Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"The 5-2 : Crime Poetry Weekly": Charles Rammelkamp

April is National Poetry Month, and Gerald So, of The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, marks the occasion once again with a blog tour. Gerald asked a host of crime-fiction bloggers to choose a poem from The 5-2's archived list of poems and discuss it on their sites. My choice is "Home Again" by Charles Rammelkamp, and I'd like to single out three parts of the poem that, for me, bring it close in spirit to the dark, achingly human noir that I love so well.

Here's the blog tour's complete schedule. But first, the poem:
We didn't exactly rape her,
but Harlow did bring Susie to the New Year's Eve party
with the idea that we'd all fuck her,
Susie one of those girls who "pulled trains."
Why not? I was a college freshman
home like a returning warrior
from my first year on my own
at the state university a hundred miles away,
reuniting with the locals who'd stayed behind.

"Why do I always end up in the bedroom?"
Susie asked plaintively as I pulled on my pants
and Danny entered the bedroom.
I felt like a sneak thief zipping my jeans,
grabbing my boots and easing out the door.
I never saw her again.

Now, forty years later,
I come home for Christmas
from across the country
to find Susie pushing my mother
in a wheelchair,
helping her bathe and dress,
cooing soothing words to the frail old lady,
a day care provider for the elderly.
We do not acknowledge our acquaintance —
does she even recognize me? —
but my self-consciousness hangs
between us like a curtain,
suffocating as cotton.
Notice the shocking first line. I'm an impatient reader, often putting a book down if the first line does not grab me. Rammelkamp's makes me want to keep reading.

Next, the opening lines of the second stanza. How would many crime writers portray such a victim? Beaten, perhaps; bloody and dazed into pain, helplessness, or self-reproach, possibly; shocked into muteness, maybe. But Rammelkamp loosens her tongue instead of tying it, and her introspection is touching.

Finally, the third stanza. I don't much like self-consciousness; it's too self-conscious. But that unsettling, anti-climactic ending, the sort of thing that lingers in my mind after I close a David Goodis novel, makes this noir, because no one gets the easy out of dying.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger R.T. said...

Since today's topic is crime and poetry, you must take a look at Robert Browning's 19th century dramatic monologue, "My Last Duchess." The duke who speaks is seeking a new wife, but he reveals a bit too much of his personality, especially when he speaks of commands and smiles. Find the text on the web, and check out his noir masterpiece.

April 16, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Oops! Here is link to "My Last Duchess."


April 16, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here it is, available with just one click. It's chilling, all right, the sort of thing Cornell Woolrich might have written had he been a Victorian poet

April 16, 2013  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Hi, R.T. and Peter.

"My Last Duchess" is a longtime favorite of mine for all the reasons you mention, Alison Dasho discussed it earlier in the tour.

April 16, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerald, I knew I had seen a mention of Browning on line very recently. That was it. Thanks.

April 16, 2013  

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