Monday, April 12, 2021

Scott Cumming


The birds scatter on gunshot wings
slapping and snapping at the branches
as I fire up the circular saw

The pulsing sting
of mutual betrayal
beats in only one of us now

I remember when we had nothing, but
allergy medicine spiked into each of our legs
licking the drip of epinephrene blood from your thigh
falling deeply into the pool of our shared shallow breath
shaking with ecstasy as we elicit final sighs

As I ponder
this daylight decapitation
staring at appendages I once gripped
ravenous for every piece of you

Knowing I am poorer for your death
not just because you never told me
where the money is
But upon realising the wealth of my dearth

I killed our love
with a bathroom fuck
chasing the precipice I reached
between your legs

Now I've killed you too
with heavy heart and deadened soul
I cut through your bones
hearing only our blissful moans

The night descends
The crows shooting back to their perches
My limbs wracked with regret
Wrapping up every piece of you.

Scott reads "Power Murder Ballad":

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Scott confesses: "The inspiration is mundane compared to the poem. I was given a jump scare by a bird flying out of a tree and immediately afterwards a circular saw started up. That got my twisted mind working and the title came to me first and sealed the deal."

SCOTT CUMMING never considered himself to be a writer until recently, but turns out he has some stuff to say. He has been published at The Daily Drunk, Punk Noir Magazine, Bristol Noir, Fevers of the Mind, Versification, Close to the Bone, and Shotgun Honey. Catch up with all his misdemeanours on Twitter @tummidge.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Charles Rammelkamp on "Attempted Suicide" by Tony Dawson

Tony Dawson’s witty noir poem in which a husband and wife argue about the man’s proposal to kill himself, reminds me of the scene of choreographed violence in A Clockwork Orange, in which Alex and his droogies viciously beat a man bloody to the tune of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie, director Stanley Kubrick turning the “ultraviolence” into a kind of operatic performance. In the same way, utterly gruesome details of the proposed self-murder are amusingly related in a “civilized,” rational tone as the man and woman weigh the options. Indeed, the couple perform a graceful sort of pas de deux of their own, a Danse Macabre. When he first suggests the idea, she is horrified, but only on aesthetic grounds, by the idea of his hanging himself. “I don’t fancy bumping into carrion.”

“I could shoot myself if you prefer. I’ll buy a gun.
“You can’t do that. There’ll be blood all over the walls!”
she growled. “Why not line the room with plastic for a dry run?”
he suggested. “It will still look like bloody Niagara Falls!”

Dawson’s ABAB rhymes even suggest a dance, both of them stepping forward and back, as if their steps are synchronized, ballroom style. They consider options from poison (“But what if the dog licks your face and dies?” she objects.) to slashing his wrists in the bathtub. She suggests he simply drink himself to death in a bar. “Drink makes me ill,” he replies. “Why don’t you simply nag me to death?”

“Because that would be murder, not suicide, my dear.”

They end up in the classic Mexican standoff, he suggesting they set aside the negotiations for another day. She agrees and suggests they “put the rope, poison and plastic away, and go for a walk.” It’s as if the music has concluded, the couple has bowed to one another, and they’ve gone back to their seats. —Charles Rammelkamp

Follow along for the entire Cruelest Poetry Month. —Gerald So

Monday, April 5, 2021

Michael A. Arnzen


The thief came in
when I was in the middle of writing this poem
but I just looked up and smirked
and then returned to my work
even though I'd never seen a burglar before

And even though he wore the cliché black ski mask
and black turtleneck above black pants and black boots
looking like some extra from a Batman set from the 1960s
and perhaps also being very very close to the Hamburgler in stature
with his too-white shifty eyes and warted nose
I didn't laugh or fight or call the police,
I just muttered

Not now
go away
I'm busy
writing this poem
and kept doing that in silence
as he gently rifled through my drawers
and quietly stuffed his bag with my prized possessions
and tenderly grabbed my partner by the hand

And I didn't even hear
the door muffle behind them
until just


and I looked up
and my cat meowed at me from an empty corner
her voice echoing in a way I'd never heard before
and I thought
that's it, there's nothing left
maybe I can concentrate now
until there was a knock on the door
and I answered
and barely recognized the man in the turtleneck
as he asked if I would be so kind
as to hand him my cat
and I did
and as he departed I felt free
but then sat down
and realized
my poem was gone

Mike reads "The Thief Came In":

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Mike confesses: Writing is really the fine art of sustaining concentration on something another person might also find of interest...and here you have a poem about that struggle. I suppose you could call “The Thief Came In” a meta-poem or an instance of ars poetica -- a poetic meditation on poetry itself -- but perhaps it’s more broadly concerned with the lengths we might go to in order to keep that focus on our work in an era dominated by distraction. Even during the Covid pandemic, when so many of us were working from home, staying on one single task was very hard to do, and I know many writers and writing students who found themselves, surprisingly, blocked.

This is why I never write in public spaces, like cafes or libraries. Too many interesting distractions, all of which COULD be random fodder for fiction, but often they are just noise. Some writers work well with the 'white noise' of cafe chatter and clinking saucers and hissing spigots, but for me this is just extra mental traffic to navigate that often gets in the way.

This poem, actually, was inspired by accidentally BEING that white noise traffic once. I interrupted a writer friend who was so far gone in the grips of their own story world that they refused to reply to my questions, let alone acknowledge my presence; they just kept on typing away, intensely scrutinizing the screen of their laptop. They knew that I knew better than to interrupt a writer during their work. But I felt invisible for a second, and thought, rather snarkily: I bet I could steal your coffee cup and you wouldn’t even notice. Instead of doing that, the only thing I stole from them was the idea for this poem.

MICHAEL A. ARNZEN is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Grave Markings and Play Dead. He's taught horror and suspense writing in the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University since 1999.

Friday, April 2, 2021

C.W. Blackwell on "Reno" by William R. Soldan

For Day 2 of the Cruelest Poetry Month, the following commentary by Five-Two alum C.W. Blackwell. —Gerald So

Call it “grit lit” or “dirty realism,” the visceral style of melding crime and noir elements in modern poetry feels like it’s buzzing with energy these days, and one of the leaders in this space is poet and author William R. Soldan. His poem “Reno” recently appeared in Close To the Bone’s 4.4 monthly poetry feature:

The poem is soaked in classic noir imagery. Even the title sparks memories of seedy pawn shops and greasy spoons. Indeed, Soldan reminds us on the first line that we’re in the Biggest Little City in the World, revered among authors and poets as a city of downtrodden casinos and topless bars, encased in a rind of snow bloodied by alleyway fistfights.

At first, this seems lost on our young protagonist, who sees the city as “just another dour oasis no different than the last.” We meet an uncle or uncle-like figure with a sordid past, who has a rap sheet that includes robbing casinos and who looks to the protagonist “like a son.” Soldan excels at chronicling the relationships of people living on the razor’s edge, people who are steadfastly loyal to their kin while breaking all the laws in the penal code.

The second stanza introduces us to a sister of the uncle-figure. Is it an aunt? Again, family is a mental construct—and this family grows up fast. She’s been around both literally and figuratively, turning tricks throughout the American west to feed a drug addiction. When she buys the protagonist “smokes and a cold sixer” the action conveys an endearing coming of age moment, and perhaps a sense that for the first time, the protagonist is seen as an equal in the adult world. Here, Soldan gives us a knockout line when he tells of the woman’s husband and how he committed suicide, leaving “nothing but a ghost and red memory.”

In the end, the characters fade away like all the heroes of our formative years. The protagonist wonders about them, evoking nostalgia for a time he got his first taste of an exciting adult world, a world that for many (including the heroes of this poem) often becomes too much to carry. These sentiments and others throughout “Reno” cement Soldan’s reputation as a poet with the heart of a novelist.

I recommend fans of “Reno” pick up a copy of William R. Soldan’s five-star debut poetry collection So Fast, So Close for a highly enjoyable thrill-ride. —C.W. Blackwell