April means National Poetry Month here in the States, and it also means it's time for the fifth annual Five-Two Crime Poem Blog Tour, hosted by Gerald So. I'm honored to take part again this year by focusing on some of the fine works showcased in the Five-Two's roster.
When I was first drawn to poetry as a young child, it was the fascination with the interplay of the words that lured me in. A turn of phrase here, a short passage there, nothing big in terms of space on the page, but that's all it takes to communicate a universe of ideas. Then, too, coming from a music background, I loved how poems are often musical in form, which is why so many nineteenth-century chanson and lieder composers based their songs on poems of the day.
So instead of focusing on just one poem from the Five-Two archives, I thought I'd point out some of the more lovely, musical, and poignant phrases from various poems to help illustrate why I love the form so much. Here's a case in point from R.A. Allen's poem "On Car Theft":
Truant, shoplifter, creature of the night,
your calling was low-slung and German.
Like a cheetah prowling the Kenyan plains
the road was your antelope to chase.
Or these lines from Tom Brzezina's "Lew Archer Writes a Poem":
The sun goes down
like a shot of cheap whiskey
and the whole city blacks out.
The moon is a toenail clipping.
And the stars drown in garish neon.
In both cases, the wildness and darker side of nature is used synonymously for the wild, dark side of the human subjects. This technique has probably been used as long as the first poet put quill (or charcoal) to paper or stone, but it's as effective now as then. Humans, the animals, the heavens, we're all born of the same violent universe that also feeds and nurtures us.
Then, there are more contemporaneous nuances in poems, like this from "Just Ice" by Thomas Pluck:
The ultimate in disrespect
Is a so-called man who leaves his son
A useless gun in pocket,
A heart with no justice, just ice.
And this from "Take a Bite Out of Crime" by Catherine Wald:
Admit it: you're starting
to savor the
whiff of danger
frisson of desire
crunch of crisp guilt
between your teeth.
Both of these poems hint of danger, guilt, abandonment, and betrayal. I love the play on words "no justice, just ice," and the visceral punch of the "crunch of crisp guilt between your teeth."
The concept of the air we breathe, the very substance required of all life as we know it, takes front stage in these lines from Peter Swanson in "The Survivor of a Slasher Flick in Middle Age":
A poacher with a bag of fallen birds.
She still can feel the whistle of his breath,
The swish of boning knife through gummy air.
As well as these lines from C.J. Edwards' "Nothing to See Here":
Gawkers and young kids skulk
to peek, and whisper behind
their hands to each other.
and choked cries
clot the air.
You can practically feel the "gummy air" and "choked cries" that "clot the air." That's another of the aspects of poetry that I think appeal to all poetry fans - the way different words are paired together in unusual ways to create a new, more powerful image.
These are just some of the many powerful and beautiful ways that words become paintings on their own, with the ability to draw us in as deeply and as clearly as an image or sound. And that is why poet Paul Engle said "Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words."
For the entire schedule of the Five-Two's crime poetry lineup, check out this calendar link.