Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Five Ways to Kill a Man - Edwin Brock

Yesterday I posted the “I’m mad as hell” speech from Network and said that the expressed sentiments of alienation and powerlessness were more topical today than when written in 1976. The same holds true of Edwin Brock’s poem Five Ways to Kill a Man. In 5 stanzas Brock outlines different ways of killing someone. Each is more advanced historically – Jesus’s crucifixion, the War of the Roses, WW1/gas; WW2/atomic bombs – and each is more deadly than the one before. Significantly each one also distances the killer more and more from the victim, until eventually in the final stanza there is no killer or victim, just existence in a world that requires the killing of humanity to survive, The key to survival in a world of increasing crime, social problems, pollution, destruction of environment, religious intolerance, suicide bombings and financial crises is to become desensitised to those things, to switch off. Like a sheet of corrugated iron turned over to reveal the nasties underneath, Brock decries that existence by revealing it. In its own way it is Howard Beale shouting "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore.”

Five Ways to Kill a Man
Edwin Brock (1927-1997)

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it.
To do this properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.

Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.
Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see
that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.