Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bonnie Parker: Real-Deal Gangster Poet

Ten original poems by Bonnie Parker (who with Clyde Barrow formed the Depression-era gangster duo, Bonnie & Clyde) will be auctioned soon in New York and are expected to bring up to $50,000.

We live in an age when every other hip hop artist fancies themselves a "gansta," but Bonnie Parker was the real deal. The famed outlaw wrote the poems, fittingly enough, in a bank book taken from the First National Bank of Burkburnett, Texas, and titled the collection "Poetry From Life's Other Side." Reported the Scotsman ("Poems penned in prison by gangster Bonnie go under hammer," 5/16):
The Prostitutes Convention tells of prostitutes named West End Rose, Lonesome Lou and Subway Sue who meet for a talk but scatter when police turn up. The Fate of Tiger Rose tells of a woman, now growing old in jail, who was once a "woman of shame/who played a hard game". It ends with a shoot-out.
Parker wrote the poems in the Kaufman County Jail east of Dallas, and gave the book to a jail guard whose descendant put it up for auction. Here's a taste of Parker's poetry:
In Bravery, she wrote: "No-one must know how I tremble/When I hear a siren moan/Just fearing for you darling/And hoping you're safe at home."

The Trail's End, one of the poems that had been previously published, is typical of Parker's "gangster ballads". It reads: "Pat O'Neal, at the Paris Wheel/Makes a grab for a hidden 'gat'/McCall let go and Pat sags low/As the 'sub' went rat-tat-tat."
See more background on Bonnie Parker , an account of a Barrow-gang accomplice, and the Wikipedia entry on Bonnie & Clyde. Also, here are some of Bonnie's poems online:
UPDATE: An anonymous writer makes some valid points in the comments about whether this post was an appropriate subject for Grits. I responded, explaining my reasons for including it, but I'd be curious as to others' opinions. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Grits, I luv ya dude, but it really disappoints me to see you "iconize" this woman. She murdered innocent people. Not for good causes or protecting other innocent people; she did it for the money and all the dark reasons people have.
Still enjoy the rest of your work though.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I think Hollywood iconized her long before this post, and I did link to additional material about them that's far from flattering. Besides, the fact that her poetry will likely sell for so much tells me she remains an icon independently of anything I have to say. Indeed, a few years ago the Texas State Fair did an entire exhibit on Bonnie and Clyde that treated them like flat out celebrities, including selling t-shirts featuring the pair's likeness holding machine guns (my daughter insisted on buying one).

If you look back at older Grits writings, you'll find quite a few entries about historical outlaw icons, e.g., John Dillinger, John Wesley Hardin, etc., who were cuthroats and murderers but whose stories to this day help frame the terms of debate surrounding crime and punishment in this state and nation. I think it's better to remember history than dismiss it, and for folks like me who grew up in East Texas around their stomping grounds, Bonnie and Clyde truly were historical "icons," for good or ill. best,

Anonymous said...

11:23 here Grits. It's your blog; you can put whatever you want.
It just disappoints me seeing her posted on the same blog site that is full of issues that are standing up for people's rights, denouncing injustices, calling for changes based on morals and ethics, etc. Then here she is; someone who stood for none of that among it all. You didn't say anything negative about her, only posted accurate information about her life that is far from positive. Putting her here along with your other positive public works just doesn't fit to me. Still like you though.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I can understand that critique, and I'm sorry to disappoint. Mostly I'm indulging in my own fascination with Texas history, and I thought the poetry angle was an interesting one I'd not heard before regarding Parker.

Artistic expression isn't just reserved for the virtuous - it's a statement about the human condition that's personal to each artist, whatever their background or morality. Murderer and poetess are seemingly incongruous occupations, but humans are complex and fascinating creatures who defy conventions and arbitrary definitions. I had no intention of justifying Parker's crimes or overstating her virtues, and I hope I didn't do either. I only consider the fact of her poetic flair as confirmation that even the worst criminals (barring outright sociopaths) possess a shred of humanity that we too often overlook in our rush to paint the darkest possible portrait of those who violate the law. In truth, no person is as good as their best act or as bad as their worst one, Bonnie Parker included. best,

Anonymous said...

I absolutely support your post on Bonnie Parker. The media all too often protray people charged with or convicted of crimes as evil and not deserving of our compassion.

We should all work every day to bring out the best in everyone and to make an extra effort to find the good qualities of people that are victime of our justice system.

Our best day is when we can overcome our own worst acts and make it possible for others to also improve their life.

trixie said...

I love this post and think its wholly appropriate for Grits. In my mind, this excellent blog is really intended to stimulate a conversation about crime, punishment, human behavior, and politics in Texas. A lot of recent readers view Grits as a way to stay up to date on the current political situation, particularly at TYC, but Grits is much more than that. It's also a repository of information on Texas criminal justice past and present, a valuable resource to researchers, and an eclectic mix of intelligent writing about an issue that is intimately connected to more aspects of life in Texas than I'd like to believe.

The glorification of criminals as anti-heroes by marginal social groups is just the other side of the demonization of criminals by the mainstream. One person's hero is another person's criminal. It just depends on your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Hi again Grits,
I saw the update you added to the post asking for input from others regarding whether the posting of Ms. Parker was appropriate or not. I wanted to clear up what I objected to before (I am 11:23 and 1:22).
It's not the fact that you want to keep Bonnie Parker's actions alive for remembrance or discussion, I object to where her post is located (as I had detailed earlier). You have a private blogging area (Huevos Rancheros I think it's called) where you put all of your "unrelated" thoughts and interests. My point wasn't whether your interest in Ms. Parker's history was right or wrong or that she has or has not helped make the justice system what it is today; just the location of the post in remembrance of her. In seeing all the good things you do string after string about morals, ethics, reforms and fighting the good fight; seeing her post and what she has done was like the screeching broken record sound that broke up the momentum. I just thought her post would have been in your personal interest area rather than here where everyone seems to be focused on reform and change.
It doesn't really matter though. The more I discuss this the more attention Ms. Parker gets. I don't think she deserves it personally. I'd rather hear of a firefighter or cop who saved someone's life.
Still luv ya Grits. Best to you too.

flawedplan said...

Poetry needs no justification, ever.

Moralists and concern trolls however, puzzling as all hell and seems there's one in every crowd.

Anonymous said...

Flawedplan, I don't remember taking any personal jabs at anyone stating my side. I see you felt the need to. Nice.

Catonya said...

Top right, just under the bowl of grits photo -
"Grits for Breakfast looks at the Texas criminal justice system and related topics, with a little politics and whatever else suits the author's fancy thrown in for good measure. All opinions are my own. The facts belong to everybody."

'nuff said.

Anonymous said...

Well, my goodness catonya, you are so right. What was I thinking when I saw the section Grits has called Huevos Rancheros where he has all the other personal stuff that he fancies. I am just the biggest MORON for thinking Bonnie Parker might be that. You obviously have slammed dunked that there is no way it can be seen any other way. You are so right. Sorry I stopped by and said anything. I'll spare you and flawedplan any further pain in having to put up with such a "moralist concern troll". Thanks for such adult, intelligent and positive interaction.
Best to you Grits.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The first paragraph of Trixie's comment was the nicest thing anybody's said about my writing in a long time! Thanks!! :) That's certainly my intention. best to all,

Anonymous said...

The East Texas liberal (from behind the pine curtain) is known to be extremely difficult to understand for the "middle of the road" Texan. Several of the most screaming, knee-jerk libs I have known came from deep East Texas, from otherwise moderate democratic parents.

How do you explain this?

And doesn't this poetry of Bonnie just further go to show the need for MORE PRISONS for violent criminals? Because they just don't think about life (our lives) the way we do...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@8:00 - East Texas liberals are dangerous people because they are really nonpartisan populists, typically devoted Christians who draw ideological sustenance from the states' and individual rights emhphasis of the Confederacy in addition to more traditional liberal ideology. It's not just that they're hard to understand, they're actually easy for left AND right to understand and incomprehensible to the middle: They believe in values - American, constitutional values - in an era when most people believe they'll have another Big Mac.

As to morphing 75 year old poetry into arguments for more prisons, not everything is about politics. Bonnie & Clyde were important historical figures, literally the reason many people learned to read - to follow their exploits.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. You know, the only thing they had on Bonnie was for being an accomplice.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie Parker was a poet, and a pretty good one at that. And the fact that she was a murderess does not detract from the fact that she was an amazing writer. If you are offended by the "real-deal" label that Grits gave her, you shouldn't be. She was a real gangster. She belonged to a gang. And if you are offended that Grits said nothing bad about her, well then I would like to say that I am offended that you would try to encourage someone to see the worst in people.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie Parker was a poet,amd a pretty good opne at that. And the fact that she was a murderess does not detract from the fact that she was an amazing writer. If you are offended by the label "real-deal gangster" that Grits gave her, you shouldn't be. She was a real gangster. She belonged to a gang. And if you are offended that Grits said nothing bad about her, well then I am offended that you would encourage others to see only the worst in people.

alan57 said...

bonnie parker never murdered anybody
go to the bonnie and clyde texas hide
out sight on the internet to learn everything thair is to know about bonnie and clyde.

Christina said...

Actually, if you do some research you will discover that there were no accounts of Bonnie Parker actually using a gun. There is no evidence that she comitted any of the Barrow gang murders and no witnesses ever claimed that she did. When she was shot to death in 1934 she had only one of offense to her name which was for theft.

Anonymous said...

While it is true that Hollywood helped create the persona that follows Bonnie & Clyde to this very day. However, let us not forget the times these kids were raised. Absolutely, positively no excuse for what they did. Plain folk just viewed them as "heroes" that went against the system. Bonnie summed it up in "The Trails End". She did not glamorize anything. And although I cannot tell if she was being sincere, I did actually detect remorse in her words. Clyde held a power over her. She adored him. But in reality, Clyde was only so smart.
He ran out of ideas on how to keep a step ahead of the law. And Bonnie's poem rang true. They went down together.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie has never been proved to murder anyone she was actually known as a nice and caring person. It was also noted that to clyde it never seemed about the money more a bout getting back at the system and the bad things that happened to him in jail haunted him they genuinely loved each other life just wasn't good to them at that time u could say they were from the wrong side of the tracks less fortunate this was also during the depressiionera rresearch truths about them.