CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Of Poetry And Prisoners

(04/22/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

I credit the Associated Press with the following blank verse: "A former minister convicted of killing his wife has written a book of poetry in his prison cell. His mother paid to have it published."

With further expiation we learn that the Rev. James Michael Flippo is serving a life sentence for the 1996 beating death of his wife in a state park cabin. Flippo is in the maximum-security Mount Olive Correctional Complex after his conviction in Fayette Circuit Court. He says, again through the AP, that he was "moved by God to write poetry" after observing the beauty outside his cell window in the penitentiary's psychiatric ward.

He is also moving for a new trial. He claims he is innocent and that his wife was killed by an unidentified man who also attacked him. By this time I already have a theory, but, alas, we aren't told whether the man had one arm or two.

I could not serve with poetic justice on a jury retrying this man because my mind is already made up. Call me a literary bigot if you wish, but I don't think another poet should be turned loose on society. Granted, I am a bit prejudiced when it comes to poets, considering them people who can't write clear prose. However, many people consider me a clod from Gilmer County when it comes to appreciation of the artistic challenges of life and perhaps rightly, or writely, that is your opinion also.

I never had an appreciation of poetry even back in high school days when the teachers forced us to memorize vast pages of it and then recite when called upon. For awhile I remembered lines about a big dude statue that was found out in the desert and was named Ozzie something or other and that it had to do with vanity, but when I said it was probably placed there by a writer who couldn't get published I almost flunked the course.

Then there was the poet who in the vein, or vain, of Flippo wrote "iron bars do not a prison make." You can bet your right to a fair trial that this guy never did hard time in Moundsville.

There is something about prison confinement that brings out the creativity-or more likely desperation-in us. I well remember the 20 years I spent locked in debasement of higher education. Even I resorted to poetry, sort of, in my utter despair. I have never told anyone else about this, so please don't tell anyone. One especially little bit of pregnant thought went something like this: The boss passed by and his look grew sinister; he called me incompetent but may let me administer.

As you can see I might have become a poet if my mind had deteriorated further. But to achieve fame one must be published and the Rev. Flippo has that covered. His mother paid to publish his 112 pages, the AP story states. Now, my poor old mother is long gone, but I am certain she would have gladly spent her meager Social Security check should I have requested it in my quest for fame. And I must honestly state that I was on the verge of asking her to do so when Jim Comstock gave me space in the West Virginia Hillbilly and immortality, such as it is, on the cheap.

The same has been true here in the Herald. Although I know my words here will be swept off into cyber space and a great waste bin controlled by Bill Gates I do get a warm glow and almost a poetic moment thinking of him as a garbage collector.

But as The Preacher in the Good Book wrote: all is vanity. And I believe it was the famous Parkersburg writer Blenner Hassett, who wrote No Man is an Island, who once said "know thyself."

But I leave you with this strange couplet descriptive by the AP: "Fayette Circuit Judge John Hatcher is expected to rule soon on Flippo's motion for a new trial. Flippo says police illegally obtained pictures of one of the male members of his congregation in states of undress from his briefcase at the cabin where Cheryl Flippo was found beaten to death with a stick of firewood.

"Prosecutors said Flippo was having a relationship with the man and wanted to kill his wife to pursue it and was further motivated by a $100,000 life insurance policy she had just taken out."

There may be no rhyme or reason or even poetic license to cover such plots (although the DNR may issue some sort of permit) but it might sell to TV which no one accuses of pursuing creative immortality.


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