Why Poets Love Noir: Lummis, Lehman, and Mohr

Sunday, September 22, 2019

In “Best American Poetry,” Suzanne Lummis and David Lehman discuss one of their favorite topics: noir films and novels and when and where they first encountered them.



As well as editing several volumes of Los Angeles-based poets, Lummis has written prize-winning plays and been the inspiring host and producer of a series of video productions, “They Write by Night”:

They Write by Night



Los Angeles has had three poet laureates so far, and I would strongly suggest that the panel who chooses the fourth consider how Suzanne Lummis would be a more than worthy candidate for this appointment. Who else in this city writes memorable poetry and can also integrate the discourse of the culture industry with the frequently contumacious poetry of LA’s scenes?


Monday morning, September 23, 2019

Of course, maybe poets love “noir” because poets have written a few of the very best “noir” novels.

My favorite “noir” writer remains Dorothy Hughes, whose novel “In a Lonely Place” is not to be read late at night. Although Hughes won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award before concentrating on prose, her writing is not so much the case of a poetic touch in the stories — in the manner of Raymond Chandler — as a deft rhythmic control that can only have a poetic consciousness as its source.

Kenneth Fearing’s “The Big Clock” and Elliott Chaze’s “Black Wings Has My Angel” are two other “noir” novels that deserve your immediate attention, too. Fearing also is known as a poet, and his work has begun appearing in anthologies used in survey courses. I confess that I found the second half of “Black Wings” to be less believable in its dramatic resolution. The decision to return to the narrator’s hometown was especially doubtful unless it is categorized as a blatant death-wish. One might say that fits the genre, and I did eventually finish the novel, but only to confirm that no surprises other than obvious irony were in the Poe-like culmination. Nevertheless, the first half of “Black Wings” is a bravura performance of ecstatic nihilism with a cinnamon swirl of sardonic sentimentality.

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