Monday, April 6, 2015

Charles Rammelkamp on Roger Netzer's "You Didn't Mean to Kill Anyone"

For Day 6 of The Five-Two's April 2015 tour, Charles Rammelkamp contributed the following commentary, which resonates with one of Charles's own Five-Two poems, "Home Again". —Gerald So

In his confession to “You Didn’t Mean to Kill Anyone,” a dark poem that takes us through the various degrees of homicide from a legal point of view, Roger Netzer coyly says he has not committed a violent felony "since I was a boy": a confession of "guilt" if there ever was one! For guilt is all in the mind, as Netzer's poem shows us. Indeed,

To meet its burden the state must prove
mens rea (culpable mind). It matters
what's in -- and not in -- the killer’s head.

The verses that follow take us through the thoughts and actions – or nonactions – of Stu, Hugh and You (who gets curiously confused with “I”), from negligent homicide to manslaughter to first degree murder. The legal guilt and the moral guilt flirt with one another but remain distinct, twisted together like DNA strands.

Netzer also confesses that the old Alfred Hitchcock show with its noir, ambiguous stories influenced him, and indeed, in Netzer’s reading that accompanies the text he sounds like a cross between Hitch and the poet Edward Field.

Analytical yet imaginative, “You Didn’t Mean to Kill Anyone” is both instructive and a little creepy in a Psycho kind of way. For, like a pioneering cartographer in the Land of Guilt, Netzer charts the landscape for us, paving a way through the heart of darkness. He himself hasn't committed a violent felony, though, since he was a boy, right? And maybe then only in a daydream, "long ago when you thought/ about hoisting your ex-girlfriend in your arms/ and racing head-first towards the wall." Guilt, after all, is all in the mind, legal definitions be damned...Bravo, Roger!

—Charles Rammelkamp

1 comment:

fieldinski said...

i must confess that my earliest ambition was to be a lawyer, so the legal discussion in this poem -- unique in poetry as far as i know -- really blows my mind. flattered as i am by Rammelkamp's seeing my influence in this wonderful poem, i'm confused though by his conflation of the 'heart of darkness' with 'the land of guilt'. didn't all that freudian analysis free us from the land of guilt, leaving us floundering in the heart of darkness (where our true criminality flourishes)?