See the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project to read the poems for March 14, 2014 by scrolling down to “Day 14/Poems 14” and of course, to read my poem: Executions / by John C. Mannone
Backstory to “Executions”
Sometimes it simply takes a change of scenery to get the poem coaxed out of its nebulous place. For me, that’s mostly the car for the ideas to start racing toward me. So, on the way to the grocery store, I was a bit anxious to leave the house. I was burglarized again a few days ago (that makes 5 times since Thanksgiving 2013). (I live out in the country, alone; I suppose I’m an easy target.)
The more I drove, the more livid I became. I tried to focus on pleasant things, like writing today’s poem. I need a topic, a form…something! I thought about a linked Haiku, but needed a topic. No, not the thieves, them I wanted to kill….boing!…there’s my topic, various ways to execute criminals. And so the list started to form: stoning, the guillotine, hanging, the firing squad, electrocution, the gas chamber, lethal injection. Then I added a couple more later: burning at the stake, by poison. and when I came to the end of the list, I was compelled to add one more: by words. Words can kill. Kill the spirit, smiles, feelings, reputation, character, patience, etc. And when I started to write a shortened form, “stones flung fast/as words,” I stopped and said no, then yes. I’ll decided to write a parallel poem with inversion. In the first half, actual modes of physical execution are illustrated in short verses, being careful to use words like “words” or anything pertaining to the mouth, as in the example with the stones. In the second half, I’d reverse the order and draw a parallel; i.e., words cut like a knife or burn the ears/and heart, or get caught in the throat/choke, etc. I thought about what James and Solomon said about the dangerous power of the tongue:
Proverbs 12:18 – There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise [is] health.
James 3:8 – But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
And I also thought about a children’s rhyme, “Sticks and Stones,” which allowed a circling back to the first verse of the first part.
It first appeared in The Christian Recorder (March 1862), a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.
and ten years later Tappy’s Chicks: and Other Links Between Nature and Human Nature, by Mrs. George Cupples (Strahan & Co., London 1872):
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names will never hurt me.
I use a variation of these two in the poem. Overall, the poem takes on a proverb-like form, with lots of word play, often heightened by effective line breaks.