Sunday, February 19, 2012

Poetry with an Edge: It's not only hearts and flowers

by Jamie Freveletti

I'm headed to a poetry slam this week and was thinking about the poetry I love; the nice and not-so-nice. I must admit, most of my favorite poetry is of the not-so-nice category and that which has hidden meanings.

I'll never forget reading Keats' Ode to a Grecian Urn and being a tad...bored. The lovers chasing each other into infinity is an interesting image, I admit, but the rest didn't really catch me until the last famous line about beauty and truth. I was in an English Literature class in college when a substitute teacher showed up. His name was Lucien Stryk and he was teaching Ode and called on me to give my thoughts.

"Boring," I said. "But I like that last line." He didn't seem insulted, but began teaching a poem by Sylvia Path. He started to talk about her life and I recall raising my hand and asking, "Do all poets have to be tragic figures? Or can you be balanced as a person and still write it?"

I'll never forget him laughing. Then he pulled out the poem that I love to this day: My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning. It's a poem written by a nasty, evil man and I gasped at the end when I realized what he had done.

I read all of Browning and bought his collection of poems, which managed to survive all of my moves throughout the world and is on my bookshelf today. I read it when I need to create a subtle, but nasty villain.

When Mr. Stryk left the class he pointed at me and said, "I expect you'll be writing one day." I remember wondering why he thought such a thing. Guess experience shows, because he was right.

The other creepy poem that I love is Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. This poem talks about evil, demon-like trolls that suck the life out of their victims and leave them gray and withering. Great stuff and the lesbian imagery struck me as pretty blatant for a poem from an earlier century, but when I asked my teacher, who had returned for this class, if anyone else had commented on this aspect he frowned and shut down the question. I remember thinking that Mr. Stryk would have answered me, and I went off to research it myself. (Seems that feelings are mixed; some say the imagery is deliberate, but others think that Rossetti didn't mean to imply this, but had begun working at a home for wayward women and was warning of the ruin that comes to women who are used by men and flung aside. These critics think that she was trying to write about sisterhood.).

From there we went to WB Yeats, The Second Coming, and I was hooked. The idea of a demon slouching toward Bethlehem is exactly what a thriller writer would love: impending doom heading our way.

For a grim view of World War I, read Wilfred Owen's Dolce Et Decorum Est. This poem, written by a soldier who fought and died in the war, describes mustard gas poisoning in a heartbreaking series of lines that will stick with you.

I'm looking forward to the slam for a dose of edgy, concise and affecting imagery. Should be a great event!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mystery and Motive: Some Criminal Minds

By Jamie Freveletti

I was reading the newspaper and getting my daily dose of stories about mayhem, brinkmanship and near world annihilation when I paused and took another look. Wait, Russia is defending Syria? Why?

Further down in the article I saw a possible reason: "Syria is Moscow's rare ally in the Middle East, home to a Russian naval base and a customer for its arms." Reuters          

And there you have it--money--the oldest motive in history and the most enduring. Money, when linked to its sister motive: Power, is a driving force behind a whole lot of murder and mayhem in this world. I would argue that Power is a distant second in terms of motivators, because while it's often desired by Nations there aren't as many of those as there are people, and people often do things purely for money. For many people, power is secondary and if you offered them a chance to be really, really rich they'd forgo the power. Not all, of course, but many.

Which brings us to mystery novels. Most writers are aware that power and money are the really big motivational players in the human psyche and most exploit this trait when writing their own stories of murder and mayhem. Thrillers tend to lean toward the Nation/State and Power module, while Mysteries lean toward the Individual and Money/Greed motive, and both give us really twisted tales of both.

Here are some nice, filthy tales of money and power, in no particular order:

Absolute Power  David Baldacci.

A career criminal is trapped in the house that he is burglarizing when he sees the President of the United States having an affair with a woman. The situation turns violent, the Secret Service breaks in, kills the woman, and after learning that the criminal saw the murder go down, blames it on him. Love this novel. Goes right to the top of the Power food chain and implicates the President of the United States.

Another novel about a president and a dead mistress but this one is non-fiction.  I've met Ms. Burleigh after a speech for her other novel, The Fatal Gift of Beauty, about Amanda Knox trial and I find both books well researched and written. The motive in the Knox trial is even more sinister because it isn't readily apparent why a prosecutor would handle a case in this manner.

And the tales of average, everyday mayhem for money. I'm going to focus on the ones that include humor just to narrow an extensive field and lighten up a bit:

Pest Control Bill Fitzhugh

When down on his luck exterminator Bob Dillon creates a brochure for his new, environmentally friendly extermination method involving hybrid assassin bugs (which Mr. Fitzhugh says are very real) it ends up in the hands of a European murder- for- hire broker, who decides to eliminate the competition. Funniest story about assassins trying to slaughter the competition that you'll ever read. If you loved and watched the movie Grosse Pointe Blank, which I'd recommend as one of the best movies of the "assassin wishing to go straight and being targeted by his former colleagues" genre, then you'll love this one.

Cosmic Banditos AC Weisbecker

Another very, very funny (in a sick sort of way) story about a down on his luck drug dealer who becomes obsessed with learning the secrets of the universe and heads north to California to confront a physicist with his theories while dodging the authorities who have charged him with drug dealing and terrorism. The story of the librarian will make you laugh out loud. This is a cult novel, and requires a twisted sense of humor to fully appreciate.