Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Crime poetry…

by Michael Dymmoch

...sounds like an oxymoron. Poetry is refined. And literary. It’s not something usually associated with crime. But “the ultimate economy” is an art form that lends itself surprisingly well to the subject, to the damage crime inflicts, to the emotions crime arouses. We like crime fiction because it deals with the most serious subjects. And it’s dramatic. It plays with our fears, threatens our hopes. It lets us deal with horrifying subjects at a little distance. Poetry does all that too—but more economically. In good poetry, the point is never lost in a forest of verbiage, the plot never wanders. Far more than in prose, each word has to be precisely right, a sniper’s killshot.

I recently had the opportunity to preview the latest issue of The Lineup, an annual chapbook of poems launched in July 2008 by Poetic Justice Press. According to the website, “We do not intend to sensationalize or glorify crime. We ask for poets' honest, powerful reactions to what they see as crime. Gratuitous anything is discouraged.”

I’m not an expert on poetry, but I found issue 3 to be amazinging! Consider this from “Another Hallway Altar in the Projects,” by Jackie Sheeler:
One haggard afternoon lifted its funeral skirts,
tucked a gradeschool girl underneath —


or from “Anthony Baez”:
So I squeezed his neck.
I learned it in Academy.
I didn’t squeeze too hard, only
hard enough. We had a riot
situation in the street…


and “Panic,” by Francine Witte:
is two men runnin’, scissor legs
cuttin’ up the streets, and the guy
they killed, back there in the house,
his body empty as a coat…


The Lineup represents crime from a number of points of view—criminals', cops' and victims'. What’s common to all the poems is the way a story is presented and emotion evoked with an amazing economy of language.

Many of the contributors are professional poets, but at least one is a cop, and many are the authors of short stories or novels. And one—who would have guessed?—is tough guy Reed Farrel Coleman.


BTW The Lineup, vol 3 is available in April at www.poemsoncrime.blogspot.com/, Amazon.com, or select independent bookstores.

15 comments:

Rex Ray said...

And for insight into underlying causes of a lot of crime, see Gwendolyn Brooks's "We real cool."

Michael Dymmoch said...

Rex,

I looked up "We real cool." It's almost too concise, but the final sentence is a killshot: We
Die soon.


Several of the poems in The Lineup 3, give insight into criminal behavior as well:

Carrie McGath’s “The Crimes of Cat-Calling,” gives a victim’s perspective on victimization but also insight into the offenders:

cat-calling wannabe-somethings, alpha males,
thinking they’re biblical characters rimming
their neighborhoods like crime dust, filth, time.
They really have nothing else.


‘trick or treat’ by Michael A. Flanagan records the genesis of a lost child.

Jackie Sheeler’s “Under Ground” pins lost souls down in 12 lines.

And Kristine Ong Muslim’s “As a Child” paints the development of a congenital psychopath.

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