"Every Man Who Is Hanged Leaves a Poem": Criminal Poets in Victorian Street Ballads

"Every Man Who Is Hanged Leaves a Poem": Criminal Poets in Victorian Street Ballads ELLEN L. O'BRIEN The ambiguous existence of these sheets undoubtedly masks the processes of a subterranean battle . . . around two rights, perhaps less heterogeneous than they seem at first sight--the right to kill and be killed and the right to speak and narrate. --Michel Foucault, I, Pierre Rivière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother...1 ICTORIAN TRIAL AND EXECUTION BROADSHEETS INCLUDED " COPIES OF affecting verses" or "last lamentations," purported to be written by the criminals themselves, which linked the sentimental poet and the violent murderer.2 Said to be "written from the depths of the condemned cell, with the condemned pen, ink, and paper" and discovered by the guards on the floor of the empty cell shortly before the execution, lamentation ballads sold as records of the convict's overflow of powerful feeling on the eve of death (Hindley, Life, p. 76). The notoriety of this publisher's trick led one Victorian commentator to proclaim, "Every man who is hanged leaves a poem" (cited in Shepard, John Pitts, p. 48). These ballads thus secured the persona of the criminal poet in hundreds of stylized laments by supplying the condemned criminal with sensibility and a poetic voice. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Victorian Poetry West Virginia University Press

"Every Man Who Is Hanged Leaves a Poem": Criminal Poets in Victorian Street Ballads

Victorian Poetry, Volume 39 (2) – Jun 1, 2001

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Publisher
West Virginia University Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2001 West Virginia University.
ISSN
1530-7190
Publisher site
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Abstract

ELLEN L. O'BRIEN The ambiguous existence of these sheets undoubtedly masks the processes of a subterranean battle . . . around two rights, perhaps less heterogeneous than they seem at first sight--the right to kill and be killed and the right to speak and narrate. --Michel Foucault, I, Pierre Rivière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister, and my brother...1 ICTORIAN TRIAL AND EXECUTION BROADSHEETS INCLUDED " COPIES OF affecting verses" or "last lamentations," purported to be written by the criminals themselves, which linked the sentimental poet and the violent murderer.2 Said to be "written from the depths of the condemned cell, with the condemned pen, ink, and paper" and discovered by the guards on the floor of the empty cell shortly before the execution, lamentation ballads sold as records of the convict's overflow of powerful feeling on the eve of death (Hindley, Life, p. 76). The notoriety of this publisher's trick led one Victorian commentator to proclaim, "Every man who is hanged leaves a poem" (cited in Shepard, John Pitts, p. 48). These ballads thus secured the persona of the criminal poet in hundreds of stylized laments by supplying the condemned criminal with sensibility and a poetic voice.

Journal

Victorian PoetryWest Virginia University Press

Published: Jun 1, 2001

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