Wednesday, April 06, 2011

And So It Goes ...

(Editor’s note: This month brings the release of The Lineup: Poems on Crime 4, edited by Gerald So, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez. and R. Narvaez. I had been musing for some time on what I might say about this collection. But then I read Rap Sheet contributor Kevin Burton Smith’s poetic commentary on the book--which appeared in his own blog--and realized that I couldn’t outdo it. So I asked Kevin to repost his piece [with a couple of minor alterations] below.)

Me reviewing a book of poetry?

It sounds like a joke, appropriate for April Fool’s Day.

But once upon a time ...

* * *

High school. Mrs. Ticehurst’s English class.

Skeptical, enthusiastic, passionate, crazy Mrs. Ticehurst loved the written word.

With her wild, prematurely graying hair and her peace-sign pendant, she defied us to love it too. She turned us on to books. To drama. To poetry. To writing.

But the class held another, more important attraction to me.

A pretty classmate, slim, brunette. Always wore a man’s flannel shirt a few sizes too large.

Wasn’t always good about doing up her top buttons. Boys notice that kind of thing.

She leaned over my desk to read my poetry assignment.

“This is good,” she said. “Really good,” and looked at me with a look I’d never seen before.

From anyone.

And so I wrote poetry.

A lot of it. Angsty stuff. Sensitive. But mostly bad. Truly bad.

But she loved it. And sometimes so did Mrs. Ticehurst.

* * *

There’s no bad poetry in The Lineup: Poems on Crime 4.

Bad people, sure. Bad situations. Bad decisions. Bad luck.

But not bad poetry.

A lot of free verse, scattershot rhythms, off-kilter random thoughts and phrases with miles of space in between.

Spaces to fill with dread. Unease. An ominous foreboding.

The telling detail that nails the sucker to your brain.

There are no faerie queens or talking trees here. Just real human beings.

Victims. Victimizers. Humans.

The casual name-dropping of Bundy, of Manson, of others, doesn’t shock me.

The off-hand gore and vivisection clamors for attention, but I shrug it off. Adolescent.

But those are few and far between.

And even those have their moments of disturbing beauty.

* * *

And so, I may not know poetry after all.

But I know what I like.

And I like most of these poems. These sad, mournful poems.

Of revenge.

Like, “Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72,” by Charles Harper Webb.

Or the grim beauty of unleashed violence.

Like “The Balance Lost,” by Steve Weddle.

Or the point where being hard-boiled becomes simply damned.

Like Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Slider, Part 7.”

And so it goes. This is power and truth and beauty and ugliness here.

Odes to disconnection.

Broken dreams.

Broken promises.

Broken lives.

By Ken Bruen. By David Corbett. By Keith Rawson.

Terrible, adult stuff, that holds a mirror up to us and offers an unflinching reflection.

Of how we live. And how we die.

It will make you squirm, at times.

It made me squirm.

It will make you look over your shoulder.

It made me look over my shoulder.

But I kept on reading.

These are vignettes from Hell.

But it’s our Hell.

I bet Mrs. Ticehurst would have loved it.

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