Friday, December 23, 2011

David Clewell reviews my new poetry chapbook, "The Shape of a Man"

So like I was saying, Amy VanDonsel and I have co-curated a group art show where I'll release my new chapbook of poetry on Intagliata Imprints (printed by Firecracker Press): The Shape of a Man.

The art show, also called The Shape of a Man, goes down 7-11 p.m. Friday, January 6 at Mad Art Gallery, 2727 So. 12th St. in St. Louis. The event will be a potluck catered by men who cook.

From 8-8:30 p.m. -- that is only a half-hour of live poetry, for those given the hives by live poetry -- I'll perform a few poems from my new chapbook.

I'm given hives by live poetry, so I'll perform duets with musicians: Fred Friction (spoons), Roy Gokenbach (electric guitar) and Josh Weinstein (double blass, clarinet). Furthermore, I will perform through a sculpture, With Solid Stance and Stable Sound by Noah Kirby.

Since even thirty minutes of me live as poet, even with musicians and a sculpture, is too much without a break, I'll do two micro sets and a real poet, St. Louis' and Salt Lake City's own Stefene Russell, will perform one manly poem in between.

To pump up the release of this chapbook, which someone else is paying for and I want him to get his money back!, I asked Missouri poet laureate and my old buddy David Clewell to advance-review my book. And here is what Clewell said:


Musician/poet/agent provocateur Chris King discovers some acutely painful sharp angles that contribute to The Shape of a Man. These are poems full of beer, bad guys, car rides, near-talismanic ears of corn, and a laundromat where the speaker’s determined to see his dirty laundry through, all the way to dry—to “pay for / heat, finish something, for once.”

If there’s sadness and regret along the way, these voices manage to find their own kind of resolve in the tenacity of their singing—the distinctive music King makes of language that can’t help saying how, sometimes, it’s amazing we’re still here. In “I Love Taverns When They’re Empty,” the speaker insists that “…it takes courage to enter a bar / when it’s empty, that, or / desperation. I admire courage and find / the desperate quotable.”

I admire the honest desperation in this collection, and I find the courage nothing less than quotable.

—David Clewell


Image is the print "Re-in-cur-nation" by George D. Davidson III, which will be exhibited at The Shape of a Man.

Saturday, December 17, 2011



By Chris King

Once upon a time there was
a man, his beer, a ballgame, and a cockroach.
The man, so simply himself,
so fully inhabited in his ballcap,
his bleacher stadium seat.
This man owned the sun on this day on his face.
Slept. Cockroach climbed in his beer.

Was no press conference for cockroach climbing
into beer, but not back out,
nor zoom in on man resplendent after nap
in sold-out game of himself,
gulping down sun-warmed remnant of beer, the roach
slipping down open gullet,
we guessed, watching the man from our bleacher seats.
Blissfully self unobserved
vanished without us knowing, like that cockroach.
Jumbotron humanity
now watching self watch self do nothing on screen.


Photo borrowed from the Flickr of Raikyn. I have no commercial rights to it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Free Beethoven (and your mind will follow)

Henderson plays all Beethoven sonatas in 4 days of free shows

Peter Henderson, one of the finest pianists in the metropolitan area, will play all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas over the course of four days in concert at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park’s Mildred E. Bastian Center for the Performing Arts, 5600 Oakland Ave.

Henderson, who teaches at Maryville University and is in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, will play 105 movements, about half of them from memory. The house lights will be up, so musicians are encouraged to bring their Beethoven scores with them. The concerts are free and open to the public from Thursday, Dec. 15 through Sunday, Dec. 18.

“Please join us in hearing some of the greatest music ever written. Additionally, you’ll be helping to encourage Peter as he checks this item of his ‘Bucket List,'*” said Thomas Zirkle, associate professor and music coordinator at STLCC-Forest Park.

The schedule is as follows:

Concert 1: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-4, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15

Concert 2: Piano Sonatas Nos. 5-8, at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16

Concert 3: Piano Sonatas Nos. 19-20, 9-11, at noon on Saturday, Dec. 17

Concert 4: Piano Sonatas Nos. 12-15, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17

Concert 5: Piano Sonatas Nos. 16-18, and 21, at 7 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 17

Concert 6: Piano Sonatas Nos. 22-26, at noon on Sunday, Dec. 18

Concert 7: Piano Sonatas Nos. 27-29, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18

Concert 8: Piano Sonatas Nos. 30-32, at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18

For more information, contact Zirkle at: 314-644-9679 or

* Confluence City objects to use of cliched meme "Bucket List" in this SLCC press release.

Beethoven painting by Rhom.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Open Studio for The Shape of a Man this Wednesday at Amy VanDonsel's

Like I was saying, Amy VanDonsel and I have an art show coming up on Friday, January 6 that also is the occasion for releasing my new chapbook of poetry. Both art show and chapbook are titled The Shape of a Man and tackle manly themes.

This Wednesday, from 7-10 p.m., Amy and I are co-hosting an open studio to get geared up for the show. We're meeting at Amy's place, 3419 Iowa in the Cherokee Street neighborhood. It's free, of course, and open to the public; but bring your own thing to drink.

Though this reminder goes out late, we're hoping to entice the other local artists joining us in the show to come out on Wednesday: that would be Kevin Belford, Ron Buechele, Jon Cournoyer, Dr. Andrew Dykeman, Fred Friction, Robert Goetz, Noah Kirby, Sandra Marchewa, Dana Smith and B.J. Vogt. We hope, if possible, that they bring the work they plan to put in the show.

We also hope to see Hap Phillips, who will be in the show, and I mean literally he will be in the show: we are exhibiting Hap himself as an exemplary man at The Shape of a Man.

The show also will include work by Oscar Alvarez, who is a small child and not to be invited out on a school night; George D. Davidson III, who lives and works in Athens, Georgia; and Matt Fuller, who lives and works in Los Angeles. We don't expect their physical presence on Wednesday night, but hopefully Oscar's parents, Anthony and Gina Alvarez, will bring him to the show on January 6.

We also are including work by the late Hunter Brumfield III. In most cases, someone's being dead would disqualify them from attending an open studio or art exhibit. However, Hunter's track record for haunting his friends is so impressive that I half-expect his presence in one manifestation or another.

Finally, at The Shape of a Man I will perform poems from my new chapbook, backed up by some old friends: Fred Friction (spoons), Roy Gokenbach (guitar) and Josh Weinstein (double blass, clarinet). I'm inviting them out on Wednesday, and if any of them can make it then we can also give our fellow artists and friends a taste of our performance for The Shape of a Man.

Should be fun!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why it's clear The Pulitzer tonight was not me dead & gone to heaven

It was one of those nights, the feet scarcely touched the ground.
A minimalist presentation of glorious Buddhist art, artifact, touchstone, in a building that is art on the street.

Tuneful, swinging, edgy, taking its sweet time live music.

Poets in corners and out in the main spaces, dropping poetry.

The music could get a little loud for the poets in their natural voices. So people stood around the poets, their heads bowed.

This was the best way to catch the poetry as it dropped. It happened to make living shrines of the poets.

The poets read poetry by others poets, all touched by Buddhism. This meant picking through the books of poetry in advance looking for the Buddhist-touched poems.

The poets had tagged all their Buddhist-touched poems, so the books all looked like they had sprouted  dozens of little paper buds of leaves.

The people huddled around the poets like shrines, and the poets waved books that looked like they were coming to life, poetry books actively growing new pages of poetry before our eyes.

Uncle Bill, the great Soulard poet, sat watching the poets, his beard perfectly Confucian, his soul Buddhist.

K. Curtis Lyle enfolded his fellow poets in his gigantic conscious warm embrace.

Michael Castro loved Jack Kerouac's mother with Jack. Ann Haubrich loved with Kerouac the truly mad.

Allison Funk sat quietly in eternity with Kenneth Roxroth. Chris Parr fidgeted there with Gary Snyder.

Castro apologized, with Kerouac, to Charlie Parker, as Dave Stone played saxophone like Charlie Parker's godchild taking his confident time toward eternity.

Dave took a break, then it was Josh Weinstein playing the recorded music that was also, in its way, totally live. I had to talk to Dave and Josh, I consider them like my brothers, but talking with them up on the DJ balcony, somehow stupidly I missed Curtis' reading! My deepest biggest soul brother Curtis! I missed him!

That is the only way I knew I had not died and gone to heaven! In heaven I wouldn't miss Curtis' reading! And in heaven Uncle Bill would be allowed to place between the calm toes of The Buddha his little paper memorial to the dead John Lennon on the anniversary of the day the madman shot John Lennon dead!


The image is stock, not from The Pulitzer's great show.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Shape of a Man: art exhibit and poetry chapbook release

I am releasing a new poetry chapbook, The Shape of a Man, on Friday, January 6 at Mad Art in the context of an art show with Amy VanDonsel and friends, living and dead; also with a brief poetry performance backed up by Fred Friction, Roy Gokenbach and Josh Weinstein, performing through a sculpture by Noah Kirby.

Press release (updated Dec. 19)!


Media Contact:
Amy VanDonsel
(314) 265-7836

“The Shape of a Man”
Art exhibit and chapbook release

Mad Art Gallery
2727 So. 12th Street, St. Louis
7-11 p.m. January 6, 2012

New work by Amy VanDonsel.
Poetry chapbook by Chris King.

Poetry performance with musical guests.

Additional manly art by:

Oscar Alvarez, Kevin Belford, Ron Buechele,
Jon Cournoyer, George D. Davidson III
Charles and Chalot Douglas-Book,
Dr. Andrew Dykeman, Fred Friction,
Matt Fuller, Robert Goetz,
Kim Humphries, Chris King,
Noah Kirby, David Langley,
Sandra Marchewa, Hap Phillips,
Stefene Russell, Dana Smith,
B.J. Vogt, Eric Woods
and the late Hunter Brumfield III.

Also, one exemplary man – Hap Phillips – will be exhibited.

Potluck provided by men who cook.

November 18, 2011, St. Louis, MO – Amy VanDonsel and Chris King collaborate on and co-curate a small group show, the first in a projected annual exhibit series exploring the shapes that men and women are in.

“The Shape of a Man” opens Friday, January 6, 2012, at Mad Art Gallery, 2727 So. 12th Street, with a reception from 7-11 p.m. “The Shape of a Man,” explores the shapes men are in through a creative conversation between a woman and a man working in a variety of media (with help from their man friends, living and dead).

Amy VanDonsel will show new mixed media, paintings and installation, and Chris King will release a chapbook, The Shape of a Man, and perform poems from it with Fred Friction (spoons), Roy Gokenbach (guitar) and Josh Weinstein (double bass, clarinet).

The exhibit also will feature visual art by Oscar Alvarez, Kevin Belford, Ron Buechele, Jon Cournoyer, George D. Davidson III, Charles and Chalot Douglas-Book, Dr. Andrew Dykeman, Fred Friction, Matt Fuller, Robert Goetz, Kim Humphries, Chris King, Noah Kirby, David Langley, Sandra Marchewa, Hap Phillips, Stefene Russell, Dana Smith, B.J. Vogt, Eric Woods and the late Hunter Brumfield III. Also, one exemplary man – one Hap Phillips – will be exhibited in his natural, fabricated habitat.

A potluck will be provided by the men artists and other men who cook.

Amy VanDonsel creates mixed media paintings on canvas or panels and installations with paper, tape, string and found items. Her work examines textual communication and the processing of information through abstracted and figurative imagery, and combines research interests in literature and technology with handmade visual representations. She is the Director of Marketing and Development for Saint Louis City Open Studio and Gallery; plans arts and charitable events; and serves on the board of directors for non-profit Poetry Scores. Examples of her previous work may be viewed at

Chris King has been recasting his old, bad poems into the 7/11 form innovated by Quincy Troupe, alternating lines with 7 and 11 syllables and alternating stanzas with 7 and 11 lines, with results he likes enough to publish. The Shape of a Man (Intagliata Imprints) compiles his more manly 7/11s. As an “artist,” he sketches people and then has the subject sign the sketch, or makes paintings on vinyl records based on his sketchbook. He will perform his poetry with musical guests through Noah Kirby’s sculpture With Solid Stance and Stable Sound.

VanDonsel and King have previously collaborated on projects for the non-profits Poetry Scores and Saint Louis City Open Studio and Gallery. They also happen to share a birthday. VanDonsel/King plan to continue the “Shape of a Wo/Man” project with a follow-up exhibit, “The Shape of a Woman,” in January 2013 at Mad Art Gallery, then continue the themed project with future group collaborations.

What: Visual Art Exhibit Opening and Chapbook Release, with accompanying performances

When: Friday, January 6, 2012, 7-11 p.m.

Where: Mad Art Gallery, 2727 S. 12th Street, St. Louis, MO 63118

Who: Presented by Amy VanDonsel and Chris King, also featuring Oscar Alvarez, Kevin Belford, Ron Buechele, Jon Cournoyer, George D. Davidson III, Charles and Chalot Douglas-Book, Dr. Andrew Dykeman, Fred Friction, Matt Fuller, Robert Goetz, Roy Gokenbach, Kim Humphries, Noah Kirby, David Langley, Sandra Marchewa, Hap Phillips, Stefene Russell, Dana Smith, B.J. Vogt, Josh Weinstein, Eric Woods and the late Hunter Brumfield III.

Cost: Free and open to the public with cash bar.


Amy VanDonsel
(314) 265-7836

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fred Friction to join me & Roy Gokenbach at Chance Operations reading

Fred Friction exhibit, in The Skuntry Museum, Library & Beer Cellar (i.e., my basement).

I'm excited to perform some poetry tomorrow night (Nov. 28) in St. Louis at Duff's, 392 N. Euclid, on a Chance Operations bill that also includes Drucilla Wall and Julia Gordon-Bramer. Doors are at 7:30, there is a $3 cover and an open mic follows the three scheduled readings of 20 minutes each.

Like I was saying the other day, I am performing my poems with my friend Roy Gokenbach on guitar. Roy is a big deal, though you wouldn't know it. He was a founding member of a jazz trio that launched the best vocalist of this generation in St. Louis -- Erin Bode Group -- and has a feature role (Leroy) as an actor in St. Louis' greatest independent movie, A: Anonymous.

Today on an impulse I called my old buddy Fred Friction and successfully added him to the bill on spoons. Like Roy, Fred already had agreed to back me up when I release my new chapbook of poems, The Shape of a Man, at Mad Art on Friday, January 6; and this morning I suddenly couldn't figured out why I had not asked Fred to do the Duff's gig as well. So now Fred is in.

Fred is going to back me up on the spoons. We go way back in that regard. Fred used to sit in on spoons with the band of my youth, Enormous Richard. He was on the gig with us at our first-ever road gig at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago the night Operation Desert Storm broke out (January 17, 1991).

Today I decided I'll read three poems I found, by chance, in a box as I was sorting my archive (otherwise known as cleaning the basement) this weekend. I'll read a poem with Roy on guitar, then a poem with Fred on spoons, then come back to Roy on guitar; and then if I have time left in my 20 minutes I'll invite Fred to lead one on spoons. He is one of my very favorite writers in any medium.

Here is a highly poetic song from Fred's debut solo record, Jesus Drank Wine, as good as anything ever released in this rock music scene.

"La Morte D'Amour"
(Fred Friction)
Fred Friction

My set list for Chance Operations, Nov. 28, 2011
1. Object: your desire
(with Roy Gokenbach)

2. What did she do
(with Fred Friction)

3. One of the most mysterious of all the intangibles in life
(with Roy Gokenbach)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'll be performing my poems with Roy Gokenbach on guitar at Duff's

Roy Gokenbach at the Poetry Scores prop shop, borrowing the WPA Guide to Missouri, which was used as a prop in our movie Go South for Animal Index.

Self-promotion is the curse of the independent, and I should be starting to tell anyone who'll listen that on Friday, January 6 I'll release a new chapbook of poems, The Shape of a Man, at Mad Art Gallery as part of an art exhibit of the same name (initially organized by Amy VanDonsel).

But before then -- like, next Monday, November 28 -- I'm part of a Chance Operations reading and should tell the people about that first.

I've company at the Chance Operations event, to be held Monday at Duff's, 392 N. Euclid, with doors opening at 7:30 p.m. and it costing you $3. The other poets are Drucilla Wall and Julia Gordon-Bramer; their names link you to Chance Operations posts about them (my man Tony Renner understands this self-promotion curse). I take it this becomes an open mic night after the scheduled poets do our things.

Even when I'm performing, I'll have company. I've invited my friend Roy Gokenbach to play guitar as I recite my poems. Roy is kind of a trip. He was the founding guitarist in the Erin Bode Group and also has a choice small role (Leroy) in Daniel Bowers' A: Anonymous, which I take to be the best independent movie that will ever be made in St. Louis.

Roy also used to be my barber at Wyoming Barber Shop when I lived on South Grand, inevitably just before South Grand became hip (I know, now it's not really hip anymore, again). He can really play that guitar. I really enjoyed rehearsing my poems with him at the Poetry Scores prop shop last week. I didn't record that rehearsal, and though I borrowed Roy's only copy of the Erin Bode Group CD with the intention of excerpting some of his playing to post here, I've not done that either.

So you'll just have to come down to Duff's next Monday and hear us for yourself. We'll be performing selections from my chapbook The Shape of a Man, which Intagliata Imprints will release Friday, January 6 at Mad Art in Soulard.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Occupy St Louis responds to Mayor Slay's eviction notice

Official Press Statement

Hey Hey, Ho, Ho: The Occupiers Will Not Go!

On November 10, 2011 Occupy St Louis received notification from the city of St Louis that we have 24 hours to remove all structures and obey the city curfew laws before they would forcibly remove our non-violent occupation from Freedom Square (formerly known as Kiener Plaza). Since October 1st, we have maintained a peaceful occupation in this public space, founded on the principle that large corporations have too much influence in the actions of our government. Mayor Slay and his Senior Staff have once again validated this by bowing to pressure from the Downtown Partnership of St Louis to restrict our First Amendment Rights to peaceably assemble.

Since its inception, Occupy St Louis has been a model of cooperation and non violence, and has made Freedom Square a safer, cleaner place. The city claims that in addition to violation of curfew that the tents and supplies we have in Freedom Square are a direct violation of city ordinance and provides a safety concern. We strongly disagree and believe that our encampment is a valid form of political speech justified by the First Amendment. Additionally this precedent has been set in other occupied cities across the nation.

On November 10, 2011 Mayor Slay stated in his personal blog that the city would be creating a space for a 24/7 public demonstration. On November 9th, senior members of the Mayor’s staff attended our General Assembly to propose this space to us as a possible alternative to Freedom Square. This was not a proposal, but rather an ultimatum to Occupy St Louis. The City had already made up its mind on the course of action that it would be taking. This new space would not allow for tents or occupation, which we feel are a valid forms of political speech. This proposal was blocked by a consensus of our General Assembly. The General Assembly uses consensus as our decision making process. It allows for all participants to have an equal voice. Occupy St Louis maintains that just because one states they are using the consensus process, does not mean that they are actually using it.

Occupy St Louis hopes that Mayor Slay realizes that our freedom to assemble is not limited to one space, but guaranteed to all people, in any public space, at any time. We believe that we are engaged in a vital attempt to restore the cornerstone of American ideals: equality, unity, and social mobility. St Louis City must recognize that Occupy St Louis is not mutually exclusive with public safety and the common good, but an ally in promoting social justice and in preserving order downtown. The medium is the message and our medium is occupation.


Image from Annapolis Political Science.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Evidence of penpal relationship with Natalie Merchant (for Michael R. Allen)

My friend Michael R. Allen and I don't talk nearly as much as I like, but when we do, even in evanescent social media banter, it's often about Natalie Merchant, the great songwriter, singer, bandleader, and poetry scorer.

And I never banter about Natalie Merchant without bragging about being her penpal before everybody knew her name and threatening to produce evidence, which I never produce.

Well, I am sorting the archive, which is indistinguishable from cleaning my basement, and in the laying on of hands on everything that I have not thrown away or lost already, I laid hands on my archive of manuscripts, autographs and letters yesterday. And there was this from Natalie Merchant, the first letter received in 1986, which survived the ravages of time and between-home-lessness.

The penpal relationship never got much deeper than this, though I prized having the back channel of her mother's home address. Now I approach the great woman through her publisher, and have not heard back lately. Oh well, we'll always have the autograph with the quirky "private private private" coda.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Painting Enrico Caruso on records with the dead Hunter Brumfield

I curate an annual Art Invitational for the arts organization I co-founded, Poetry Scores. As a habitual sketch artist and doodler, I sometimes sneak one of my drawings into the show.

Since our Invitationals call for work inspired by the poem we are scoring and titled with a quote from it, I tend to sketch someone named in the poem: Che Guevarra (K. Curtis Lyle's Nailed Seraphim), Dante (Les Murray's Sydney Highrise Variations) McKinley's assassin Leo Czolgosz (David Clewell's Jack Ruby's America).

This year we commissioned Barbara Harbach to score Paul Muldoon's Incantata, which is really a name-dropper of a poem. From a vast array of name-checked options -- everyone from Airey Neave to Andre Derain, from Samuel Beckett to Van Morrison -- I have settled on Enrico Caruso.

Caruso is especially tempting, because he was a sketch artist himself and once took offense that the author Samuel Clemens hosted a party for cartoonists that did not include Caruso. My first attempt at a sketch of Caruso, in fact, was a sketch of Caruso sketching a caricature.

Poetry Scores now has a prop shop -- just a humble South City garage, but for whatever reason it whispers potential to the sorts of oddballs who do the work we do. It's prompted us to initiate a Writer In Residence program and makes me feel like we also have an artist's studio at our disposal.

It greatly helps in this regard that my buddy (and new Po Sco board member) Amy Broadway donated a jar of paint amongst her prop-shop-warming gifts. As I started to muse about painting Caruso, I thought it would be cool to paint him on a vinyl record, since he was one of the first international stars of recorded music released on records.

I posted on social media that I was looking for old records I could paint on, and my friend Tony Renner, a veteran Poetry Scores contributing artist, said he would put some aside for me at Vintage Vinyl, where he works.

I stopped by the record store other day. Tony put two boxes of vinyl records on the counter. I picked up one box. He said, "When you come back for the other box, I have something to show you about painting on records." I lugged one box to my car, then came back for the other. Tony was holding up a record with a portrait painted on it.

 "Did you do that?" I asked.

"No," Tony said. "Hunter Brumfield did."

I turned around and walked out of the store onto Delmar without thinking about it -- if this were a novel and not a report of fact, I would have kept walking down the street into a tavern and drank alone for half the day. But in fact, I went back into the store to get my other box of records to paint on.

Tony was smiling. I am pretty sure he knows the deal.

Hunter killed himself when we were in a band together; killed himself on the day he was supposed to help me move into my new house. His drumkit is still in the basement of my house. He has haunted me there several times. He has haunted a number of other people, often in similar ways -- in sudden, inexplicable infestations of insects with associated weird artistic shit going on.

As I picked up my other box of records, cursing about being haunted by the little prick again, I was just a week past a previous lightweight haunting by Hunter, during a visit to an art show at The Sheldon Art Galleries with Amy Broadway. Come to think of it, this was not long after I returned Hunter's painting of Mississippi blues legend Charlie Patton to its rightful owner. As always, Hunter was painting his way back into the picture.

I packed my records to paint on and drove north on Hanley to a North County church, where our conductor Jim Richards was directing the eight-piece chamber ensemble that will premiere Barbara Harbach's poetry score to Paul Muldoon's Incantata on Sunday at UMSL.

A weirdly out-of-season wasp, big as a hockey puck, got into the sanctuary, somehow, and flew around the musicians throughout the rehearsal, as if enjoying the music. It was such a nuisance that the conductor, at one point, actually conducted the wasp by shooing it away, turning the ensemble into a nine-piece. According to a certain demented way of thinking, Hunter had joined the chamber ensemble.

So, now I paint Enrico Caruso's face on vinyl records, and I keep something of Hunter's spirit alive, like "some kind of ghost," as Muldoon writes in Incantata, "who might still roam the earth in search of an earthly delight".

Friday, October 21, 2011

Three poems too big to fail for Occupy St Louis

Occupy St. Louis' leaderless poetry organizers Kristin Sharp and Susan Spit-Fire Lively tell me they need poets to perform at Occupy St. Louis tonight and Sunday from 3 to 5pm. Don't be shy, just go down to Kiener Plaza and do it.

A third-grader has my dance card on the weekends, so I may not make it. I am posting some poems that Kristin or Spit-Fire can read to the people in the event of a shortage of live poets.

The last time I posted poems for Occupy St. Louis, I poked fun at the leftist critique of Occupy Wall Street as incoherent. As I continue to think about the movement (admittedly, with little participation beyond thinking, writing and editing), I want to emphasize something different now.

The 1% of the wealthiest people with the most invested in the financial sector convinced most of us that their institutions were too big to fail. Fine. Well, I think the Occupy movement is reminding people of something as true or more true: that the 99% also is too big to fail. To put it less tendentiously, the middle class is too big to fail. If the banks are worth saving, moreso the people and our future.



There was a lot of concern
in Coffeyville. The hospital got destroyed.
Took them awhile to get death
out of the basement. It gets hard to measure
your performance when the best
outcome is nothing unusual happens.
If I was in the business

of counting dry goods shipped by truck, it would be
quite simpler. Say, disposal
of carcasses of cattle killed by the storm.
Or, how to bury bodies
in the middle of the night. Or, burn pits, which
I’ll get to, in a minute.
As we burn and bury, people are getting
married, still, toasting fluted
glasses circling necks of ice flamingoes. Mass
fatality planning must
go on. Worst case corpse scenario? Ice rink.

-- Chris King



Singing quiets the cattle.
Dog eat dog, dog shit dog out. I did cut it
off. Not too good a feeling
and I had to walk away. It was a flop
of a Gold Rush. Chinaman
got out of Dodge. Let the cattle rustle for
the cattle and old Tom Gin.

Now you might be bread in old Kentucky but
you’re just a crumb around here.
People said iron from the rails would bring rain.
I didn’t buy it. Even
gold was just a flash in the pan, duck feathers
for soldiers’ beds. He gave up
a few old knives, kept back pails of kitchen fat
for soap and bombs, if need be.
Some uranium craze in Pumpkin Butte.

-- Chris King



Greed above, dreams from below,
the first known photo of the moon, earth quakes, buds
fall from trees, bums directing
traffic, all this activity, hives, stars and
ladders, a room of Spaniards
and a guitar with a broken G string. She
gets upset, cassettes topple

and apples, Furry Lewis, leave your muddy
shoes by the back door. Shadow
puppets stuffed under her bed. MY HAIR FEELS LIKE
A FUCKING WIG! A friend of
fond jugglers, a faithful wife of poverty.
Maybe what we need right now
lead sleepy lives for awhile. These here pieces
I accumulated in
the cremation grounds, you can have your own if
you sleep in the cremation
grounds. When all the trees are gone and the birds stand

on the sturdy heads of men,
they celebrated their unwillingness to
sing in a forgotten tongue.

-- Chris King


These poems are cast in the 7/11 poetic form innovated by the poet Quincy Troupe. The form calls for alternating lines of 7 and 11 syllables, starting with 7. I have added the rule of alternating stanzas of 7 and 11 lines, starting with 7, or at least limiting stanza lengths to 7 and 11 lines (though I cheat as needed).


Image from Boilr.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Four birds killed & a dead friend revived

Working in the media, you get buried in information. On the arts tip, this is good because you see how much is actually going on, and in St. Louis, that's way more than most people imagine. It is bad because you see how much you are missing, which is way more than I can stomach.

As a committed parent of a third grader with very few nights to myself, I stake out things that happen during the day, so I was delighted to get a press release at work announcing a gallery lecture for noon today by Daniel McGrath, curator of a show at one of the Sheldon Art Galleries titled I'll Be Your Mirror.

By attending, I was killing two birds, the getting out to actually see local arts programming and building on a new connection. Daniel and I were in the group of sculptors and poets invited to collaborate recently on the Poetry in Place: The Platforms events at Laumeier Sculpture Park. I thoroughly enjoyed that experience and met a number of smart, talented new people I promised myself to keep track of.

I killed a third bird as well. One of my best friends these days works next door to the Sheldon at The Pulitzer. Amy agreed to spend her lunch with me listening to Daniel spiel, so it was off to the lecture with my buddy.

We got there early enough to look at the show first, which was cool. I appreciated the mix of local, national and international artists, treated (I hope obviously) as equals; can't get too much of that in this town. I also gather that some of these artists from elsewhere are sort of "it" artists in the art world now, something of a coup for Daniel and the gallery, and I understand the value and appeal of that sort of thing without being compelled by it personally.

Daniel wrote a really eloquent essay that tied the show together and made connections that it would not be possible to make just looking at the work, which seems just the right way to go with a curator's essay. Reading his notes definitely enriched my experience of the show, though I also had a positive sensual experience of many of the works without having the contextual overlay. A painting of a mouse looking down into a mirror really did it for me, as did a video by Slater Bradley of a man in a moon suit playing a music box to stuffed animals in their diorama habitats.

Not surprisingly, given the premise of the show, I spent the most time looking at the piece that most closely resembles the kinds of things I try to do. Local artist Robert Goetz took a series of photographs of traffic passing (or not) the same four roadside smokestacks. He then did prints to accompany each photograph where the bands of color in the print related to how the smokestacks were intersected in the photograph. Photograph and print were then conjoined. As a final touch, he scored his own images musically, though the music pod for his piece wasn't working when I was there, so I didn't get the entire effect. Robert and I used to do similar work together in Poetry Scores, and though we have lost touch it was a pleasure to see he has continued in the project of scoring texts and translating between media.

Amy and I went to the Tap Room to talk about the show, which made for some interesting, mirroring connections. I tried to explain my prior working relationship with Robert, making the connection that he and I had played in a band together with Hunter Brumfield. Amy and I also had Hunter in common as a friend, until Hunter killed himself. When I made the connection, Amy blurted, "Hunter and I sang 'I'll Be Your Mirror' together!"

The coincidence with the Velvet Underground song that themed the show we had just seen was interesting. So was this. One of the pieces in the show was a sculpture by Hannah Greely made to resemble a bottle of beer crusted in dirt. I thought of Hunter when I looked at this piece, because I have the last bottle of beer he drank before he killed himself, given to me by his girlfriend at the time who knew I'd probably appreciate it.

This left me with the pleasant feeling that a fourth bird had been killed today, that the spirit of our dead friend who died too young had been recycled in our coming together to experience art today. The dead are only as dead as we allow them to be. We can be their mirror.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why I love St Louis & baseball but not the Cardinals

Left-handed batting stance on the rock & roll road, ca. 1993.

I love St. Louis to death and love the game of baseball almost as much; yet the St. Louis Cardinals just battled through a Cinderella August worthy of the record books to win the National League penant and advance to the 2011 World Series, and I really don't care. Don't give a hoot. Didn't watch one single out of the National League Championship Series. I'd probably even silently root against the Redbirds in the Series, were it not for the fact that their American League opponent, the Texas Rangers, previously were owned by George W. Bush.

What gives? How the hell could all of these things be true?

Let me start with my baseball bona fides. I may be an oddball by many measures -- I read Turkish poetry for fun and make zombie movies based on Turkish poems -- yet I am a fully acculterated American boy when it comes to baseball. Not only did I memorize the backs of baseball cards, I have held onto my entire childhood baseball collection over an itinerant life that has included periods of being "between homes." Not only did I grow up playing the game, it was the one game I was good at. Most sports, I played precisely well enough to earn a starting position, wear a jersey on game days, attract the girlfriends who could be won in no other way. In baseball, I played third base, picked a mean hot corner, and always batted in the heart of the lineup, a line-drive hitter with longball power. I even played competitive baseball as recently as this century, when I co-founded a vintage baseball team that played barehanded ball by 19th century rules in New York City's Central Park. I played third base and batted in the heart of the lineup.

Baseball; okay. But St. Louis Cardinals baseball, and me?

Sure. I grew up on Jack Buck and Mike Shannon. I knew, like everybody knew, that we were sitting at the heels of genius there. I grew up on Ozzie Smith and Al Hrabosky -- magical, mystical, supernatural ballplayers and characters. Visual evidence exists of this: a photograph of me from a Granite City Halloween party in the early 1980s, when our entire friendship clique came in costume as St. Louis Cardinals players: a portrait of the artist (in my case) as a mediocre second baseman (Tommy Herr).

What happened? A whole lot of things happened.

I'm slightly phobic about filling out forms. I was really good at high school, but not good at all about applying to any colleges. So a guidance counselor sent a U.S. Navy recruiter to me. He filled out all of my forms, and suddenly I was a Navy Midshipman studying biomedical engineering at Boston University with a full-time job as a NROTC Cadet. I was also a fanatic for rock music suddenly thrown into one of the great rock music cities, Boston, with indie rock exploding all around me. I looked at my course schedule, my Navy billets, the gig calendars at Boston rock clubs, and I realized something had to go. My baseball fanatacism had to go, if I was going to make it through this NROTC university thing. And so the boy who used to interview himself as an imaginary famous baseball player while stocking shelves at Cohen's Market went pretty close to cold turkey on Major League Baseball. It amazes me to remember this, but I lived a year in Boston, able to replay in memory any number of Freddy Lynn catches in its center field, in the shadow of the Green Monster, and stepped inside Fenway Park exactly once.

I lived in Boston one year only. Me and the Navy didn't work out. That's another story. I ended up back home, though not in Granite City; now I was in St. Louis proper, at Washington University. There might have been time to take up baseball again, but not in the poring-over-box-scores-every-morning manner I was accustomed to -- especially not with this rock music thing taking me over, more and more completely. In fact, I ended up running away from the academy (where I was doing fine, at least on paper, the only place that really matters in the academy) to play rock music myself.

When I got off the rock & roll road towards the end of the 1990s, there was a window there when the St. Louis Cardinals might have won me back. This was exactly when Cardinal Nation, as Cardinals fans style themselves, lost its damn mind. The owners brought this big ugly redheaded guy with bloated muscles here from Oakland. His specialty was what I emphatically consider to be the single dullest play in the game of baseball, from the standpoint of a spectator: the homerun. It's the only play that ends with the swing of the bat. In every other play, even a foul ball or wild pitch, someone else has a chance of being drawn into the play, to make an even better play or perhaps some catastrophic mistake. In the quintessential team sport, however, the homerun is the most solitary play, the solipsist's play. Yet it ascended to dominate the game. Bloated muscles and a shallow, cowlike response to big stats from fair-weather fans turned the chess of team sports into a meat-musclehead strongman dinging a bell.

Remember: I was a third baseman. I like infield defense, not infielders watching a speeding white blip sail over a distant fence while the constipated strongman touches four.

Then I met a lady on a plane and ended up living with her in New York. I did the thing you have to do when you're living with a lady, I got my own job. I ended up editing the travel section of a magazine. Let's face it, that's not the most demanding job in the world. To a guy who had scraped and hustled for the Navy, studied at world-class research universities, figured out how to run a touring rock band from scratch, and eked out a living writing freelance journalism at a dime a word, it was kind of like being paid to do nothing. But suddenly I had to be at the same place all the time, with the same people (when I wasn't traveling to write a travel story). Like millions of office workers before and after me, I found myself with a little time on my hands to discuss athletic contests. I crept back into baseball.

I was in New York, okay? And the hometown team, the Cardinals, had fallen for the bloated strongman who dings the bell. What was I going to do? Go over to the Yankees? I went over to the Yankees. I got some good haiku out of my first visit to Yankee Stadium. Yeah, Yankee Stadium. I started to feel some of the old magic come back. But we are talking about the Yankees here, or much more disastrously, the Yankees' fans. Though they play their games in the Bronx, this was Manhattan's team, and Manhattan had become the rich man's island. This was the rich fan's team. I went over to the Mets.

I know, the Muts, I know, the Pond Scum. But the Cardinals had fallen for the ugly bloated redheaded strongman who dings the bell. I owed them nothing. The Mets were my hometown team now. I could even walk to the stadium, and I did just that many times. My best friend in New York lived right along the way, Rosco Gordon, the jump blues legend who recorded with Sam Phillips before Sun Studios, when Elvis was still strumming a tennis racket as a guitar and interviewing himself as an imaginary famous musician. I'd walk through Jackson Heights, pick up three snacks from three different ethnic kitchens, pick up the jump bluesman, and we'd watch the Mets at Shea.

Remember, I was a third baseman. The third baseman for the Mets in those days was Robin Ventura. That is, first of all, one of history's great names. Robin Ventura. It's ridiculous. And then I met the man, an incredibly nice man, and all those Mets, by coming up with feature stories for the (now defunct) Connecticut page of The New York Times. Robin Ventura lived in Connecticut, as did Todd Zeile, the kooky Mets manager Bobby Valentine (another immortal baseball name) and a number of other guys on the field and in the front office. My editor at The Times was a Connecticut guy and a baseball nut, always looking for a reason to green-light a Connecticut baseball feature. Connecticut and baseball have been very, very good to me.

My sketch of a cameraman made from the press box at the old Shea Stadium.
This next part is very important. The people who most need to hear it, Cardinals fans, will never hear it. I have tried to tell many Cardinals fans this, and they would not hear it. They never hear it. But it is true. Shea Stadium has the sharpest baseball critics in the world. When I say this to Cardinals fans, they say in a chorus, "No, Cardinals fans are the best fans in baseball!" And then I say, while that may or may not be true, in terms of cow-eyed adoration of the home team, it's not what I said. I said: best baseball critics. In Shea, they love baseball, but love or hate the Mets precisely according to how well or badly they measure up to the great game of baseball. I am not talking about see-sawing manic-depressively from cow-eyed adoration to drunken despondency that my team is out of the Wild Card race. I am talking pitch by pitch, infield adjustment by infield adjustment, pitching change by pitching change criticism of the game as the game is being played.

I moved back home. That's another another story. And I saw St. Louis sports through new eyes. It's really very simple. New York is a two-team town. It's a competitive democracy for sports fandom. Nowhere in New York can you say "the game," as in "can you turn on the game?" as if there is only one game in town. The game. In New York, there is always at least two games in town. Now don't get me wrong, I don't love New York. I vastly prefer St. Louis. But what I like about St. Louis least is what so many people from St. Louis thinks makes them so special: how much they love their sports teams. In fact, this is the most typical, bush league thing about this great city. Ever been to a college town on a game day? That's St. Louis, 162 days of the year, or more, if the Cardinals make it into the post-season. If New York is a competitive sports democracy, St. Louis is a rigid, inflexible, one-party system. It's the Soviet Russia of sports cities.

And lo and behold, these Cardinal fans now have embraced another California import who totally rubs me the wrong way. I never liked the cocky look of this manager. Eventually, he would take his upturned nostrils and self-infatuation to a conservative rally against President Obama organized by a cheap shot of a conservative talk show hack, but long before that he violated my sense of humanity once and for eternity when he threatened a press conference full of reporters with a fungo bat he was holding in his hands. Tough guy. Sorry, Charlie. I was done with you and your team, whichever that team might be and wherever it might be getting its taxpayer subsidies, then and forever.

There is that political point to be considered there, the paying for these owners to make money off us, but I won't whine about the "pay for my new stadium" game, which everybody plays, everywhere. Hey, I'd take some help refinancing my mortgage too, if I could get away with it, but I can't.

But then I also can't fathom how the chump hometown fan is exactly the last person suited up for this game with an iota of geographic loyalty. The owner of the team may not live in the team's town (the Cardinals' owner doesn't). The players play for the highest bidder, wherever that bid may be paid. That's the way the fans want it, presumably, because they holler pretty fast for the owner to let any player go who's fading in exchange for the next better thing. Everybody is always looking for the next team, or the next player. Everybody is in it for the money or the glory, except Joe Chump Hometown Fan. Joe is supposed to root robotically for whoever happens to be playing for whoever happens to be owning the team that happens to be situated in his town -- until, of course, the owner moves his hometown team to another hometown. And then they wait for another owner to move another team to their town so they can love that team and only that team with that same cowlike look in their eyes.

I don't get it. I grew up in the Free Agency Era, which started right here in St. Louis, by the way, in 1969. I was a boy of three probably chasing a baseball across the carpet when Curt Flood said hell no, I don't want to go. I want to stay. And by wanting to stay in St. Louis instead of submitting to a trade to another city's team, ironically, he paved the way for a game of baseball where nobody stays in one place anymore. Except the chump hometown fan, who even when he or she moves, is still supposed to remain nostalgically loyal to the team that happens to be situated in their hometown, until it isn't.

I'm not like that. Take me and the Mets. It's over. They've moved on, and I've moved on. The Mets I cared about are gone from New York. Robin Ventura is now managing up in Chicago (I'll have to find a reason to go and say hello). Todd Zeile is producing movies (I'll have to find a reason to go ask him for money). Bobby Valentine talks about the game on TV and has a city job in his Connecticut hometown. They might be somebody's Mets, but they're not mine anymore.

I now live in a house with two females, and one TV. I think you know what that means. I haven't seen a television in years, at least not the one I co-own. I could listen to baseball on the radio, but I still prefer music, if I have to pick one or the other. In fact, I would say it's time for me finally to retire as a journeyman freelance baseball fan. I quit. I'm out of here. If the game ever decides to remember me for my contributions to the game, not that I expect it will, and I have to pick a jersey to wear when I enter the Cooperstown of freelance baseball fans, it won't be the Cardinals jersey. It won't be the Red Sox jersey. It won't even be my most recently Mets. It will be the Sans Souci Poeteasters, my imaginary dice baseball team composed of nothing but poets. But that's another another another story.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Three incoherent poems to be read at Occupy St. Louis

Kristin Sharp does a lot of good work organizing and promoting performance poetry in St. Louis. I see that she is organizing poets for tomorrow (Sunday, October 16) at Occupy St. Louis in Kiener Plaza. At that time I will be managing an aspiring child actor with a non-profit gig, but I wanted to post a few of my poems and invite Kristin or anyone else to read one of them there.



We came out of the mud, out
of the dark, out of the heat. Here today, I
empower you to screw up
something (I’ll give you the real answer, later).
Take an overweight person
eating chicken-fried steak, smoking cigarettes,
It makes a lot of sense, yeah,

for Alaska. The monkey in the middle.
Fly in low, the ambulance
outside your door (if you even have access
to ambulance services).
That’s a lot of dead people. Money came here.
In Mexico, I’m sure, there are seminars
going on, right now, asking
what happened to all the jobs they "stole" from the
American South. We are
all, always, on deadline, not Acme Widgets.

-- Chris King



The apple is the sweetest,
the closest to the core. The sweetest and most
difficult to eat. Guilt is
a Calvinist virus that makes your cue ball
incident look like punk stuff,
soul insurance, Boddishatva of the porn,
a store called Experience.

The people who bid this shit up never have
put anything on the line
because they don’t even know where the line is.
Throw their money around like
a cudgel. It’s not an indictment, I’m just
talking about what’s really
going on, with my twin pistol butts showing.
It’s just a poisoned Old World
predatorial system. Sneeze! Scat! (Devil!)
Dude, you can’t eat soul, yours or
mine. You’re falling far afield again tonight.

-- Chris King



For arrow poison, we boiled
gall down. The hair was plastered with clay a full
day, to impart gloss and keep it from splitting.
Now, the exterminating
influence of missions was discouraging,
sure, but courage, for us,
was really a curse. A is for Absence,
B is for Bayonet in
the Back of C, or Crazy Horse, D is for
Don’t You Speak Your Mother Tongue,
E is for Entrails Emptying Out Our Soul.

-- Chris King


These poems are cast in the 7/11 form innovated by St. Louis poet Quincy Troupe, which calls for alternating 7-syllable lines with 11-syllable lines. I add to that rule an attempt to alternate 7-line stanzas with 11-line stanzas, or at least to use only 7-line and 11-line stanzas.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which includes Occupy St. Louis (as I understand it), has been criticized from the left for being incoherent. So I have chosen some poems that are indeed somewhat incoherent, yet all say something important (I'd like to think) if you are patient with complexity and polyvalence.

As for Occupy Wall Street, or what I have heard about the movement from the distance of a busy parent and working artist with a demanding day job, it reminds me of what I loved about the intentional community movement when I first encountered it. I really liked the communal approach to resources and the consensual approach to decision-making. It's my impression that these approaches have worked for the human being for many more centuries than the approaches concentrated on Wall Street. It always seems possible that the time will come when they will be widely practiced again, either out of choice or, more likely, grim necessity.


Image borrowed from Peter.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

One more Saturday for "Poetry in Place: The Platforms"

On Saturday I was part of something new, for me certainly, and maybe for anyone anywhere. Dana Turkovic, curator of exhibitions at the mighty Laumeier Sculpture Park, put it together. It was titled Poetry in Place: The Platforms. "The Platforms" were six constructed sites to read poetry (or, for that matter, to spout rants). Five poets were then invited to read poetry on these platforms and encourage others read or speak. I was one of the five invited poets.

I liked the idea very much, once I fully grasped it, which didn't happen until we were actually doing it. I do not fault Dana for this. In fact, I liked very much the way she organized the event. It was all very familiar to me, from my own efforts with Poetry Scores -- coming up with a group project that no one had ever quite thought of before, and then pulling together the group to pull it off knowing full well they can't imagine it in advance because it's a totally new thing.

The good news -- and another clever part of the design -- is we are going to do it again, next Saturday, October 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. I'll do my best to get more people out to Laumeier this time to experience this unique approach to public poetry and sculpture.

Here is how it works. There is a circular trail of platforms crafted around a small section of the vast sculpture park. (Signs point the way.) If you follow the trail, you come upon platforms with poets.

Coming down from the parking lots, you first encounter Douglis Beck's platform. Its main features are a wheel you spin and a cone that acts as a megaphone, like a carnival barker.

Next you see Daniel McGrath's platform, a faux stone, like something an ancient philosopher would stand upon to declaim.

Then you see Sarrita Hunn's platform, a glittery box that also has a multimedia component that was described to me. Since my phone is a dumb phone, I didn't quite get it, but if your phone is smart your phone can play with this platform too.

Then you come upon Noah Kirby's platform, which is more like a rusted old phone booth, since you step into rather than up on it. You can kind of hide in this one, while projecting your voice out of another megaphone-type construction.

From there you take a turn into the woods, where you soon come across the platform designed by Axi: Ome (Sung Ho Kim and Heather Woofter). This one is basically a bridge.

Finally, at the end of the woodlands trail is B.J. Vogt's piece, kind of a simulated forest of white trees with stepping stones.
It's an enormous park, there were six platforms for simultaneous poetry, poetry is a tough draw in any event, and (as I've said) this event was intrinsically difficult to promote in advance. So even with six local artists and five local poets -- I was joined by Julie Dill, Chris Parr, Stefene Russell and Buzz Spector -- the turnout, or walk-by traffic, wasn't quite equal to the ambition of the project or the quality of the work.

Still, it was a magical experience for those of us who did experience it. My favorite moment as a performer was hiding Noah Kirby's rusted metal structure and reading almost my entire chapbook of painful lost love poetry, A heart I carved for a girl I knew. It was the perfect environment for that poetry.

As a listener, my favorite experience was watching Buzz Spector read in B.J. Vogt's faux forest nestled in the actual woods. The poetry Buzz read was full of artifice and contrivance, very self-consciously so, and it was neat to see him read these poems while standing in a little artificial forest.

Now that we have a better sense of what to expect, I think all of the artists and poets involved will be able to bring more people out next Saturday. I certainly hope so. A lot of working artists in St. Louis (me included) tend to grouse that our major arts institutions don't do enough to partner with and co-promote with local working artists. I know we all enjoyed the rush of collaborating with a major international institution like Laumeier, but I feel we owe the institution a better return on its investment in us -- namely, local visitors who would not be at the park that particular day were there not these particular local artists included in the day's exhibitions.

Of course, this being St. Louis, that depends entirely on the St. Louis Cardinals being knocked out of the post-season between now and then.

Friday, September 30, 2011

British Red Cross pumps me up to read at The Platforms

So tomorrow (Saturday, October 1) and the next Saturday (October 8), I'll be a performing poet at Laumeier Sculpture Park as part of its Poetry in Place: The Platforms project, organized by Dana Turkovic. The St. Louis poets Julie Dill, Christopher Parr, Stefene Russell, Buzz Spector and I will be reading poetry on platforms invented and constructed by local artists Axi:Ome (Sung Ho Kim and Heather Woofter), Douglis Beck, Sarrita Hunn, Noah Kirby, Daniel McGrath and B.J. Vogt.

I was very happy to be asked to participate, if for no othe reason than to make two trips to Laumeier in this beautiful Fall weather we're having. At the same time, I have plenty of doubts about myself as a "real poet"; I've always written poetry and even published a bit, without ever thinking of myself as a poet. But I was certainly willing to play one at Laumeier Sculpture Park!

Then this morning, the day before the first of the Platforms gigs, I woke to some remarkable good news for me as a poet, of all things. It came from, of all unlikely places for poetic confirmation, the British Red Cross.
It is our pleasure to inform you on behalf of the British Red Cross that your entry "Recipe for Hallelujah" has been highly commended by our judges. You are one of only twelve entrants to receive this commendation. We received more than 750 entries from all over the world but yours was marked out to be above and beyond the others. On behalf of the judges and organisers we would like to wholeheartedly congratulate and thank you. We hope to have the commended entries published in a Red Cross publication, and will keep you informed of progress.

This relates to a competition the British Red Cross organized around The International Day of the Disappeared. I read about the competition on Twitter, though I'm not sure I even would have remembered entering it or with what poem had I not received this good news. Here is the poem that their judges "highly commended":

Take Mississippi after
its native peoples have all been disappeared,
lynch the intelligent men
of color, form the women into a choir,
add the Bible, translated,
assassinated African idioms
disguised in murky backbeats
no white man in Mississippi could fathom
(let’s leave Elvis Presley out
of this …) and make it sweat its ass in the sun
until it ripens, or explodes.

It's not like I started chewing on a pencil when I heard about the competition until I spit this out. I did what I always do when entering a writing competition (as I do more and more nowadays, thanks to Twitter alerts) -- I looked for something I'd already written but not published that fits the theme.

This is a poem about the American South, a place better known for very public terrorist murders (lynchings) than for the stealth terrorism associated with the disappeared (abducting someone secretly and then trying to make sure no one ever sees them again). In my experience as a writer, reader and activist, this is the American South contrasted to anti-Communist Central America. But there are shared themes, so I made one small revision to the poem to bring it closer to "the disappeared" and sent it to London.

The poem is a holdover from my days on the road, when the Mississippi Hill Country was a beloved place to hide away with friends. I wrote a baggier version of the poem back then, in the 1990s, but never did anything with it; I was too far out there on the road, too busy hiding away with new friends in obscure place.

I revisited this, along with many of my older poems, earlier this year after hearing the poet Quincy Troupe read here in his hometown of St. Louis. Quincy introduced a poem by saying it was a 7/11, a poetic form he had invented where seven-syllable lines alternate with eleven-syllable lines. That sounded just right to me, just exactly as uneven and off-kilter as me. I literally ran home that night and started pulling out old poems and counting syllables on my fingers. In my 7/11s, I try to alternate seven-line stanzas with eleven-line stanzas, or at least to break stanzas at seven or eleven lines. This poem is one eleven-line stanza.

This 7/11 thing has really been working out for me, it's really been helping me to shape up underthought or unfinished poems. In fact, I will be reading only 7/11s at Laumeier tomorrow and the next Saturday. Hope to see you there!


Image from pag-kilos ng kultura.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My acting debut opposite Bill Streeter in George Malich's brain surgery series

My friend George Malich is producing and directing Life is Meant for Living, a series of improvised sketch comedy pieces based on the amazing experience he currently is undergoing with brain cancer and brain surgery.

In his new episode, "Day 9: The Conspiracy," George retells a remarkable experience from his brain surgery earlier this month. The expert brain surgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital kept him awake and talking for much of the surgery, to monitor what parts of his brain he was using so as to avoid cutting into any of his functional tissue while removing as much of the tumor as they could.

By all accounts, George was good, loquacious company while his brain was under the knife, as he depicts (with a fetching comic overlay) in the previous episode "Day 8: Awake Surgery." But when his surgeons woke George up, he pitched into a three-hour rage.

Curiously, the targets of George's rage were two local directors, Bill Streeter and me, Chris King. Bill is far more accomplished than me as a director, so I was flattered to be somehow sequestered in the directors' corner of George's brain with Bill.

With Poetry Scores, I have directed only one movie, though George has a prominent role in our second movie, currently in production, Go South for Animal Index. As I described in a recent post, "You Never Know What is Going to Happen, George Malich," we really had to rush and work George hard to get in his last scenes before his brain surgery. If there is a rational reason for such things, that's probably why George came out of a brain surgery in a three-hour rage at me.

But, as Rachel Cosic's character muses in this sketch, "Why Bill Streeter?" Bill -- who has never directed George -- asked himself the same thing. "Maybe George subconsciously wants me to direct him," Bill suggested.

That sounds good to me! I'm standing by to help that future project in any way. Given my highlight reel from this episode, my screen acting debut, I suspect it won't be as an actor.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"The Big Dipper" by Rick Hawkins & eleanor roosevelt (picture, song)

My friend and colleague Rick Hawkins posted this photograph he took of the Big Dipper on his typepad.

He snapped it at a summer camp (in central Tennessee, I'd guess, where he lives). Rick has a deep personal connection to the camp, he said. Also, as an artist, he appreciates "the absence of ambient light pollution. The sky is bright with stars."

His post reminded me of the song my band eleanor roosevelt wrote and recorded titled "The Big Dipper". I sent it to Rick and will post it here.

"The Big Dipper"
(eleanor roosevelt)
eleanor roosevelt

It's not our greatest work. It didn't make the cut for the next batch of songs we intend to release, Water Bread & Beer. But I like it enough as an excuse for a blogpost with Rick's picture.

I stumbled on "the absence of ambient light pollution" far from central Tennessee. I was on the wide plains of Western Canada, coming back from Edmonton, Alberta, when I saw  the sky bright with the stars of the Big Dipper and wrote the words and melody to the song. When I saw the Big Dipper, it looked like "a heavenly trickle". I took it from there, attempting an extended metaphor for what I consider to be one of life's greatest pleasures.

Not only a visual artist, Rick is a musician and singer I really want to work with in Poetry Scores. His projects Jackson Pollock Microphone and Magna Man Remembered are close in spirit to what we do. It's almost embarassing that we haven't incorporated Rick's work into one of our poetry scores by now.

Rick did host a successful event at his home in Murphreesboro for Poetry Scores' one and only (thus far) Southern Poetry Tour, and we have every intention to screen our first movie Blind Cat Black at his place.

Going back to the beginning, Rick was a cofounder of Hoobellatoo, the field recording collective that spawned Poetry Scores. Rick was with Lij and me when we met and first recorded the late Leo Connellan, the first poet we scored. Rick's striking portrait of Leo, standing on the foyer at his publisher, Curbstone Press, graces the back of our first poetry score CD, Crossing America.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bootblogging #22: Five by Bob Reuter

St. Louis songwriter and bandleader Bob Reuter is turning 60 and celebrating this Saturday, August 13 at The Tap Room (2100 Locust) with a really excellent lineup: The Union Electric, Wormwood Country and Bob's band Alley Ghost.

I have multiple, deeply rooted connections to the leaders of all these bands: Tim Rakel (of The Union Electric), Lindy Woracheck (of Wormwood Country) and Bob himself. It would tire the patience of most blog readers to rehearse it all, so I'll just say a few words about our birthday boy and then bootblog a handful of his songs.

Bob was already a veteran of the St. Louis music scene when I sprang up in the late 1980s. His band then was Kamikaze Cowboy, and they rocked hard on Bob's country-tinged songs, which more or less describes all of Bob's bands I've heard since. He had the reputation then, which he's maintained for twenty years, of being one of the best songwriters in town. He's still that.

Like most frontmen, Bob is a fairly self-absorbed guy -- a rap that has followed him, alongside the master craftsman songwriter reputation. That makes it somewhat paradoxical that he also is and has always been a highly encouraging enthusiast for other bands and songwriters. It's this generosity and passion towards other musicians, matched with those eloquent and catchy songs, that has ensured Bob always has an ace band populated by some of the best players in the scene.

Speaking from experience, my band Enormous Richard was slightly controversial among other musicians when we burst on the scene in the late 1980s. I was a terrible singer, and I recruited talented musicians by inviting them to learn new instruments onstage. I stayed with these same guys until today, so twenty years later I make music with talented multi-instrumentalists, but in the early days we could be pretty hard on the ears.

But I think we had some good songs, and we played them with abandon -- a guitar player who joined the band called it "messy hilarity". Among serious musicians in town, Bob was absolutely the first to look past our surface imperfections enough to enjoy the songs and appreciate the gusto we brought to the experience of playing in a band. To this day, twenty years ago, I still remember Bob calling me out of the blue to talk about an Enormous Richard song that he liked. He carried on like a goofy fan, rather than one of the best songwriters in town.

Having had that experience, having been touched by Bob's passion for music in that way, it does not surprise me that he has enticed gifted musicians like Robin Allen, Michael Martin and John Horton to play in his bands and serve as his sort of de facto musical directors. Since Enormous Richard were one of the kids on the scene, then, and he was the veteran, it also does not surprise me that Bob has been able to renew his band and songs in recent years by attracting some of the best musicians in St. Louis who are literally half his age to back him up.

That band, which we will see on Saturday, is Bob Reuter's Alley Ghost. They are terrific, and I have one of their CDs (which I like); but when Bob gave me the go-ahead to bootblog some of his songs for the occasion, I had to pull out what I consider to be his finest work: the Michael-Martin produced this much I know (1994).

Here are five of its sixteen songs. I'm not sure I can name a single better record recorded in St. Louis in the twenty years I have been on the scene.


"Outside Your Class"
(Bob Reuter)
Bob Reuter

"It Don't Matter"
(Bob Reuter)
Bob Reuter

"Other Shoe"
(Bob Reuter)
Bob Reuter

"Second Hand Smoke"
(Bob Reuter)
Bob Reuter

"10% of Nothing"
(Bob Reuter)
Bob Reuter

More in this series
Bootblogging #1: Three by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #2: Three elegies for local musicians
Bootblogging #3: Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #4: Three more by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #5: Chuck Reinhart's guitar circle hits
Bootblogging #6: The silly side of The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #7: Songs for "Divorcing God"
Bootblogging #8: More songs for "Divorcing God
Bootblogging #9: Adam Long presents The Imps!
Bootblogging #10: More Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #11: The Adversary Workers
Bootblogging #12: The May Day Orchestra
Bootblogging #13: Solo Career live in Santa Monica
Bootblogging #14: Four from The Funhouse (Seattle punk)
Bootblogging #15: Four more from The Funhouse (Seattle punk rock)
Bootblogging #16: I will be your volunteer! (for Bob Slate)
Bootblogging #17: Yet more The Lettuce HeadsBootblogging #18: Four by Russell Hoke
Bootblogging #19: Krakersy (is Crackers in Polish)
Bootblogging #20- Four by Grandpa's Ghost
Bootblogging #21: Eight by Jaime Gartelos

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The history of rock & roll, country music and me

Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Yesterday began with the news that my friend Dan Durchholz has landed a new gig teaching the early history of rock & roll at a university in St. Louis County. My roots as a musician and music writer are all tangled up in his.

The next thing I did yesterday, after read my social media news, was to visit The Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Its first display was a reel of three films of primitive rural music that pre-dated country music. One of those films showed Bascom Lamar Lunsford playing "Doggett's Gap" with a small group of musicians. I'm co-producing a boxed set of Bascom's recordings that will make his performance of this song available to the public for the first time.

With all this history of music stuff touching so personally upon me, on a weekend when our nation looks back to celebrate its own birth, perhaps I can be forgiven for continuing to experiences exhibits at the Country Music Hall of Fame and events of the day in Nashville from the Forrest Gumpesque perspective of my tiny cameos in them.

Uncle Elvis

In the center of the third floor of the museum, where the tour starts, is parked "Elvis Presley's Solid Gold Cadillac." The love of my eldest sister's life, Lori King, was a man named Mark Presley. Mark's grandfather was first cousins with Vernon Presley, Elvis' dad. I have in my personal museum a photograph of Mark as a child, standing on the steps of Graceland, when Elvis was alive, during a family visit to his Uncle Elvis.

I told this story to the group visiting the museum with me, which included by 8-year-old daughter. Leyla was very struck by this information. "You mean I'm related to Elvis?!" she exclaimed. "Yes, by marriage," I said. Technically, my sister never married Mark, though he never left her side during the long illness and death that interrupted their loving relationship.

Hank and Chicken Truck

Speaking of Cadillacs and premature death, I thought often about my early days as a musician, in the formative days of alternative country. Hank Williams is all over The Country Music Hall of Fame, as well he should be. I was writing about music when I was first starting scruffy country rock bands in St. Louis, and I was the first scribe to write about Brian Henneman, who has gone on to have a strong career with The Bottle Rockets.

Brian was fronting Chicken Truck when I stumbled into Cicero's Basement Bar to hear them. That band's memorable early tape LOUD MUSIC included a twisted homage to Hank Williams in which Brian growls, "I want to be drunk, stoned and famous and dead in the back of my own Cadillac." This refrain cycled helplessly through my brain my entire time in the museum.

Dizzy's big toe

I thought of Brian's songwriting partner and former high school basketball coach Scott Taylor at an adjacent exhibit, where you can listen to rare recordings at listening pods. One such rare recording was "Wabash Cannonball" recorded by baseball legend Dizzy Dean. The Chicken Truck guys backed Scott in an early side project that recorded a song called "Dizzy Dean". I remember Scott sharing that song with me, observing all sorts of protocols of co-conspirators, which I didn't understand.

"You know," Scott had said, "Dizzy Dean? Big Toe? I always liked how you referenced that." I had no idea what he was talking about. My first band had been Big Toe, but the name didn't reference anything but a big toe.

"The big toe is essential to balance," Scott had explained. "A line drive shattered Dizzy Dean's big toe. He kept pitching with his balance all disrupted, and it ruined his pitching arm." I think that was when I realized how songwriters learn to take credit for being much smarter than they really are.

Slim, svelte Garth

If there is an antithesis to Hank Williams and Chicken Truck, it would be the gerbil of country music stardom, Garth Brooks. Garth is featured in the museum on a highlight reel documenting country music on television. His career in music got started exactly at the same time as mine. He became an international star while my nose was buried in obscure comic books on the road to obscure gigs.

After one Enormous Richard gig in New York City, the pretty barmaid after-partying with us described our drummer, Matt Fuller, as looking like "a slim, svelte Garth Brooks". I remember this 20 years later because of her outrage and amazement that Garth Brooks had the No. 1 hit in the world yet not one member of our band had any idea who he was!

Maybelle's Gospel Ship

On the walls that sheltered the little theater where the country music on TV reel was playing they had hung historic musical instruments on pegs. There was Maybelle Carter's Gibson L-5. It was our own "slim, svelte Garth Brooks," Matt Fuller, who learned Maybelle's licks and brought some of that old-time feeling into our bands Enormous Richard and Eleanor Roosevelt. We were playing the Carter Family song "Gospel Ship" at Cicero's in those early St. Louis years when Uncle Tupelo was playing their song "No Depression." In the case of Uncle Tupelo, the rest is history.

Jimmie's guitar at the depot

Next to Maybelle's Gibson hangs Jimmie Rodgers' Martin 00-18 guitar. I was strolling the exhibit with Elijah "Lij" Shaw, a partner in all of my bands and musical projects. After Eleanor Roosevelt burned out, we had stayed on the road as a field recording collective, Hoobellatoo. Hoobellatoo did some old-time music recordings at an old train depot in Marshall, North Carolina. Jimmie Rodgers had once left one of his other guitars behind at the depot, we were told, and it remained in a local private collection.

No credit

At that time in the exhibit, I received a call from a musician named Frank Heyer. Frank called to thank me for sending him the most recent Poetry Scores record which includes a piece of his music, Jack Ruby's America by David Clewell. However, he said (without being a jerk in any way), I made a mistake on his credits; he was playing keyboard, not fretless guitar. I told him we would "fix it in the reprint," the label's version of "fix it in the mix."

I told Lij how ironic it was, just as I was basking in my tiny roles in the history of music, to have pointed out a mistake I made on the last piece of music I produced. Lij said that was nothing. He reminded me of the come-back record he and I had produced for the jump blues legend Rosco Gordon. "My buddy Hags played bass on that record," Lij said." He was more excited than anybody. I forgot to credit him!"

Hotel California in Nashville
After a hotel pool swim, we finished our day at Lij's home in East Nashville. Out back he has built a commercial recording studio, The Toy Box. Lij throws opens its doors to Poetry Scores, the project that our bands and Hoobellatoo has evolved into. He also rents it out to other producers.

He called me down to the studio to hear some mixes a producer just did in his studio. The Toy Box is getting a name as a mix studio, in part, because Lij bought and installed the mother board on which many iconic Southern Californian recordings, including The Eagles' Hotel California, were mixed.

Paul Westerberg's Deer Tick

This project is the new record by the band Deer Tick. Lij wanted me to hear it because they are one of Paul Westerberg's favorite bands. Westerberg, of course, led The Replacements, which influenced all the rock musicians of our generation. Westerberg had even written a song for Deer Tick that appears on this album, "Mr. Cigarette," sung to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad". It's not the best song on what sounds like a great album.

"On this board, the brights can sound too bright," Lij remarked critically. "Listen to that high-hat. It's just like on Hotel California -- a little too hot."

Ghost World garage

I pulled a comic book off the shelf while we were listening. It was Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes, which the publisher had affixed with the sticker "Now a Major Motion Picture". That major motion picture was filmed, in large part, in a strip mall in Hollywood. That strip mall sits right across the street from a home owned by the sister of Matt Fuller, the "slim, svelte Garth Brooks" of our songwriting partnership. For many years, Matt has used his sister's garage to write songs and record worktapes. The records we have made for many years started in a garage that looks out over onto the strip mall where Ghost World was filmed.

Emmylou's giant poodle

I guess if you get old enough and stubbornly keep doing the same thing -- make music -- it gets to be like this, where everything you pick up bears a trace of something you have been a part of. Since this could go on forever, I'll end with an anecdote that ranks as unforgettable.

After the Deer Tick listening session, we went up the house and listened to Lij's mixes from Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo is a mjor music festival in Tennessee where Lij has been getting the contract to do live backstage recordings of the acts. The great producer Daniel Lanois was one of the acts this year. As we listened to Lij's recording and watched the video of Lij recording Lanois, I remembered a story Lij had told just that morning at breakfast.

We had breakfast in East Nashville, at a French-styled cafe called Marche that sits right across the street from Woodland Studios. Some twenty years ago, in his earliest days in Nashville, Lij had interned at Woodland. He was forbid to enter the studio recording rooms during sessions and assigned busywork instead.

Lanois brought in Emmylou Harris to make the Wrecking Ball record while Lij was there, and one piece of busywork he was assigned was to stop Emmylou's giant black poodle from escaping. Unfortunately, the dog did escape on Lij's watch.

Lij fled out the studio door and followed the giant poodle across Gallatin Road. The dog ran around Oprah Winfrey's former high school and darted into what was then a section of low-slung housing projects.

Fortunately for LIj and Emmylou Harris, the dog stopped to pinch a turd, and Lij tackled the giant poodle while it was taking a shit in the projects behind Oprah Winfrey's former high school. My carried and dragged that giant poodle out of the projects, past Oprah Winfrey's former high school, across across Gallatin Road and into Woodland Studio, where musical history was being made.