canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Nice Day For Murder: Poems for James Cagney
by Kimmy Beach
Turnstone Press, 2001

Reviewed by Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg

Alberta author Kimmy Beach makes a stunning debut with Nice Day for Murder: Poems for James Cagney. Although he wanted to be known as a song-and-dance man, he is remembered most for his criminal roles, mainly in such films as The Public Enemy and White Heat.

Beach observes Cagney from the point of view of women, mainly his co-stars. In his gangster movies, Cagney treats women little better than dogs: they are kicked, shot, verbally humiliated, and still they come back for more. It can be hard to watch these scenes in our modern feminist age, but Beach turns the power over to the women: in these poems, the gun is turned to Cagney, though the women still don't lose their raw desire for him. From 'P.S. Why stop there, big though boy?'

"imagine me covered in crushed
raspberries your mouth
pickin them from me
the juice dribbling between my
legsXXXXmy breasts
I coulda lived with that
me an over-ripe melon your allover
hands my raspberry thighs"

Beach captures the voice of her characters perfectly. I found myself lingering over the poems, feeling the heat come right off the page, and I couldn't wait to read more. She brings in such film noir actresses as Joan Blondell, Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke. The women finally get to talk back to Cagney in a way they never did in the films. From 'Kiss me goodbye':

XXXXXXI know I started it
XXXXXXsure I threw the knife
but I hardly touched you Jimmy
it was just a little trickle behind your left ear
and besides it was in the script

Another very clever device Beach uses in interscpersing the poems with letters to Cagney from a particularily obsessive fan. They start out as normal, praise for his work, and a request for a studio photograph, and escalate throughout the book as the fan becomes more and more irrational, inventing a love affair between her and Cagney, and seemingly stalking him outside the film studios. It works brilliantly in juxtaposing the characters Cagney played on screen and his existence as a real person.

One of the few problems I had with the book was Beach's often bad choices in line breaks; it is very difficult to have a sentence spread over two or more lines, and I am unsure of Beach's choices; I often found myself rereading lines in order to make sense of them.

Overall, the poems sink up through skin and leave you breathless and wanting more. This is a book for fans of James Cagney and for all lovers of sensual, raw poetry.

Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg is the publisher of 13th Tiger Press and the author of Nitty Gritty: The Film Noir Poems.







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