Oct 132017
 

Key West Poet Laureate Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

by Kirby Congdon…….

The front page of The New York Times for Friday, September 29, 2017, had this headline: Bullying Seen as Prelude to Classroom Stabbing, with the subtitle, Death in Bronx School Defies Drop in Crime. A reader might have assumed we were pretty well beyond this kind of behavior, but I guess the Bronx cheer of razzing someone with your tongue belongs where it came from. During the Great Depression there is this poem, “Geographical Reflection” by Ogden Nash from his book, Hard Lines (1931):

The Bronx?
No, thonx!

The Times article had a portrait of the perpetrator on an inside page, Abel Cedeno, 18, a senior. The Times resporters, Benjamin Mueller and Al Baker, asserted that Mr. Cedeno had been harassed since the start of school “without the school gaining control.” To protect himself, Mr. Cedeno bought a pocket knife and challenged his tormentors to a fight after being pelted with balled up paper and miscellaneous debris. Matthew McCree, 15, took up the challenge and punched Abel Cedeno. “Mr. Cedeno then pulled out his knife and with two swings to Mr. McCree’s chest and one to his back, killed him a police official said.” Another classmate, Ariane Laboy, stepped into the fracas and Mr. Cedeno sliced him in the biceps, drawing so much blood that Mr. Laboy fainted.”

When I read the article on the gay student knifing his tormentor to death after being teased one time too many in high school in the Bronx, I could understand his violent reaction. I remember smiling in admiration at one of the most popular girls in our high school hierarchy and having my gesture acknowledged with a rude and condescending sneer. I forget why she was popular or who she was but it took a long time to forget the destructiveness of the sneer. I hope Mr. Cedeno’s lawyer, Deborah Rush, is capable and realizes that Mr.. McCree’s abuse was as uncivilized as Cedeno’s own attack of retribution. Teasing Mr. Cedeno was deliberately meant to ostracize him and oust him from society without mercy and to make him a victim as much as the murder itself was meant as a final settlement of the conflict between them. I could hardly accept the tortures of flies when, in the nineteen-thirties ribbons of glue were hung in kitchens everywhere to alleviate the nerve-wracking take-over of the ordinary house fly in the midst of eating a meal. An attempt was made for years, however, to teach me to kill our country’s enemies while we were reminded in school how Edwin Muir would extinguish a camp fire needed for warmth if gnats were attracted to it at their peril. The differences in these situations is that the one action was involuntary and the voluntary one is done to erase the identity of an individual life and, finally for entertainment by abusing the innocent, and for the public bravado of destruction that lies behind any instructions that emphasize competition as a cost for achievement and as a proof of being able to be indifferent to that cost.

I was tacitly advised to, outside of school, outside of business hours, or off-duty to practice the killing of my opponents whether it is on the national level or on a personal one, and, just for special occasions, to dismiss the Christian advice of thou shalt not kill, except when necessary, to save your country or to save yourself.
In my vocabulary abuse means singling people out to see how far one can get away with it. How far, means to the border-line of frustration, despair, or derangement. What is the purpose of this stance? Well, of course, it is for the fun of  it. Having half-educated parents, as is usually the case, where excess money or too little of it interferes with a well-rounded education of family up-bringing and getting personal recognition at any level of society or school. A case of arrested development is prevalent throughout society and is not confined to Donald Trump who has been, as many of us know, unable to orient himself toward a more reflective or rational stance in his thought and emotional processes through which the rest of the population develop as human beings. The bully’s only identification that he can find is by getting involuntary attention. You get this by being annoying, teasing, competitive put-downs or just plain old hatred for anyone who is out of the norm. Out of the norm is being a stranger, or in being different, like having a disability, or having a head of hair that grows differently, or maybe even in not having any hair to begin with, or having skin that does not have the same shade of color that you are used to. Any oddity, emphasized enough, can destroy the owner of these aberrations. After all, it’s only a game where the winner kills without a weapon except for a malicious tongue that supports easy gossip and establishes one’s own superiority only because your own life is the familiar one. Abuse leads ultimately to death, figuratively or actually. However, if the victim of abuse gets there first, I want to say all the more power to him but not for killing anything but in trying to cope with his antagonist. He went too far, but his antagonist had already gone too far. Mr. Cedeno will go to jail for the rest of his life unless an intelligent attorney can balance the difference between the effect of deliberate abuse as Mr. McCree used and deliberately trying to mind one’s own business as Mr. Cedeno was trying to do. The perpetrater and victim start with a clean slate. When one of the slates gets smashed, the perpetrator and the victim are often identified on a scale that is not an equal one. I sense that will be evident here in the process of trying to make a balanced judgement. We shall see.

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Kirby Congdon

Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.


Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.


 October 13, 2017  Posted by at 12:46 am Issue #238, Kirby Congdon  Add comments