This Be the Verse

This Be The Verse

By Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

This poem lures you in with profanity gleeful cynicism, but loses steam like a childish rant; by the end we see that blaming all our problems on our progenitors makes self-extinction the only proper solution, taken to its logical extreme. It’s difficult to steer out of the ruts they’ve carved in the road for us. It’s easier to say “I turned out all right,” and hand it down. Or to cop out and not have any kids yourself, perhaps out of fear or spite. Larkin packs a lot into this little poem. Which is what the best poetry can do. Distill an epic saga into a few paragraphs, or the whole history of humanity.

Rachel Hadas, my poetry teacher at Rutgers (and a fine poet in her own right) introduced me to this one. She tolerated my bombastic and colorful poems, written before I had a clear vision of what I was actually trying to say. Thankfully they are buried on a hard drive somewhere, never to see the light of day. One you can read is over at Gerald So’s excellent Crime Poetry site, The 5-2.

It’s called “Just Ice,” and whatever resonance it may have is owed to Gerald’s patience and skill as an editor. Some of the best hardboiled fiction, or minimalism—whatever you want to call the hard-edged grit song that rose from ashes of the Great War through Hammett, Hemingway, Jim Tully, and others—has the ring of poetry, and Gerald writes and curates some fine modern verse that keeps that song alive.

 

Prepare to be Stupefied

I have a li’l shorty in the excellent new issue of Stupefying Stories, a speculative fiction magazine edited by Bruce Bethke. The best review I’ve read of it is by Wag the Fox: “You can no longer say they don’t write ’em like that anymore,” and I’m proud to be a part of it.

You can buy it for Kindle here:


Stupefying Stories: Mid-October 2012

I also have a poem in Gerald So’s anthology,  The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, Vol. 1 which is now available on Kindle, collecting one year of crime and noir poems from The 5-2.

 

The 5-2 Crime Poetry blog tour – Keith Rawson’s $25

Welcome to the 5-2 Blog Tour kick-off! Thanks to Gerald So for having me. He runs a great site, and helped immensely when I submitted my poem, “Just Ice.” Hell, he edited so much that I should give him a co-author credit.


Admittedly, I was skeptical when I heard the term “noir poetry.” I’m not sure why. I’m sort of an old crab when it comes to mash-ups and transmedia, and that had the same ring. Then I read a few poems at Beat to a Pulp by Gerald So and others, and I realized I was being a stubborn ass. Poetry can be all about emotion, and that’s one reason crime fiction resonates with me: the strong emotions inherent in criminal acts. Whether it is violent or not, in every crime someone feels violated.


There have been many excellent poems since Gerald opened up the 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, but the one that resonates with me most so far is Keith Rawson’s $25. If you haven’t read it, go read it now.

It’s a very simple narrative which eschews over-description. He uses penny and nickel words to great effect. In a poem about giving blood, he doesn’t even use the word phlebotomist, which is admirable. I’d have given in to temptation, tried to rhyme with it, and messed the whole thing up.

Instead, we’re treated to a face “blotchy with whiteheads,” and a voice like “a cat’s tail slammed in a rusty screen door.” If you haven’t pictured this nurse with the needle in her hand, you’re not paying attention. In the end, it’s not the imagery that gives it power. That’s just the foundation. It’s the honest apathy of it. I gotta pay the rent, lady. And it’s too much trouble to rob you, so stick the needle in.

I wasn’t surprised when I read Keith’s bio and he said that it was based in reality. It has that ring to it. The inexperienced would dramatize it, appeal to our dignity. “Look man, I’m selling my blood. I’m reduced to that.” But someone who’s been there knows there’s an apathetic sadness to it. A resignation. I could sell my sweat or my blood. I’ve learned that in the end this is easier than sticking you up. I’ve been down that road, he says, using no words at all.

And that’s poetry, baby.



Here’s the schedule for the rest of the blog tour.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck

Just Ice

Gerald So runs The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly. You might think poetry and crime fiction don’t mix, but he’ll prove you wrong. I first read his work at Beat to a Pulp, and the tone he evokes in these simple poems is quite striking.

I’ve been developing a story called “The Ultimate Dis,” and the basics of the storyline came off as poetic imagery to me, so I wrote a poem of it as an exercise. Gerald liked it and sent extensive edits- the original poem is about twice as long- and we cut it down to the bone. I like what we came up with.

You’ll get to hear me read it, if you chose. To me, I sound like Fozzy the Bear from the Muppet Show, but he gets readings from most of his contributors, and I decided to give it a shot. So if you want to hear Fozzy lay his feelings bare, this is your chance.

JUST ICE at the 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly

© 2011 Thomas Pluck