Thursday, May 7, 2009

Issue 2 Introduction

Outgoing co-editor Patrick Shawn Bagley has reprinted his introduction to The Lineup #2 on his blog:

What does poetry have to do with crime?

Almost a year after the first volume of The Lineup: Poems on Crime was published, and two or three years since Anthony Rainone’s article on noir poetry appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine, I still hear that same question. The people who seem most bewildered by the notion tend to be fans of mystery and crime prose. I suspect their last exposure to poetry came in high school, where they were likely forced to read odes to various sorts of classical pottery, sonnets comparing summer days to dark ladies and verse after verse about tasting liquor never brewed, mending walls or daring to disturb the universe.

So what does poetry have to do with crime?

Poets do not ask that question.

People for whom poetry is a vital part of their reading life do not ask that question.

They do not need to. One cannot separate the medium’s affinity for what Czeslaw Milosz called “luminous things” from its need to examine the darker side of nature, society and the self. American poets have long dealt with the consequences of criminal acts. For a mere handful of examples, track down Claude McKay’s “The Lynching” (1920), Robert Hayden’s “Night, Death, Mississippi” (1966), C.K. Williams’ “Hood” (1969), Ai’s “Child Beater” (1973) or Amy Uyematsu’s “Ten Million Flames of Los Angeles” (1998). With his 1968 poem “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane,” Etheridge Knight accomplished in just six stanzas something that took Ken Kesey an entire novel.

Weldon Kees’ “Crime Club” (1947) screamed “that nothing can be solved.” So why do we write crime fiction, let alone crime poetry? One may as well ask why we write—or read—anything at all. We do it in an attempt to understand. We do it to find some kind of meaning in events that all too often leave victims, perpetrators and everyone around them damaged or destroyed.

The poems in this volume of The Lineup carry that tradition forward. In the following pages, you will find prison guards, losers heading for the final fall, burned out detectives, victims of sexual abuse, victims of random violence, shoplifters, rubberneckers and people who slide into crime as their only remaining means of survival. Here you will find proof beyond any reasonable doubt of poetry’s relevance to modern life.

Any questions?

Patrick Shawn Bagley
Madison, Maine
March 2009

Once again I thank Patrick for helping make The Lineup a reality, and wish him the best with his novel and future endeavors.

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