'We Have to Steal to Eat': The Poetry of Bonnie and Clyde

Notebook thought to contain outlaw verse goes on auction
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 3, 2019 7:30 AM CST
Now You Can Own Poetry by Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie Parker, left, and Clyde Barrow.   (AP Photo/file)

Outlaw poetry has a new entrant. An auction house in Dallas plans to sell a notebook of what appears to be poetry written by the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. The notebook is essentially a daily planner for 1933, Atlas Obscura reports, and Clyde Barrow's family has had it since he was killed. Bonnie Parker was known to have written poetry, per the Guardian, but the notebook shows that Barrow did, too. Heritage Auctions says they wrote about "their life of crime and doomed efforts to elude capture." The pair robbed banks, gas stations, and the like—and killed people—for 21 months before their road ended in an ambush in Louisiana in 1934. The New York Times reported at the time that police "riddled them and their car with a deadly hail of bullets," per Smithsonian.com. The auction is planned for April.

The auction house compared the outlaws' handwriting samples to the green notebook, though it can't definitively authenticate it. But Heritage cites references in letters to the poems and the fact that the notebook's source is the Barrow family. A draft of Parker's best-known poem—one that ends, "but it's death for Bonnie and Clyde"—originally was in the notebook, but it was ripped out. That poem was put in an envelope labeled "Bonnie & Clyde. Written by Bonnie," per Atlas Obscura. Miscellaneous verses from that poem appear throughout the notebook. A poem thought to be by Barrow seems to answer hers: "Bonnie’s Just Written a poem/ the Story of Bonnie & Clyde. So/ I will try my hand at Poetry/ With her riding by my side." Later, he wrote: "We donte want to hurt anney one/ but we have to Steal to eat./ and if it’s a shoot out/ to live that’s the way it/ will have to bee." (Read more Bonnie and Clyde stories.)

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