It's National Poetry Month, and that means it's also time for the third annual blog tour for the 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly. The 5-2 site, edited by Gerald So and the occasional guest editor, publishes an original poem every Monday. (5-2 refers to 52 weeks of the year, as well as being a nod to police radio codes.)
The blog tour also has another bonus: All April revenue from 5-2 and Lineup poetry anthology books and merchandise is donated to the nonprofit Academy of American Poets, supporting poets at all stages of their careers and fostering the appreciation of contemporary poetry. If you’re on Twitter, follow @poemsoncrime or visit the site link above for the latest posts.
Why crime poetry?
Poetry is a combat sport in many parts of the world. You have to look no further than a recent news story from Russia where a former teacher stabbed an acquaintance to death in a dispute about literary genres. The victim insisted that "the only real literature is prose," while the murderer favored poetry. And just last week, poets protested outside London's Pentonville prison against the UK ban on sending books to prisoners.
Poetry is dangerous. So far in 2014, poet Muhammad al-Ajami remains in a Qatar prison, Iranian poet Hashem Shaabani was executed for being an enemy of God and the state, and Egypt's Arabic Network for Human Rights Information declared that "writing poetry has become a more serious crime than murder," after two police officers were suspended for their poems.
Poetry is also one of the most personal and liberating forms of literary expression. This is something Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno learned in writing her collection Slamming Open the Door, which documents the aftermath of the murder of her daughter Leidy in 2003. Bonanno's words run the gamut of emotions throughout the poems, starting with her daughter's nursing-school graduation party where she met her future killer, a "nice young man . . . / [who] smiles and raises his glass," with later poems working their way through the investigation and the trial, where Bonanno is surprised to find herself hugging the killer's mother.
The first poem, "Death Barged In," sets the tone and provides the title for the book, opening with:
Death Barged In
In his Russian greatcoat,
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since...
...he stands behind me
clamping two colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck:
From now on,
you write about me.
Bonanno also draws portraits of people no parent ever wants to meet, as in "Homicide Detective":
...But his is the voice of water.
Only he knows the right words to say,
and he says them:
I promise we will get this guy.
When I show him a photo
he says, She's beautiful;
almost how she looked
when we found her.
And now I know who to believe.
What does the coroner, who says
she had maggots in her mouth,
know about the truth?
Poetry is catharsis-in-words, or as Bonnano said in her preface, her poems transcend judgment as they grieve loss, celebrate love, and find healing.
For more examples of combat poems, dangerous poems, personal poems and catharsis poems, head on over to the 5-2. If you're enraged, if you're moved, if you're inspired, great; the poems have done their job. Then pick up a pen and some paper and try it for yourself.