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Killer Verse

Poems of Murder and Mayhem

Edited by Harold SchechterAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Harold Schechter and Kurt BrownAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kurt Brown

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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents


Killer Verse: Poems of Murder and Mayhem is a spine-tingling collection of terrifically creepy poems about the deadly art of murder.

The villains and victims who populate these pages range from Cain and Abel and Bluebeard and his wives to Lizzie Borden, Jack the Ripper, and Mafia hit men. The literary forms they inhabit are just as varied, from the colorful melodramas of old Scottish ballads to the hard-boiled poetry of twentieth-century noir, from lighthearted comic riffs to profound poetic musings on murder. Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, W. H. Auden, Stevie Smith, Mark Doty, Frank Bidart, Toi Derricotte, Lynn Emanuel, and Cornelius Eady are only a few of the many poets, old and new, whose work is captured in this heart-stopping—and criminally entertaining—collection.



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 range of aesthetic and emotional satisfactions to be derived from the selections in this volume. Some tell gripping stories of violence and retribution. Others offer insight into the workings of the psychopathic mind. Still others elicit pity and terror by putting us in the place of the victims. And some — by encouraging us to identify with the killers themselves — offer the vicarious thrill of the forbidden, reminding us of Plato’s dictum that ‘‘the virtuous man is content to dream what the wicked man actually does.’’ For all their variety, however, they share a need to confront and make sense of experiences, from serial murder to familicide, that defy rational comprehension. In doing so they perform the essential function of all true poetry, famously defined by Robert Frost as ‘‘a clarification of life . . . a momentary stay against confusion.’’

Harold Schechter
Kurt Brown

Table of Contents

Simon Armitage “Gooseberry Season”
Gregory Djanikian “Abel”
Rigoberto Gonzalez “Your Darling Matricide”
Margherita Guidacci “Cain and Abel (I)”
Kaci Hamilton “Mother”
Thomas Hardy “Her Second Husband Hears Her Story”
Jan Heller Levi “Fall River Historical Museum”
John Masefield from “Lollingdon Downs”  
Roger Mcgough “Fart”  
Donna Reis Sempronia
Vernon Scannell “A Case of Murder”
Ruth Sharman “Knife”
Ruth Whitman “The Passion of Lizzie Borden”
Anonymous “The Cruel Brother”
Anonymous “The Cruel Miller”
Anonymous “The Cruel Mother”
Anonymous “The Twa Sisters”
Anonymous “Frankie and Albert”
Anonymous “Pearl Bryan”  
Anonymous “Stackalee”  
Charles Causley “The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond”
Megan Levad “American Murderer”
Estha Weiner “The Talk of the County”
Tony Barnstone “The Chop Shop”
Tony Barnstone “The Lover”
Lynn Emanuel “The Murder Writer”
Richard Garcia “Naked City”
Andrey Gritsman “Found Poem Found No Answers”
Randall Horton “In Front of 1425 T Street”
Suzanne Lummis “Double Indemnity/The Second Shot”
Lawrence Raab “The Assassin’s Fatal Error”
Thom Ward “Actually, However”
Phillip B. Williams Tequila”
Baron Wormser “Chinatown”
Ryan Black “When the World’s on Fire”
Robert Browning “The Laboratory”
Christopher Davis “The Murderer”
Cornelius Eady “Birthing”
Thomas Hood “The Dream of Eugene Aram”
Mary E. Moore “You Know Who You Are”
Kenneth Patchen “The Murder of Two Men by a Young Kid Wearing Lemon-Colored Gloves”
Stevie Smith “The Murderer”
David Starkey “The Murder Suspect, Moments Before He Is Confronted by Police”
J. J. Steinfeld “The Assassin’s Morning”
Gail White “Black Widow”
Ai “The Good Shepherd: Atlanta 1981”
W. H. Auden “Victor”
Melissa Balmain “Facebook Psycho”
Frank Bidart “Herbert White”
Robert Browning “Porphyria’s Lover”
Carol Ann Duffy “Psychopath”
Thom Gunn “Hitch-Hiker”
Kimiko Hahn “All Told”
Kimiko Hahn “Road Kill”
Francine J. Harris “In Rostov, the Butcher”
Susan Kelly “Whitechapel Nights”
Virginia Slachman “Kabuki”
Patricia Smith “Speculation”
Kevin Vaughn “April 25, 2009”
John Whitworth “Blood Ties”
William Cullen Bryant “The Murdered Traveller”
Hayan Charara “On the Murder of an Ice Cream Man”
Martha Collins from “Blue Front”
Philip Dacey “With or Without Milk”
W. H. Davies “The Inquest”
Toi Derricotte “On the Turning Up of Unidentified Black Female Corpses”
Mark Doty “Charlie Howard’s Descent”
Melissa Fadul “Lord of Crows”
Leon Gellert “Blue-beard’s First Wife”
Richard Jones “Desire”
Edgar Lee Masters “Amanda Barker”
Elise Paschen “Wi’-gi-e”
Maria Terrone “The Slain Wife of the Lighthouse Keeper Speaks”
Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson “Denise Naslund”
Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson, “Eleanor Rose Naslund”
Charles Harper Webb “The Sound that Wakes Me at Night, Thinking of It”
Miles A. Coon “Studying”
Wyn Cooper “Conversation Piece”
Marie Howe “After the Movie”
Weldon Kees “Crime Club”
Ravi Shankar “Killers in Letters”
Michael Waters “Morpho”
John Whitworth “These Boys”
John Whitworth “The Pure Essence”
James Wright “At the Executed Murderer’s Grave”
Index of Authors
Harold Schechter|Kurt Brown

About Harold Schechter

Harold Schechter - Killer Verse
Harold Schechter is a professor of American literature and culture at Queens College, the City University of New York. He is widely celebrated for both fiction and true-crime writing, including The Devil's Gentleman and The Serial Killer Files. He lives in Brooklyn and Mattituck, Long Island, with his wife, the poet Kimiko Hahn.

About Kurt Brown

Kurt Brown - Killer Verse
Kurt Brown is the author of four books of poetry and editor of numerous anthologies. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.

  • Killer Verse by edited by Harold Schechter and Kurt Brown
  • September 06, 2011
  • Poetry - Anthologies (multiple authors)
  • Everyman's Library
  • $13.50
  • 9780307700933

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