am I a fox?

I have sung this song at taverns, guitar circles and campfires, but I see now, taking a closer look at Densmore's report, that Old Buffalo sang his song in totally more harrowing circumstances. Some Crow Indians stole some horses from Old Buffalo's band, including a horse owned by a beloved sister of his. So he took a group of 13 men on the warpath. This was in the coldest part of winter, what the Sioux call the Wood-cracking Moon.

Traveling on a lame leg through a blizzard, Old Buffalo led his war party along the Missouri River and drove the horses away from the unsuspecting Crows, who were dancing in the night. The Teton drove their recovered horses (53 of them) all night and the next day, before sleeping. They woke to another blizzard. "My eyelashes were frozen so that I could barely see," Old Buffalo said.

The Crows followed the horse tracks, overtook Old Buffalo's party, and took back their stolen horses after a vicious fight. "Every time we fired a gun it turned white with frost," Old Buffalo said. It was in the frozen heat of this battle, while trying to protect a 15-year-old boy from his party who had been shot in the back with an arrow, that Old Buffalo sang his fox song.

          the fox
          I am
          I seek

The remnants of his war party made it back to their band with four horses, and the boy. The boy soon died, and Old Buffalo gave all the horses away.

When I started writing songs out of poetry and folklore, I would flesh out the fragments I found by writing new lines and verses that were modeled on my source lines and verses. For "Short Life," I took One Feather's song for the first verse and Old Buffalo's song for the second verse, then went from there, making stuff up along the same lines.

          short life in trouble
          am I man?

That's borrowing from a different American tradition, "Short Life of Trouble," a folk song from the Southern Mountains, now a standard.

          something sweet and difficult
          I seek you now
          am I a grizzle bear?

          short life in struggle
          am I fly?

          something so sweet and difficult
          I am making
          am I honeybee?


"Short Life"
(Old Buffalo, One Feather, Chris King)
Eleanor Roosevelt

"Short Life" and the rest of the Eleanor Roosevelt record Crumbling in the Rain is available on iTunes and the other major download sites via Hollywood Recording Studio.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

In search of the seeds of "Banana Stalks"

I have been working up a new version of the Poetry Scores house band, Three Fried Men, to play a benefit for a record I am helping put together, Murder Balladeer by Fred Friction (with Jason Hutto producing). It's this coming Wednesday at Nico in the Loop (formerly, Brandt's). Three Fried Men plays at 9:30 p.m. (doors open much earlier for an auction to benefit Fred's record), and we are followed by a Fred Friction cover band.

I always ask the same people to play with me first, so we have familiar faces: David Melson on bass, Adam Long on cello, Heidi Dean on vocals, and Robert Goetz on guitar. They are joined by two people whose work I have admired for nearly 25 years but never played in a band with before: Ann Hirschfeld (drums) and Mark Buckheit (guitars).

Mark Buckheit, David Melson, Chris King, Adam Long and Robert Goetz
rehearse with Three Fried Men at Yellow Bear (with John Eiler, listening).

Mark is new to the Poetry Scores project of setting world poetry and folklore to music. At rehearsal he showed some interest in where the words to the songs come from, so I decided to brush up on the sources of our songs; I'll blog some of my discoveries leading up to the Fred gig.

We are going to play "Banana Stalks" which dates back to the Poetry Scores precursor band Eleanor Roosevelt and the record Crumbling in the Rain (recorded in 1995 and still digitally in print). This song was written long before we became conscious that setting other people's words to music (and art and movies and ...) would be our big thing. I've always said "Banana Stalks" is collaged from Akan proverbs and assumed that I got them from Leaf and Bone, a collection of African praise poems edited by Judith Gleason that I used to teach.

I got out the book and paged through it, and in fact none of the lines in "Banana Stalks" are underlined or scrawled on an inside cover. I mark up books as I read them, and it's just not possible that Leaf and Bone could contain the Akan proverb "If your body stinks, people will fart around you" and me not underline it then scrawl the proverb on the inside back cover with a page number.

So then I figured I must have switched up my sources and it must be in Technicians of the Sacred, Jerome Rothenberg's immortal compilation of ethnopoetries. I have treated this book more like a sacred text, copying poems and lines into notebooks rather than marking it up, but Rothenberg organizes his material so meticulously it didn't take me long to figure out there is no African brother boasting his "legs are banana stalks" and his "teeth are fine fish teeth" in Technicians.

This sent me digging deep into my stash of road notebooks and reading journals. "Banana Stalks" was written when I was a traveling rock musician who somehow patched together adjunct college teaching gigs while disappearing in a van for two weeks every few months. It was a distinct time in my life, and I could quickly pick a few journals from those years out of a crammed box. One of these tattered gigbooks, I was convinced, had to have the source for "Banana Stalks".

Eleanor Roosevelt songwriting session inside van, ca. 1994.

And I was right. The basic lines of the song appear in a notebook bursting with discoveries from the library and the road. I was moving fast in those days and doing a lot of reading and writing in the van and at diner countertops in strange towns, mornings after gigs. I was moving too fast, it seemed, to properly document my sources, for all of the sudden what became the song "Banana Stalks" pops up in a notebook with nothing other than a reference to the people and language the line was translated from.


My legs are banana stalks
My teeth are fine fish teeth
The owner of the drums is Rain

If your body stinks, people will fart around you

And I was given a skull as a face-washing bowl

The beer drinkers behind the river and bitterness never meet.

It will get in my eyes
It will get in your eyes


That's it. No text, no context, no translator, no nothing.

Knowing how I work, this was probably distilled from a free-standing page of notes I took down at a library or a diner on the road. That page must have once been folded and tucked into this notebook, but it's since been lost. Given that different traditions from different areas of Africa are jumbled together in these notes, I must have been reading an anthology of folkore. The lines are so few, they could even be copied from liner notes to an anthology of music. Wherever they came from, I've lost the trail.

Before I dug into my archives, I had lazily web-searched for "banana stalks Akan proverbs" and come up empty, but now I saw the "banana stalks" bit actually was a Gbaya line; but a "banana stalks Gbaya" search didn't get me anywhere, either. The business about your body stinking and thereby attracting farts also didn't turn up a source text from a web search.

So I moved along to the Mande line, "And I was given a skull as a face-washing bowl," and searched it with "Mande". I didn't find the book where I found this exact line, but I did find other interesting things. In a book that analyzes African oral literature, Isidore Okpewho quotes a blacksmith/songster from Mali named Seydou Camara in a discussion about patronage. The songster had a hunter patron who liked to hunt in the buff, we learn in a praise song to the hunter. After praising the hunter's habits and prowess, Seydou Camara sings of the skull bowl.


Naked Buttock Battler and Naked Chest Battler.
Look to the Green Head Smasher for the Green Eye Gouger.
You who have offered me a skull
As a face-washing bowl.


Isidore Okpewho is quoting Seydou Camara from a book of his songs documented and co-translated by Charles Bird, but since this is the only Mande line in "Banana Stalks," Bird's book with Camara can't be my source either.

Since I found the skull bowl line on Google Books, I searched in there for "my legs are banana stalks" and was quite surprised to see a close variant of that line appear in only one place: not among the Gbaya of Central Africa, but rather in a folk epic from the Phillipines. "Your legs are like banana stalks" is a refrain in The Epic of Labaw Donggon, which itself is one of three sub-epics about three brothers in the Hinilawod, which means "Tales from the Mouth of the Halawod River.

Erik Edward Jaiga as Labaw Donggon from Hinilawod.

Since a little research tells me that Hinilawod is an epic with a whopping 28,000 verses that takes three full days to perform and may be the most epic epic poem ever documented, maybe that poem just has every freaky line ever sung in it.


"Banana Stalks" and the rest of the Eleanor Roosevelt record Crumbling in the Rain is available on iTunes and the other major download sites via Hollywood Recording Studio.


Image of banana stalks borrowed from Sustainaburb.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A religious experience of John Adams and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

David Robertson and John Adams in St. Louis on Friday.

I move among enthusiasts where it's not uncommon to describe an artistic encounter as a "religious experience," and I think what we mean with this superlative is that the artistic experience connected us to something much larger than ourselves that also profoundly engaged and included us.

I had a religious experience of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on Friday morning.

To begin with, they were handing out free glazed donuts at the door. The glazed donut is one of my favorite foodstuffs, and the morning is the best time to experience this delicious food. The concert was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. My entrance was so close to show time I literally was picking donuts off the trays as the volunteers were carting the trays away.

I was the guest of the symphony out of respect to my journalism job as managing editor of The St. Louis American which is published by one of the symphony's staunchest supporters. They put me in the front row of a plush little box where I could spread out my program, notebook and books on the ledge in front of me. I have covered Major League Baseball from a press box at the old Shea Stadium in New York and this was a lot like that, hard as that might be for Cardinals fans to accept.

Then, just as I am getting settled in, John Adams sits down right behind me. I was in the hall to hear the St. Louis premiere of Adams' symphony City Noir. Though I know journalists and guest composers get a similar kind of deluxe treatment, and I knew Adams was in town, I did not expect him to appear amiably at my shoulder and actually strike up a conversation with me. America's greatest and most important living composer is suddenly chatting me up about urban renewal and beautiful old concert houses like Powell Hall and how symphony players in Cleveland banded together to save their old urban hall from the medicine ball.

When suddenly the symphony diplomat assigned to the guest composer appears to take him away again. The great man had been placed in the wrong seat. As if a ghost, as fast as he started up a genial conversation with me the great American composer John Adams was gone with a shy wave.

Then I started reading the program notes as David Robertson struck up the band. The symphony hires this expert writer Paul Schiavo to write their program notes, and they are far and away the best music writing published in St. Louis every year. Schiavo, as always, is schooling me. David opened with Aaron Copland's Our Town, and I was fascinated to know that Thornton Wilder had moved to Hollywood to adapt his great play for the screen and that Copland scored the film, then distilled his score into the 9 minute concert piece that was being exquisitely taken through its relatively sedate paces by the SLSO.

I was a guest of the symphony because of my role as a journalist, but I experience all art as a producing artist. My hobby, or personal career, is creatively directing Poetry Scores, an international arts organization based in St. Louis that translates poetry into other media. We set long poems to music as you would score a film, then shoot silent films to that score. This business about adapting a play to a movie, then scoring the movie and adapting the score into a concert suite, was right up my alley. I might add that Copland poetry-scored Emily Dickinson, and on our long wish list is to produce those Copland/Dickinson scores with Peter Henderson on piano.

The second piece was Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 2, the Age of Anxiety. Schiavo taught me that this symphony bascially is a poetry score, in our terms -- it is Bernstein's musical adaptation of a long W.H. Auden poem of the same name. Auden was one of the first poets I scored with our band Eleanor Roosevelt, embroidering Auden's lines "History to the defeated / May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon" into the song "Time" that we finally released last year on Water Bread & Beer.

The guest soloist was Orli Shaham, the great concert pianist and beautiful wife of David Robertson. In her concert dress, she was heartrendingly beautiful. She played the Bernstein with savage intensity.

After more donuts and much scribbling and texting during intermission, David and the band moved onto the main event, John Adams' City Noir. I've not heard the piece, and it's very jazzy and brassy. One drummer swings on a trap set as the piece opens, and throughout there is all this urgent brass that sounds like nothing more than Charles Mingus fleshing out a big brass section on records like The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. I'm loving it.

And I'm reading and thinking. Schiavo is telling me that Adams composed City Noir on commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and wrote the piece for and about L.A. Charles Mingus was an L.A. guy. It's also the native space of David Robertson (a Santa Monica boy). More important to me at that moment, and contributing to the religious experience, was the fact that Poetry Scores has just adopted Los Angeles as our second Sister City (Istanbul was the first). I've been thinking a lot about L.A., making ample use of Hollywood Recording Studio for our Confucius/Pound score, and working on permissions from the estate of a major L.A. poet.

In fact, I was reading one of this major L.A. poet's novels, Ham on Rye, as I sat in rapture at the symphony. Something good is going to come of all of this, I was thinking, something good is going to come of all of this.

Besides my boss, the person I was texting rapturously to was Stefene Russell. That night Poetry Scores was celebrating the publication of Stefene's poet sequence Inferna. She had commissioned a baker to translate her poem into an art cake that we planned to serve at Mad Art. She texted me when she was going through checkout with the art cake. Guess who was ahead of her in line? she asked.

I would have guessed John Adams, but that did not seem possible. So I just texted back "?".

"David Robertson and Orli Shaham" was the answer.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Heart pasties & a bloody heart: Firecracker Press on the *Inferna* design

Cover design of Inferna by Eric Woods, The Firecracker Press

Like we were saying, Poetry Scores is hosting a book release party for Stefene Russell's new chapbook Inferna (Intagliata Imprints). The release party will be held 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, February 15 at Mad Art Gallery (2727 So. 12th Street). Stefene will read with five other poets: Chris King, Mali Newman, Chris Parr, Nicky Rainey and Joseph Sulier.

Like most Poetry Scores releases, Inferna is being done in partnership with The Firecracker Press. One pleasure of working with Firecracker is that Eric Woods really gets into the spirit of what we are doing. He puts a lot of thought and design into how he responds visually to the poetry he prints for us. It's not a client pitch. It's an artist sharing process with other artists.

His style is to call you into the shop for a meeting, and sit down in the front room facing Cherokee Street and tell you his story, face to face. That is the experience Stefene got with Inferna. Eric summarized his presentation for the rest of us:

In reading through everything, considering the reference material (female figure, psychedelic posters, carnival imagery, boxing posters, etc.), and doing our own research we started sketching.

At the start, I remembered an old magnesium printing cut I'd been given by a woman in Jeff City 10 years ago. She gave me a box full of old stuff that was mostly rust and dirt. Digging through, I came across the image that you see on the cover ... or a version of it, at least.

The look on this woman's face was perfect and, when put into the context of the cover design, seemed beautiful and burning. She's got a heart of gold and a darkside - heart pasties, heart tattoos, and a bloody human heart in her hand. The paper will be a faded yellow color with dirty yellow, bright orange, and deep red tones printed onto it.

Inferna is the second publication in a series by Intagliata Imprints, in partnership with Poetry Scores and Firecracker Press. The inaugural chapbook in the series what Shape of a Man by Chris King, and Eric designed Inferna mindful of the predecessor.

"The type treatment of the title/author mirrors Shape of a Man," Eric notes. "Shape of a Man had a letter 'a' to bring attention to the chip of stone on the cover. Inferna has a letter 'b' to continue the series and call attention to the heart in her hand."


The publication of Inferna is being made possible by an Indiegogo campaign. The Indiegogo page has great content -- David Clewell's review of the poem cycle, Kevin's Belford's video poem to an excerpt from Inferna. The campaign ends Friday, the day of the book party.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

George Malich Free Film Festival at Mad Art in March

George Malich as the military chaplain filmed by V. Elly Smith
for the movie
Go South for Animal Index.

George Malich Free Film Festival
Screenings every Wednesday in March at Mad Art

Poetry Scores, Cinema St. Louis and KDHX will present the George Malich Free Film Festival with screenings at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday in March at Mad Art Gallery, 2727 So. 12th St. in Soulard.

The festival will focus on the four feature movies in which St. Louis actor George Malich – who passed away July 26, 2012, at the age of 55 – appeared. All screenings are free and open to the public, with a cash bar, and will be followed by a Q&A with directors and actors

The screening schedule:

·        7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6: The Bunglers (Bradley Bowers, 2005); Q&A with Bradley Bowers (producer, writer, actor) and Megan Noonan (director)

·        7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 13: A: Anonymous (Daniel Bowers, 2006); Q&A with Ray Brewer and Peter Kruchowski (actors)

·        7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 20: Speak Easy (Billy Benner, 2011); Q&A with Billy Benner (producer, director, actor) and Mike Pagano (producer, cinematographer)

·        7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27: scenes from Go South for Animal Index (Chris King, work in progress); Q&A with Chris King (director) and Stefene Russell (poet, actor).

“George was acting in Poetry Scores’ movie Go South for Animal Index when he was diagnosed with the brain tumor that took him away from us, and as his condition worsened it became clear that our movie would be the last feature that George worked on,” said Chris King, creative director of Poetry Scores.

“I found that very moving and set about learning what other feature-length movies George had acted in, with the idea that they should all be screened as a group. Since George gave his time as an actor so freely, I thought it was important that all the screenings be free. Fortunately, the other directors all felt the same way – as did Jennifer Salci, the love of George’s life – and Mad Art donated their space for a month of Wednesdays.”

Though the screenings are free, Jennifer Salci is raising funds for a memorial for George Malich at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Donations for that effort will be accepted at all festival screenings.

For more information, contact Chris King at or 314-265-1435 or Jennifer Salci at

The Bunglers (2005)
Produced by Peter Noonan and Bradley Bowers
Directed by Megan Noonan and Lynn Josse
Written by Bradley Bowers
Featured players: Keith Savage and Bradley Bowers
With: George Malich, Ray Brewer and Amy Elz

George Malich as Dell in the movie The Bunglers.

George Malich plays Dell, a smarmy Serbian lounge owner who thinks he’s above the law. As the story’s antagonist, Dell is at the center of the heist plot and is convinced that due to technicalities he doesn’t have to pay up. This was George’s feature acting debut. His enthusiasm for exploring Dell’s character, as well as his thick Serbian accent, is a nice compliment to the gritty St. Louis City vibe that The Bunglers tries to carry off. Although his character plays on stereotypes of a new American business owner, there was an element of quirk and humanity that only George Malich could bring to the part. It was evident throughout the process of making The Bunglers that George had found his passion.

A: Anonymous (2006)
Produced by Daniel Bowers, Bradley Bowers, Rosy Regalado
Directed by Daniel Bowers
Written by Daniel Bowers
Starring  George Malich and Ray Brewer
With Sarah Jones, Peter Kruchowski and Roy Gokenbach

 George Malich as Gavin Tartowski and Ray Brewer as Benji in the movie A: Anonymous.

George Malich plays Gavin Tartowski, who has been called a quack, a cult-leader, and a barista who sees himself as a guru. Looking for a support group to help him with his compulsion to wear extremely tight pants, Gavin was turned away from 12-step programs like AA, NA and GA. “Why all the labels?" Gavin asks. "Why not put all problems under one umbrella? That is why I created A. I want to help people no matter what their challenges are.” The group's newest challenge is Benji (Ray Brewer), a troubled 35-year-old “huffer.” As the members struggle with Benji, they begin to work through their own inner demons and start to see the value in their lives. Although Tartowski's methods are less than orthodox, his ability to heal is indisputable.

Speak Easy (2011)
Produced by Billy Benner and Mike Pagano
Directed by Billy Benner
Written by Billy Benner
Starring Dick Pointer and George Malich

George Malich plays the only voice of reason in the cast of Speak Easy, which is based on Moliere's Tartuffe. Dick Pointer plays Barney Monroe, an old man who throws a party in his basement. The toilets clog up with no plunger to solve the problem. Meanwhile, a tenant tries to take over the house. One of George’s scene includes the longest urinating sequence ever filmed on video. During the scene, George tries to convince the nemesis that he has made very poor choices in life. “Waiting for approval from Guinness Book of World Records for Longest Pee Scene in history of cinema,” says writer/director Billy Benner. “May not have the approval before the festival in March.”



Scenes from Go South for Animal Index (in progress)
Produced by Poetry Scores
Directed by Chris King
Written by Stefene Russell and Chris King
Featured: Paul Casey, Stefene Russell, George Malich
With Ray Brewer, Thomas Crone, Sammich the Tramp

George Malich as the military chaplain in the movie
Go South for Animal Index.
George Malich plays the military chaplain assigned to Lost Almost, the fabled version of Los Alamos in this silent movie based on a poem by Stefene Russell (set to rock music). Soldiers guard scientists as they try to invent the atomic bomb, starting with uranium mined by zombies (or, as the poem would have it, “debased cogs that bear wheelbarrows packed full of lightning”). The hypocrisy of ministering to the spiritual needs of men who are inventing a weapon of mass destruction is a trial for the chaplain, who struggles with his faith – and with the moonshine whiskey going around Lost Almost. We will screen scenes that feature George Malich from a feature movie that is currently being edited; the festival program will be rounded out with 48 Hour Films featuring George Malich.

For more information, contact Chris King at or 314-265-1435 or Jennifer Salci at


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Poetry Scores formalizes Sister City relationship with Los Angeles


Meghan Gohil of Hollywood Recording Studio prepares to record Matt Fuller
demo new poetry scores to Ezra Pound's translations of Confucian Odes in Los Angeles,
the 2013 Sister City of Poetry Scores, an international arts organization
based in St. Louis that translates poetry into other media.

Poetry Scores is here to tell you that our Sister City for 2013 is Los Angeles, California. This is our second annual Sister City designation, with our inaugural Sister City being Istanbul, Turkey.

As with the Istanbul designation, this declaration only formalizes an existing relationship and adds a degree of commitment. We commit to trying to include Los Angeles artists and resources in our projects, and we ask our friends in L.A. to keep looking out for us.

Our inaugural Sister City announcement led to our friends in Istanbul getting us into Contemporary Istanbul, our juiciest international credit (in addition to being profiled on the BBC in 2003). We decided to translate all of our work into Turkish and subtitle our movies in Turkish, and our Turkish sister citizens are keeping up with us.

"On behalf of all of us at Poetry Scores Sister City Program in Istanbul, I would like to extend a warm and hearty welcome to everyone in our new Sister City; Los Angeles, California," Ipek Tuna Subasi writes from Istanbul. "We are so excited to have you and to pass on you the light while keeping ours here bright! We believe that our Sister City Program will take a step further with your skills and efforts and Poetry Scores will reach new heights. Welcome aboard!"

Our new commitment to L.A. has activated Meghan Gohil of Hollywood Recording Studio on our behalf. Meghan is recording basic tracks for our score of Ezra Pound's translations of Confucian Odes. He also is editing and sequencing Barbara Harbach's score of Andreas Embirikos' Phantom of the Dreams' Origin.

Meghan has donated many previous sessions to our poetry scores. One of our primary writers and producers, Matt Fuller, lives in Los Angeles. Meghan has helped Matt and us demo and finish many projects. He recorded many sessions for a work that has been in progress for many years, poetry scores of the great Turkish poet Orhan Veli (translated into English by Murat Nemet-Nejat).

Meghan Gohil of Hollywood Recording Studio during
a Poetry Scores session on the never-ending I, Orhan Veli project.

In fact, Meghan was the first producer for the songwriting team that evolved out of the St. Louis indie rock scene into Poetry Scores. He also plans to help us move into the future with digital publication of the Poetry Scores catalogue. Already he has digitally published four records by bands that evolved into Poetry Scores: Why It's Enormous Richard's Almanac and three records by Eleanor Roosevelt: Walker With His Head Down, Crumbling in the Rain and Water Bread & Beer.

Declaring L.A. as Sister City is decidedly belated. The art for the CD release of our first poetry score, Leo Connellan's Crossing America (2003), was designed in L.A. by Matt Fuller and his friend Jeff Tremaine (producing director of the Jackass franchise and a Washington University alumnus).

Matt Fuller was a founding member of the bands that evolved into Poetry Scores, and since moving to L.A. he has become one of the primary writers and producers of Poetry Scores. Many of our song ideas and source recordings emerged in Los Angeles at Matt's ramshackle home studio in his sister's garage.

Matt also composes and records song sketches and ideas with longtime cowriter/producer Chris King on Chris' regular visits to L.A. Fittingly for a poem about vertical space, they co-wrote much of the material for The Sydney Highrise Variations poetry score from a perch in Coldwater Canyon, in the shadow of the Santa Monica Mountains in the city of Los Angeles.

Data transfer after poetry scoring session in Coldwater Canyon.

Their primitive Cold Water Canyon recording of one song from that poetry score, "Also, it's a space probe," had just the right feel and made it onto the finished record, with vocals doubled, Christopher Y. Voelker's fiddle added, and a steady St. Louis rain mixed in from Adam Long's attic-top studio in Midtown.

Matt and Chris dedicated the poetry score Go South for Animal Index to a musician from greater Los Angeles, d. boon of San Pedro. They wrote most of the record in a city park in Phoenix, Arizona, a few miles from where d. boon was thrown to his death in a van accident. To further honor d. boon, they recorded the basic acoustic guitar and lead vocal in a San Pedro hotel room.

Chris King records a vocal for the poetry score Go South
for Animal Index in a hotel room in San Pedro, Los Angeles County.

We also are longstanding beneficiaries of a creative musician from San Pedro, Richard Derrick. Richard was d. boon's close friend and roommate. Richard released a posthumous record of his jams with d. boon and friends, called just that, d boon & friends.

Richard Derrick at home in San Pedro

Richard was a key player in Middle Sleep, the previously unreleased post-progressive rock band from L.A. that has extensive work on the poetry scores Blind Cat Black (2006), Go South for Animal Index (2008), The Sydney Highrise Variations (2009) and Jack Ruby's America (2010).


Middle Sleep, whose post-prog rock improvisations recorded on Lookout Mountain
in the Hollywood Hills 1982-3 have appeared on four poetry scores.

Richard Derrick later worked on various projects with his friend Crane. They have the distinction of being two of the few musicians not in d. boon's band The Minutemen to get credited as players on a Minutemen record. Richard Derrick and Crane's work as Another Umbrella and Kangaroo Court already appeared on Jack Ruby's America and will be of great use to us on poetry scores for many years to come.

Crane (left) with Poetry Scores child actor Leyla Fern King.

Poetry Scores has yet another deep connection to Los Angeles through the poet K. Curtis Lyle, who grew up in L.A. and came up through the fabled Watts Writers Workshop before coming to St. Louis on the tail end of Black Artists Group. Curtis made a record with Julius Hemphill, the genius composer and Curtis' dear friend, and founded the transformative Warrior Poets, probably still the best performance poetry ever produced in St. Louis.

It's safe to say if there were one creative example in St. Louis most formative to Poetry Scores, it was the example of K. Curtis Lyle (mixed with the wisdom of Lester Bowie, the great composer and bandleader from St. Louis).

In 2007, Poetry Scores published a two-faced art poetry book for K. Curtis Lyle in partnership with Firecracker Press, titled either  Nailed Seraphim or The Epileptic Camel Driver Speaks to a Refugee Death: Elegy for Fakin' Floyd Raintree, depending on which way you picked it up.

Curtis produced his own live score of Nailed Seraphim, with musicians Baba Mike Nelson and David A.N. Jackson. It was performed live, also in 2007, at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary as part of an Art Invitational to Nailed Seraphim we co-curated with Robert Goetz.

Los Angeles poet K. Curtis Lyle performing Nailed Seraphim at
the Poetry Scores Art Invitational at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary.

In homes all over St. Louis hangs art made in response to Nailed Seraphim. One of the most striking pieces we have ever exhibited over the course of eight Art Invitationals is Gene Harris' adaptation of an African power figure, "Nailed".

"Nailed" by Gene Harris, after K. Curtis Lyle (2007) 

Poetry Scores has never scored nor curated an Art Invitational based on the other K. Curtis Lyle poem we published, The Epileptic Camel Driver Speaks to a Refugee Death: Elegy for Fakin' Floyd Raintree. Making a commitment to do those things would be in keeping with this new Sister Citizen relationship, especially since this crazy poem is based closely on characters and events from Curtis' boyhood in Los Angeles.

We also have approached the publisher of a very great, late Los Angeles poet requesting permission to score some of his early, lesser-known poetry. The query went out February 9.

Jeff Tremaine helped Matt design the CD packaging for our first poetry score, Leo Connellan's Crossing America, before he hit paydirt with Jackass. At the time Tremaine was designing a skateboard magazine for Larry Flynt Publications, so our first poetry score was designed on equipment owned by the 1st Amendment activist publisher of Hustler.

Matt Fuller recorded many Poetry Scores guitar parts in a studio that overlooked a location where the great Scarlett Johansson acted in Ghost World . This studio was in his sister's garage. At one time Matt rented the lower floor of his sister's adjoining house, and the upstairs tenant was an actress who dated the ghoul rocker Marilyn Manson at the time.

Before we set poems to music as one scores a film, we had music on a soundtrack, Omaha: The Movie (1995), directed by Dan Mirvish. Actually, several of our band Eleanor Roosevelt's songs on the Omaha: The Movie soundtrack - including "Espoontoon," cowritten with Meriwether Lewis - were poetry scores before we knew we were making poetry scores. Dan, who founded the Slamdance Film Festival, has lived in L.A. for years.

We grew out of the Cicero's Basement indie rock scene of the late '80s, early '90s. Heather Crist Paley, a barmaid and bookie at Cicero's back in the day, is a longtime L.A. resident. "I live in a house bought by Madonna," Heather writes from L.A. "Okay, not really, but my husband was able to buy it based on money he made from the Dick Tracy soundtrack, and Madonna is the reason it made so much. He produced the album and co-wrote a song with Madonna for it. We also have a piano in our house that was a gift to Andy from Jerry Lee Lewis. Since Jonathan Richman is one of Andy's oldest friends, he regularly stays at our house when he is on tour. I met him many years ago through Cicero's and never imagined he would be my houseguest 20 years later (or that he would play guitar at my wedding reception with the SpongeBob band)."

Meghan Gohil is good friends with and engineers recordings for Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst, founding member of The Cure and longtime L.A. denizen.

Meghan Gohil of Hollywood Recording Studio (right), with the officiant at his wedding, Laurence Tolhurst.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Release Party for *Inferna* by Stefene Russell

Photo of Stefene Russell by Thom Fletcher

Inferna Chapbook Release Party

Mad Art Gallery
2727 So. 12th St., St. Louis

7 to 11 p.m. Friday, February 15, 2013


A release party will be held 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, February 15, 2013, at Mad Art Gallery (2727 So. 12th Street) for Inferna, a new poetry chapbook by Stefene Russell, published by Intagliata Imprints.

Inferna is a contemporary underworld journey in miniature, told through nine cycles of three poems each. The chapters are roughly equivalent to the circles of the underworld as described in Virgil, Dante, and the myth of the Babylonian goddess Inanna. But Inferna is not the underworld as Dante wrote it—a hell where sinners are tormented for eternity—but a subterranean ecosystem that is claustrophobic, hellishly self-referential, yet ultimately redemptive.

The event will feature readings by Chris King, Mali Newman, Chris Parr and Nicole Rainey, Stefene Russell, and Joseph Sulier. At the event, the St. Louis Curio Shoppe, which sells only work made locally or about St. Louis, will sell a variety of local books and art made by local women or about local women.

Reader biographies (in alphabetical order):

Chris King will read hellish man poems from his 2012 chapbook Shape of a Man (Intagliata Imprints). Chris is creative director of Poetry Scores, an international arts organization based in St. Louis that translates poetry into other media. He has a poem and several translations of Orhan Veli in the inaugural edition of So It Goes, the new literary journal published by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (November 2012).

Mali Newman is the pen name of St. Louis native Charlois Lumpkin, who has been writing prose and poetry since 1995. For over 15 years, she has been a member of the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, and has performed as a member of the club’s Soular Systems Ensemble at the Atlanta Black Arts Festival, at venues in Sacramento, San Francisco, and East Palo Alto, California, the Dunham Center at SIUE Edwardsville, and a celebration of 20 years of Drumvoices Revue at the Harlem Arts Salon in New York City. She is the 2010/2011 E. Desmond Lee Playwriting Competition winner in the Ten-Minute Play category, and her work has been featured in volumes of Drumvoices Revue, Breakword With The World, The East St. Louis Monitor, and the anthology The Hoot and Holler of the Owls, published by the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation.

Chris Parr is a transplanted Kiwi now living in Saint Louis, and Professor of Religious Studies at Webster University. In cooperation with Tony Renner, he launched •chance operations• a monthly poetry reading series at Duff’s, in April 2010. He has presented his poetry at Laumeier Sculpture Park, the Royale, and at Poems, Prose and Pints ad Dressel’s pub. His work has been featured in Agni, Black Mountain II Review and Climate. He is the author of cars are part of nature too (Illeagle Press, Boston), and most recently, Going to find it... (St. Louis Projects, 2012).

Nicky Rainey makes ‘zines, writes grants, stories and letters to her pen-pals. She co-DJs on KDHX's literary radio program "Literature for the Halibut,' and represented St. Louis in the National Poetry Slam - 2009. For a copy of her latest zine, "Let's Talk About People," send her an email at

Stefene Russell is St. Louis Magazine’s Culture Editor, and is a member of Poetry Scores, who translated her poem Go South For Animal Index into music in 2007. The poem, with essays by Russell and Poetry Scores artistic director Chris King, was released as a letterpress book with a CD of the score, printed by Firecracker Press. Russell is also a former co-editor of 52nd City and Prinsesstarta literary magazines.

Joseph Sulier will be reading selections from his latest chapbook, The Ruins of a Rube as well as new works.

What: Chapbook release with accompanying poetry performance (and free cake!)
When: Friday, February 15, 2013, 7 to 11 p.m.
Where: Mad Art Gallery, 2727 S. 12th Street, St. Louis, MO 63118
Cost: Free and open to the public with cash bar.


Chris King

Mad Art Gallery