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In Cold Blood

by James Graham 

Posted: 08 November 2004
Word Count: 72
Summary: Another 'juxtaposition'. Does it work? Is it valid as a political statement?

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In Cold Blood

The Clutter family/
the Hamoodi family

Bonnie Clutter shot in the head/
Kariah Hamoodi buried under debris

Nancy Clutter shot in the head/
Ihab Hamoodi buried under debris

Kenyon Clutter shot in the head/
Hassan Hamoodi buried under debris

the murderers unknown at first/
the murderers on camera daily

Dick Hickock and Perry Smith/
George Bush and Tony Blair

hunted by armed police/
guarded by armed police


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Comments by other Members

Chem at 15:34 on 08 November 2004  Report this post
An incredibly powerful and thought-provoking piece James. I think this is definitely a valid political statement!

roovacrag at 18:01 on 08 November 2004  Report this post
James an exquisite piece and a powerful one.
Well composed,grasping me to read and carry on reading.

Well done,enjoyed each and every word.

xx Alice

poemsgalore at 18:17 on 08 November 2004  Report this post
Yes James, very thought provoking and probably what a lot of people are thinking in their own way.

fireweed at 19:18 on 08 November 2004  Report this post
James, I think the juxtaposition works very well indeed and is just perfect at the end. It does express a political point of view - valid and graphically emphasised.


engldolph at 12:44 on 09 November 2004  Report this post
Hi James,

Yes, a very good, sharp-arrowed piece.
The political statement is not new ..but the way you personalize it is.
I think the juxtaposing is a very clear and unnerving device in this case.

To, me, the two really brilliant lines were:

hunted by armed police/
guarded by armed police

The only thing I'm not 100% on is the nicknaming, like gangstas, of Bush and Blair. To me it detracted rather than added.
You have used the straight names of
Dick Hickock and Perry Smith

I would consider doing the same in the next line..just
George Bush and Tony Blair ...to me this would make them sound more simply, like two men in a police file.


James Graham at 19:35 on 09 November 2004  Report this post
Thanks, all. Mike, you're absolutely right - 'Dubya' especially has been a cliche for a long time, and the plain names are better.


Ticonderoga at 09:07 on 13 November 2004  Report this post
Oh, yes, this works splendidly. If you kill one person, it's murder etc. Love the spareness and repetition. Very powerful.



James Graham at 15:18 on 15 November 2004  Report this post
Thanks, Mike. And Liesl, I'll go to the crime library site and reply at more length.


lieslj at 17:57 on 21 November 2004  Report this post
Hi James,

I think the poem works at one level because it invokes the question of legitimised murder by those in power. Obviously, there are many levels at which a poem must work.

However, I'm aware that I lose my capacity to assess a work of art's aesthetic dimensions when I am so disturbed by its content. I become completely irrational in the face of evil and abuse and cannot analyse the dimensions that define art as 'good', 'great' or 'cliched'.

My hunch is that your poem spells it out too well, leaving the reader aware of what s/he is supposed to think/respond according to the author. Does that make it a less effective poem? I'm not sure there are simple answers to this. And I'm not sure that particularly helps you either.



I omitted to say that the loss of such gifted professionals - doctors, engineers - as the Hamoodi's were is just too grotesque for description.

James Graham at 11:32 on 23 November 2004  Report this post
Hi, Liesl - thank you for taking the time to comment. The implications of what the poem says are certainly disturbing. As for the poem itself - a difficulty with this kind of poem is that it doesn't contain any poetic language, the language is very flat. It stands or falls on the juxtaposition.

This poem certainly isn't oblique or ambiguous! But at the same time I'm not so sure it's a case of spelling it out too much. I don't think that's quite the point. The assertion it makes is clear enough, but what the assertion implies is complex. What the poem spells out isn't meant to be a flat, final statement ('and that's that') but a blunt provocation.

To me the juxtaposition of the two killings feels odd, almost far-fetched. Almost surreal, like one of Dali's clocks draped over a tree-branch. It feels like something out of tune with the spirit of our age. War is still very much one of the things that are generally accepted as part of human nature, or part of the natural behaviour of collective humanity. Authority too, the nation state - these are perceived as the way the world is. So the poem tries to say, provocatively, these two political leaders and those other two guys are bedfellows. Are they strange bedfellows? Or do you find they sit together surprisingly well?

I don't think a poem should ever seem closed on first reading. If this one does seem closed ('and that's that') it fails; if the reader feels some of the strangeness of the juxtaposition, and that provokes thought rather than an irritated dismissal of the whole ridiculous idea, the poem succeeds. And if it succeeds, the reader shouldn't feel imposed on to respond in a particular way.

Somebody else has done this sort of thing a whole lot better than I could. (This definitely isn't false modesty.) In Brecht's Mother Courage, Courage's son Eilif is feted by the army for killing a bunch of peasants and taking their cattle. Later, during a temporary truce, he does the same again, and is arrested and shot. The whole thing is summed up in a brief piece of dialogue:

The Chaplain: How could you do a thing like that?
Eilif: It's what I did last time, isn't it?
The Cook: Aye, but it's peace now.

lieslj at 04:07 on 24 November 2004  Report this post
For me it remains open to contemplation long after the read. I find myself mulling over it on my way to work when the latest report on the White House or Downing St mutters on the radio. I find myself remembering your poem!

And of course, you are right about the flat language - but that is perhaps why it is so bald, in your face, no couching.

Good discussion this, James.

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