Friday, June 26, 2009
MARVELLOUS KEENE, MORALITY AND "GUN CRAZY"
I just got an anonymous comment letting me know that Marvellous Keene is due to be executed by the state of Ohio on July 21, 2009. This made me feel very, very strange in a number of ways. In "Gun Crazy - Part Seventeen" I used Marvellous Keene as a vehicle to examine the reasons why some murderers are semi-deified (the examples I used were Charles Starkweather and Bonnie and Clyde) and some are just quickly forgotten or demonized. I found Marvellous Keene's name and specifics from some shit in an old notebook from the mid-90s and decided to use it for the poem, not having any idea if he had been paroled or was still in prison or, as we now know, on death row.
This brings up a few dodgy issues. First off, using an actual murderer (with, you know, actual victims) in a poem. There's a lot of stuff in "Gun Crazy" that is morally questionable, and in every other case, that's cool with me - I designed it to be provacative, and to have an amoral stance that reflects the number of conflicting feelings I have about guns, America, violence, religion, etc. But again, whatever his crimes, Marvellous Keene is a real person (as were his victims) and I am literally using him and his image and crimes as a figurative element in a long-form poem, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.
Secondly, Marvellous Keene is going to be killed by the state. Again, using "Gun Crazy"'s anti-logic, this is a fitting end for the story: eye for an eye, cycle of violence, American tradition, etc. But it makes me feel terrible. I am not rabid about it, but I have never been a supporter of the death penalty. The very idea that this guy is going to be killed now for what he did at 19 or 20 years old, 15 years ago, is madness to me. I've never known someone who was on death row. This, in its wussy way, is probably the closest I'm ever gonna get.
Thirdly, I wondered how Marvellous himself would feel reading the piece. Or the parent or friend of one of his victims. I assume that Mr. Keene would most probably see the truth quickly: intellectual pansy with no firsthand knowledge of true violence uses a figure from an ancient newspaper clipping to add heft to his writing. Mr. Keene would most probably not see any of himself in the piece at all, despite the repeated use of his (admittedly very colorful) name. And I would think that a victim's friend or family would just be enraged.
I got some stuff to think about. Kinda fucked up, right?
Posted by Jason Gusmann