Saturday, August 29, 2009

Clearing Up a Bonnie Poems Mix Up-- Or It's Guinn and Toland, 2 Peas in a Pod

I borrowed a recent post of mine from The Boodles Board, and adapted it to post here as well. As there seems to be some confusion between Bonnie's poem "The Street Girl" and "The Prostitute's Convention"-- believed by some to have been penned by Bonnie, and used by Jeff Guinn within his fictionalized "True Story of Bonnie and Clyde"-- I thought I would help clarify this one here on the B&CHB.

Bonnie is almost certainly believed to have penned "The Street Girl"-- which wasn't the poem Guinn used to "substantiate" his thoughts re: Bonnie being a prostitute. "The Street Girl" which to me, doesn't overtly imply a link to prostitution-- does however reveal a familiarity with drug use, which was a known reality for Bonnie after Wellington. As a dark and most interesting poetic expression, I am admittedly fond of "The Street Girl" and feel it may be Bonnie's best work as a poet. As far as Bonnie having written it, I can assure you-- "The Street Girl" was found in Billie Parker Moon's possession, at the time of her death. It is also the only Bonnie work, believed signed by her. As such, this lost Bonnie poem's provenance-- is considered iron clad. Images (front and back) of "The Street Girl"-- can be found within the B&CHB Photo Album, blog right.

The poem referred to in conjunction with Jeff Guinn's book Go Down Together, is "The Prostitute's Convention". This poem is thought by some, to have been written by Bonnie when she was imprisoned in Kaufman, Texas in the Spring of 1932. Although the story behind this poem is intriguing, I'm not sure it can be proven with any confidence, that Bonnie wrote "The Prostitute's Convention". Never the less, Guinn used it anyway, even though he "didn't know" the correct provenance for it. That poem did "not" come from Marie Barrow via Jonathan Davis as Guinn stated.

The provenance for that poem was known and published in 2006, many years after Marie passed away. The correct provenance, is Kaufman Sheriff's Office guard J. W. Tidwell, who signed the 10 poem grouping of poetry written in a bank book-- of which this poem was included. This book of poetry, entitled "Poetry From Life's Other Side", was allegedly given to Tidwell by Bonnie Parker, while she was imprisoned in Kaufman. It was sold at auction by Bonham's in June of 2006 for $36,000-- reportedly to a collector from England.

ithin their preparation for auction, Bonhams offered the opinion of a memorabilia dealer and handwriting expert, who judged the poetry authentic-- by comparing it to a letter believed written by Bonnie for Clyde, and addressed to Raymond Hamilton as part of Clyde's newspaper war with Hamilton. As many know, I've spent many years authenticating The Bonnie and Clyde Signatures I own. In 2006, when I asked noted forensic handwriting expert Emily J. Will D-BFDE (who had worked on my signatures)-- to look at scans of some of the Tidwell poems I obtained from Bonhams-- she disagreed with the opinion of the Bonham's hired gun. Her opinion was, the very aspects of the handwriting the other gentleman deemed similarities in declaring the poems authentic-- were not unique at all, in that so many would have written in the same style they were trained in within the 1930's. Emily keyed in on what she thought were more unique features of the handwriting-- which she felt didn't jive with the Hamilton letter.

But none of this would have mattered to Guinn, since he didn't know the correct provenance of this poetry anyway. Now whether Jeff legitimately didn't know the correct source for the artifact he was promoting, and just got it wrong-- or whatever his motivation was??-- I cannot say. But that's something I'd really like to know. I asked Jonathan Davis about Guinn's claim, when I saw him in Gibsland this year. Interestingly, Jonathan seemed ready for my question-- then quickly and firmly denied Guinn's assertion, that the poetry including "The Prostitute's Convention"-- had come through Marie via himself.

I don't think there's any credible evidence, to support Bonnie being involved in even casual prostitution-- whether or not, "The Prostitute's Convention" could be proven to be Bonnie's work. Half of the 10 poems within that Kaufman grouping, were not Bonnie's poems anyway-- but instead were said to be traditional poems written by others. Within the auction listing, it's surmised Bonnie may have included these other poems along with hers-- as she may have liked them. It's a "long" stretch to prove a poem autobiographical-- especially one so hard to prove was her's to begin with. I know Bonnie's niece to be none too happy, with the assertions made by Jeff Guinn regarding Bonnie in his book. I myself, support the known history BG (before Guinn) and with the family on this one-- and not with Mr. Fiction. I asked Jeff, since he didn't know the correct provenance of the poem he used as "evidence" in backing a Bonnie prostitution claim-- how he could have felt comfortable in advancing such a claim?? I don't recall getting a viable explanation in return. Only that now famous quote from Jeff-- that "all written history is ultimately best guess" I would ask what nonsense is that!??!

A polite question for all. If you had known what you know now, about the correct provenance of the Tidwell poetry attributed to Bonnie and all the details involved-- would you have felt comfortable pinning the label of a prostitute on Bonnie, based on a poem from this grouping. By the way, I also asked Jeff for a scan of "The Prostitute's Convention"-- so it could be seen how he arrived at his assertion, based on the content of the poem. Unfortunately, Jeff never offered to honor my request. Instead, he referred me back to Jonathan Davis, so he could perhaps obtain a copy from the collector in England. This led me to question whether Guinn actually ever viewed "The Prostitute's Convention" in the first place?? In writing such a comprehensive book on B&C, wouldn't you think within his research, he might have a copy of this poem??

That's another interesting question I've wondered.
Based on Guinn's story of the ambush, his Bonnie assertions-- and astounding philosophical declaration that "all written history is ultimately best guess, and clearly you and I have guessed differently in some instances." (that's the exact quote)-- well others can believe what they want. But I for one, cannot find credibility in Guinn's "true story" of B&C, while fraught with such blatant inaccuracies-- and defined by such an incredibly lax historical credo.

I feel I can draw a close parallel between Jeff Guinn and John Toland, in having advanced such controversial assumptions regarding Bonnie and Clyde History-- without the facts to back them up. Thus I view Guinn as the modern day John Toland. Two peas in a pod. I feel confident in believing the likelihood of Guinn's sensationalized assumptions, being as harmful and influential in the future-- as Toland's claims have been from 1963 until now.

The number one keyword phrase used to enter the B&CHB-- is still Clyde Barrow homosexual. I hope that will change, so history is more sought here than rumor-- at least by those who reach out for a specific B&C topic. It seems John Toland can claim thanks, for that erroneous allegation. If you'd like to view the results of Jeff Guinn's similar gift to B&C History, concerning Bonnie Parker-- just Google Bonnie Parker prostitute, and read through the results you find. And when I hear almost verbatim quotes, coming from some who've embraced Guinn's true crime effort, which I feel in fact isn't-- well I don't know what to say, except I guess mission accomplished!!

It seems Mr. Guinn has succeeded in revising history-- or at least the perceptions of many, without the proof needed to do so. The only problem he has in completing this aim??-- is in getting past those like me, who care about this history intensely-- and who won't let sparse diligence pass for history when it's not. So that's the story of the 2 poems and 2 peas in a pod. Have I lost any of my edge regarding this?? I certainly hope not.


Anonymous said...

I guess what bothers me the most as both a writer and a woman is just the general "assuptions" of this entire situation.
People tend to write the kind of poetry Bonnie wrote at the toughest times in thier lives, I myself have written alot of dark work that explored similar topics in an attempt to purge some sadness from points in my own life; and yet to the best of my knowledge have never been a prostitute. (I certainly hate to think of what someone would "guess" my life to be like had they stumbled on some of my journals. Or in this case 'two' poems.)
Aside from the fact that throwing the tag "prostitute" is just about the most demeaning thing you can put on a woman. It somehow marginalizes her as this loose woman who was obviously "dirty" already with some sort of death wish.
And while I will abstractly agree with Guinn that history is open to interpretation, you tend not to title guesses "The True Story of..."

Your edge was still nice and clear by the way!

A. Winston Woodward said...

Most interesting comments Nicole. Thank you-- for sharing such personal expressions with us. I exchanged a number of e-mails with Jeff, before he decided to block my access to his e-mail address. I "guess" he couldn't stand the heat-- or perhaps was too busy selling books?? One thing I noticed in exchanging e-mails with Jeff, was the more he replied-- the more ammunition he seemed to provide, to those who thought less of his effort than many.

I am by no means, the only one who has issues with Jeff Guinn over his book. I feel you are correct. By calling his book "The True Untold Story of B&C"-- it seems Guinn was setting his effort apart, from others who were less true?? But I can't help but feel, that indeed-- it's "his" book which is less true, and which includes monumental stretches-- in creating truth from lore. "And" without credible proof in doing so.

The Jones/Fischer Report used by Guinn for his ambush account, to me is filled with inadequate speculation. And his Bonnie account, in labeling her a prostitute doesn't wash. There's also his Mangham account, which infers a link to the famous "picnic" gun cleaning photo, having been taken there-- among other issues for some. Just the ambush and Bonnie issues, have been plenty for me to comment on.

I feel I may have vented enough for now. Thanks again for your comments.

Anonymous said...

You are most welcome! Your post was really well written and inspiration was not difficult to come by.
Even the most thoroughly researched material is still subjective to it's sources and unfortunately the only two people that could give the "True and Untold" story have been lying in the Dallas dirt for 75 years. (And I am sure that story would still be a little skewed.)

Hey at least you have plenty to comment on and keep the blog rolling strong! We should all be thankful :) Nothing feels better than a good soap box rant!

Oh- speaking of the "picnic" scene I have a great candid photo of my husband sitting in the same odd position Clyde does. He claims it is really comfortable...and until I saw that B&C photo I have never seen anyone else sit like that.
I just have to remember whose camera I took it with and I'll send it...

~ Nicole

Melissa Noonan said...

I am currently reading Guinns book and Nicole kind of made the point I was going to make. If you read my journals,especially poems I wrote in my early 20s it's untelling what people would guess my life was like.

Also I found it offensive to "guess" that Bonnie was a prostitute because she dressed nicely despite not making a lot of money as a waitress. Also the accusation that any poor woman in Texas that was "cute"in those days considered being a prostitute.