One afternoon in 2014 I ran across an article about how, in the 1950s, Russian hipsters found it difficult to get their hands on banned Western music. No Chuck Berry. No Miles Davis. So they got creative, copying bootleg records onto discarded x-rays. Mind blown. Poem i the works almost immediately.
A number of example photographs accompanied the article. Some were records superimposed on x-rays of ribs. Some were etched over a humerus or femur. And one record was carved onto the image of a skull. When I decided to entitle my fifth collection of poetry Bone Music, I knew I had to get the rights to one of those haunting images. Preferably the skull. What better image could one have of creating art in the face of certain death?
So I emailed the author of the article inquiring as to who he had contacted for the rights to reprint the images. He wrote back quickly. Said he couldn’t help. Thank you very much.
I looked at the rights for the photos at the end of the article and emailed two people. Turned out they had rights to some gorgeous images, including a beauty of a record superimposed on a ribcage, but not to the coveted skull.
I kind of gave up. Only weeks later did I decide to try the roulette of Google again. Miraculously I found at the end of another article a photo credit that hadn’t been in the first. It was for a museum in Hungary. I quickly found and clicked on the museum’s site. Within minutes I was staring at not only the image of the skull I’d been looking for, but the name of the photographer as well. Joseph Hadju.
Hadju, it turned out, had passed. The rights to the images lay with the museum.
So I found the name to a curator at the museum and, full of a new hope that this might actually work, emailed her.
A week later I emailed again. Nothing.
Then, days later, it hit me hard. Of course she wasn’t going to email me back. I had emailed her in English, and she probably spoke Hungarian. How completely selfish of me. So with a few clicks on an online translating tool, I translated my email and, fingers crossed, sent it again.
The next morning—it felt like a miracle—I had a reply in my inbox from the museum. The email was in broken English, but clear enough. Most importantly, I had broken through.
Over the next two weeks I sent a few emails of clarification. The process was painstakingly slow, with a day or more between each reply, but in the end I got permission. We could use the photograph for the cover of the book as long as we sent a couple copies of the finished product to the museum. Easy. Done.
Then it was just a matter of getting the press to agree to use the image.
Well, as you can see, the folks at Trio House have excellent taste.
Check out the book here: