"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of The Big Reap, The Wrong Goodbye and Dead Harvest.

"Bagley's got the poet's eye, but that doesn't mean everything is prettier in his work. It means the ugly stuff is more vivid. More intense. Like a sudden switch from analog to HD. And that's a trait to very much admire in his work." --Anthony Neil Smith, author of Hogdoggin', Yellow Medicine, The Drummer and Psychosomatic.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

As Noir As It Gets

Poets are sick.


Every fucking one of them, going all the way back to Homer—and still countless generations before that blind old fart set the standard for Western literature, some Cro-Mag with a rancid animal hide swaddling his junk stood up beside a campfire and wove stories about a great hunt or the cruelty of gods or the downright fun of slamming a handaxe into your enemy’s face.

Get it now?

Poets are bat-shit crazy because more than anyone else, they feel the power of words.

And poetry is the world’s oldest form of storytelling.

Embrace these simple concepts and we'll get along just fine.

Which brings me to volume four of The Lineup: Poems on Crime.

As someone who had a small hand in shaping the first two anthologies, I’m proud to say The Lineup gets better every year. This time around, we see a man haunted by war crimes (Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Slider, Part 7”), a woman getting revenge on her dead lover’s ex-wife (Germaine Welch’s “Houston Oil Man Missing”), the cold lives of prostitutes (“Street Girls: Selected Memories” by Stephen Jay Schwartz) and the beginning of a rape victim’s endless nightmare (J.D. Smith’s “From a Deposition”). Kieran Shea (“In Oaxaca, 2006”) and Keith Rawson (“A Story to Tell Our Daughter”) deliver the goods, too. From Ken Bruen, whose novels are epic noir poetry disguised as prose, we get “Funeral: Of the Wino”:

For far too long
I’d lived
a lithium above despair.

Which brings me back around to my point about poets being sick.

These poems are as noir as it gets, buddy. Each one is a distillation of pain, greed, loss, false hope, betrayal, desperation and death. The poets themselves are hard men and dangerous women. The difference between them and the rest of the tribe? The poets don’t turn away from the darkness. Poets don’t flinch.

Crime poetry seeks an understanding of what drives us to rob, cheat, torture and kill each other. Some of the stories in The Lineup are true. Others are made up. But every one of them is real. Editors Gerald So, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez and Richie Narvaez have put together a crew of poets who aren't fucking around. Charles Bukowski would have felt right at home in these pages. Not to mention Johnny Cash and Bon Scott.

Poets are sick.

And it's a good fucking thing for all of us.