Original poem reprinted online here: "The Evil Key" by Sinéad Morrissey
Originally read: February 4, 2013
More information about the Poet: Sinéad Morrissey
"First reaction: I have no idea what's going on in this poem, but I like it. The tone of anger and cynacism is really good."
Okay, so looking at this poem again I can't help but think this poem goes a little over the top, starting with the title -- "The Evil Key." I don't write this down in my first read (or subsequent others), but the title reminds me of a Noir title. Anyway, I came away from today's read thinking, "I should take this poem seriously." Even though there are elements in here that make me think this poem is a riff on back-cover pulps. I'll get to those points.
The poem opens up with a list that serves as a visual panning device for atmosphere, "In woods and lakes, car boots, freezers, huts, / in ministers' apartments." Then there's the introduction of something that flails which is described in the act of dying, "garrotted, poisoned, hanged" There's an interesting simile here, "like Solomon's child on the bridge of a border between two countries," An Apartheid gains the visual (and religious) connotations of a failed deal which causes a "slow corrosion" that must be found.
So in this part in particular, the "their" and not knowing what "their" means brings a sense of chaos to the poem. With no center point that the lists and images refer to, the lines read as thought they are ungrounded in their devices. It's interesting, but without a foundation, the images get farther away from each other.
The turn away from the images set up in the beginning is the introduction of "you" in line 9 where the fury and chaos of the images turns into cynicism against cops who, "practised on the sly / for the Eurovision Song Contest." So the fury still fits but it's fine tuned into cynicism against a certain group (which brings a sense of irony to the poem because the speaker exclaims a certain group to die in a slow corrosion and demands for help).
The poem turns more cynical, more precise, when discussing the shallowness of women in Denmark and Sweden described as, "clever," but "obsessed, lonely, semi-autistic" who, along with the men, don't know the corpses around.
I find everything after the colon in line 15 to be very specific and visually outstanding, "[corpses] plastered into a crevice in a flat / in an affluent suburb or strung amongst the cables. of a line-shaft in a disused meat-packing plant."
And after these lines, I start not to take the poem seriously. There's such a build up of rage, fury, and cynicism -- and the lines get further and further specific, that the poem starts to undercut itself. Yes the focus could be on the dead unrecognized, but there's a difference between the general dead and the specific which, although specific, is still general and un-pointed at the perpetrators.
The review of F# minor by Johann Mattheson could be an allusion to a war forgotten or words taken out of context. Or (realizing this now) could refer to the key (not lock and key, but key on a piano) and how the key operates as evil. The idea of music persists in the poem as a separating device: speaker to fury, policeman from doing their jobs, women and men competing for fame rather than justice.
And then these lines: It will invert any thing-- / Jingle Bells, Home On the Range, Dick Van Dyke's Chim Chim Cheree--turning them hopeless / and ironic"
Here's my problem with these lines:
1) The list of songs, even though specific, leads nowhere in the poem -- yeah these songs are happy and the situation turns them ironically, but feels this were randomly picked to fit the form.
2) The list of songs changes the tone too much, the cynicism in the middle is formed through images, and the
list goes on and is so abrupt, that the "branding" sequence (a sequence to chastize) turns more into a mid-commercial in the poem.
3) The reasoning at the end of the lines, "hopeless and ironic" really quantifies and doubles over the meaning of the lines. I liked how the images and the scenes, although difficult to interpret, were left to the reader to describe, but here, specifically here, the speaker is like -- "here's how to read this poem now" and it's not even the end of the poem.
4) The list focuses on songs, not sounds. The review of F# Minor describes the sounds as "abandoned, singular, misanthropic, and leads to great distress." The songs are too easy to punch (of course cops and hapless women and men are easy targets as well).
Basically, there's an explained overly saccharine turn where the speaker says, "it's sweet don't you taste it?" Yes, I do, and now I can't taste anything else.
The last couple of couplets goes back to the beginning in a sense -- list of places that turn to the dead (three girls) again (another unsolved murders) and nothing is done. So the general to specific is okay. It's done before in a sense where there's a comparison to a murder to a war and vice versa.
However, like I wrote, the poem, even after rereading it, is tainted by those lines, and it's hard for me to continue without thinking about those lines. Too late now I guess.