As part of The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly’s blog tour for April I thought I’d offer a few words in appreciation of Michael Arnzen’s poem “This is How I Murdered the Librarian.” Like most of Arnzen’s verse, it’s a doozy–read it here.
What I love about this piece, aside from the obvious ghoulish glee that permeates each line, is how Arnzen turns the cliched librarian details–like the shushing finger–on themselves in grim parody during the act of murder, while corrupting classic childrens’ characters by making them complicit in the act before eliminating them in fiery death.
In his note after the poem, Arnzen says the piece “may be more about crimes against books than anything else,” and it’s where “This is How” strikes its most brutal chord. Is there a bibliophile capable of reading this poem without experiencing a sickening lurch in the gut while the narrator destroys an entire library along with his victim? (I also suspect we’re supposed to be more aghast at that than the murder.)
Many readers, like I did at first glance, will see this poem as a comment on the print-vs.-ebook debate. Arnzen gives us precious few details about this killer–implying a surly youth so beholden to technology that dusty old books are beneath contempt–without really giving a clear motivation for the murder. But then I re-read the first stanza, which ends with a line about “a private show and tell,” and saw that perhaps this is a much-deserved revenge. And the librarian, who used books to her own sinister means, meets a fitting end.
That, right there, is what makes this poem great.