Thursday, July 10, 2008

Murder by the Meter

(Editor’s note: This week brings the debut of The Lineup: Poems on Crime, a unique collection of crime rhymes that, as Sean Chercover [Big City, Bad Blood] says, is “packed with passionate portraits of lust, revenge, guilt, obsession, regret ... all the good things in life.” To introduce this self-published chapbook, we asked its editor, Gerald So, to tell us a bit about the volume’s heritage and future. His comments follow.)

In September 2007, knowing of my poetry and my work as fiction editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site, poet and crime novelist A.E. Roman approached me with the idea for an anthology of crime-themed poetry. I hadn’t considered such a project before, but I shared the idea with a handful of people I thought had the right sensibilities for it. They were The Rap Sheet’s own Anthony Rainone--who’d written “Raven in a Trenchcoat: Hardboiled and Noir Poetry” for the Spring 2007 issue of Mystery Scene magazine--Patrick Shawn Bagley, who was featured in that article, and Richie Narvaez, the founder of AsininePoetry and a new contributor to Thrilling Detective.

The four of us set about inviting writers we thought would be right for this project, until we’d compiled work from 14 people in all. Rap Sheet editor Jeff Pierce was among the first “outsiders” to show enthusiasm for The Lineup: Poems on Crime, and in asking me to write this short piece he suggested that I remark on the value and history of crime poetry.

I was a crime-fiction fan before I ever thought to write poetry, but as I thought about how to run with the idea Roman had given me, I began to see the connections between my favorite fiction and poetry.

Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled prose has also been called lyrical. His protagonist Philip Marlowe was named after an English poet, as was Robert B. Parker’s 1970s update of Marlowe, Spenser. It was while reading Parker--and seeing how his contemporary landscape so often brought to mind some lines of verse--that poetry grabbed my attention, and it hasn’t let go since. Crime fiction must make some sense of real crime to put it in the context of a story. Poetry deals with the same high emotional stakes in an even smaller space. In both cases, every line, every word has purpose: to plant clues, reveal character, move toward resolution.

Crime is everywhere in poetry, from Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”--in which the jealous speaker casually confesses to killing his wife--to Sharon Olds’ more overt poems about her abusive, domineering father. In our invitation to Lineup contributors, we asked for honest, powerful reactions to what they saw as crime. Gratuitous anything was discouraged. Among our 14 contributors are two crime writers who admit they haven’t written poetry before. When I began, I felt poetry gave voice to moments and images prose couldn’t express. I hope it does the same for those two authors and anyone else willing to try it.

Pleased with the initial results and schooled in self-publishing, we now plan to release a new Lineup each year.

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