Summary and book reviews of Killer Verse by Harold Schechter (editor)

Killer Verse

Poems of Murder and Mayhem

By Harold Schechter (editor), Kurt Brown (editor)

Killer Verse
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2011,
    256 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

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Book Summary

A spine-tingling collection of terrifically creepy poems about the deadly art of murder.

In poems as various as the colorful melodramas of old Scottish ballads and the hard-boiled poems of twentieth-century noir, Killer Verse rounds up the most colorful villains and victims - from Cain and Abel and Bluebeard to Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, and Mafia hit men - ever to be immortalized in verse. Browning, Hardy, Auden, Mark Doty, Thom Gunn, Simon Armitage, and Stevie Smith are only a few of the wide range of poets, old and new, whose comic, chilling, and occasionally profound poetic musings on murder are gathered together in this uniquely - irresistibly - heart-stopping collection.

FOREWORD

Among the countless dazzling artifacts displayed at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art are a trove of lethal weapons, ranging from ornately carved aboriginal war clubs to medieval crossbows decorated with engraved ivory panels to French flintlock rifles adorned with silver filigree. What's most striking about these objects is not their beauty per se but how sheerly gratuitous that beauty is. After all, clubs, crossbows, and firearms kill just as efficiently without ivory inlays or Rococo silverwork. That the makers of these death-dealing implements devoted so much energy to their ornamentation reflects something vital about our species: our need to transmute our most savage instincts into art.

That paradoxical impulse is perfectly epitomized by the murder poem. Taking as its subject the very worst aspects of human nature - our propensity for crime, cruelty, and bloodshed - it shapes that disruptive material into order, wholeness, and meaning. There is, in fact, a wide ...

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Reviews

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Even for those readers not drawn to the often-gruesome depictions on display here, Killer Verse, like all the Everyman collections, offers an excellent primer on the cornucopia of forms available to poets. The editors have carefully chosen something to appeal to everyone: anonymous murder ballads dating back centuries; the immaculately crafted first person monologues of Victorian poets Robert Browning and Thomas Hardy; Tony Barnstone's contemporary sonnets dedicated to pulp fiction themes; and Philip B. Williams's incendiary tale of a cross-dressing young man who guns down his parents. These are just a few of the pieces that transform the worst qualities that humanity possesses into powerful art. While none of these poems can erase the horrible fact that murder exists, they all testify to poetry's willingness to provoke discomfort in the service of deeper insight.   (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).

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Cornelius Eady's Brutal Imagination

The chilling topic of filicide (the killing of one's child) casts a shadow over the pages of Killer Verse, as it recurs throughout several sections of the book - most powerfully in Cornelius Eady's "Birthing," a key poem from his cycle, Brutal Imagination, which was inspired by the murder of two young boys by their mother.

For nine days in the fall of 1994, the citizens of Union, South Carolina, as well as an increasing number of people throughout the United States, believed that Susan Smith had suffered the worst tragedy a mother could experience: the abduction of her two sons, Michael (age 3) and Alex (age 14 months), by a mysterious figure who had carjacked her at night on an abandoned road. Media coverage soon expanded from local ...

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