All primal poetry begins somewhere outside the limits of acceptable human behavior. All primal poetry begins in ecstasy or in violence or in knowledge of blood and death. All primal poetry emerges from the caves and the weeds and the canyons and the rivers. All primal poetry is by its very nature Outlaw Poetry because it evokes all of those feelings that most of us spend so much time avoiding or masking or denying. All primal poetry which is also absolutely Outlaw poetry is the stuff of grave trash, treasure, passion, and dreams. All primal poetry is lightninged back into itself and because it is filled with so much electricity it is deflected back into the world as the printed word. But, if you know anything about poetry at all, you know the primal stuff, the Outlaw stuff is so hot it could burn your hands off at the slightest touch.
The passage of several thousand years has not changed the essential nature of poetry. Whitman and Lorca, Hart Crane and Rimbaud, Bukowski and Burroughs are proof enough of that. The essential nature of Outlaw Poetry is both sophistication and savagery. It is easy to find sophistication in contemporary poetry. Pick up any copy of The American Poetry Review or Poetry Magazine and turn to the first poem that comes to hand. What you will find most of the time is a hothouse poem, a poem that looks fat like a supermarket tomato with all of the texture and wildness bred out of it, a poem where you might find allusions to Heidegger, Musil, Borges, and Poe but when you finish reading the piece, the only feeling you will have is a kind of enlightened boredom, maybe a feeling of having been cheated for bothering to read the poem at all, or at best a kind of murderous ennui, a lunging desire for something more, something with some blood and risk in it, a poem that somehow reaches straight down through your skull, behind your eyes, and into the very heart of you and threatens to pull all of you out, yank it free like some kind of psychic scalping. That’s what’s missing in most mainstream and academic poetry being published today. The only place where you can find both sophistication and savagery is in Outlaw Poetry. Especially savagery.
The kind of savagery you might find in Jack Micheline, Tony Scibella, David Lerner, Lorrie Jackson, Ray Bremser, and d. a. levy. The kind of savagery Ed Dorn knew all about in GUNSLINGER. The kind of savagery also found in the poems of Kell Robertson, Tony Moffeit, Mark Weber, Dennis Gulling, S. A. Griffin, John Macker, Ron Androla, Raindog Armstrong, Joe Pachinko, Gary Goude. And, in the next generation of Outlaws, the work of Glenn Cooper, Tim Wells, Christopher Robin, Misti Rainwater-Lites, Theron Moore, Doug Draime, William Taylor Jr., Scott Wannberg, John Dorsey, Dave Roskos, Lawrence Welsh, Justin Hyde. (I know I am forgetting some names. But, I will remember them. I am a forest of outlaws and a jungle of names.)
When I say savagery, what I am referring to is the kind of raw poetry that is bloody glorious in all of its oozing rawness. Raw in the extreme with all of its nerves exposed and jumping. Raw in the way that it bleeds its violences and its passions and its visions and its nightmares. Raw in the way that this kind of poem hooks you and drags you into its vortex. Primeval raw and big city raw and frontier raw and redneck raw. Nothing is excluded except tameness. Nothing is left out except being politically correct. Maybe it’s time to kick Politically Correctness’ ass. And, with that in mind, the furnace door has been thrown wide open and the outlaw poet is getting all set to throw the torn off lid to Pandora’s box into the outrageous flames.
Outlaw Poetry demands nothing less than something like that. Outlaw Poetry is the thumb pressed against the jugular of polite poetry, poetry that longs to be loved. Outlaw Poetry is a length of piano wire stretched across the throat of academic poetry. Outlaw Poetry is conjuring Lorca back to life so he can assassinate Franco and then Franco and then Franco again. Outlaw Poetry is the pure speed and visceral excitement of the poem on the page. Rev that sumbitch. Pare it down, skin it down, hone it down, shoot the motherfucking poem to pieces if you have to to make it new. Blow it all to hell and start over with another alphabet if you have to.
Because, we have reached the death trench where all language is being dumped even as we dream the exquisite dream. We have reached the abyss of stupid talking and kiss ass poetry. We have reached the black hole of stanza and line. The endpoint. All writing is whispering against breakdown and holocaust. All poetry either means blood and passion and murder and dreams or it’s just stuttering and spitting blood in the wake of entropy and darkness and we’ve had more than enough of that. The wind bears our silences down the street with all the blown trash.
The only poetry that matters now is the primal stuff, the Outlaw stuff, the kind of poem composed somewhere between the pistol flash and the last wet breath. Here’s the acid test. Try reading John Ashbery, Donald Hall, or Robert Pinsky in the dark, or for that matter any academic, any sainted university cow. Just have one small lamp burning. Make it just enough to read by so that you can see where the light blurs into the darkness. And, start in, and see how long it takes you to be bored out of your loving and chaotic mind. See how long it takes you to realize that the big fight is between poetry and the darkness, the big fight is between poetry and death and that all poets read against the darkness even though they may be performing at noon. And, every reading is the last good reading from the Outlaw dark.
Now, by the same token, under the same conditions, start reading HOWL, THE NORTH ATLANTIC BOOK OF THE DEAD, BOOGIE ALLEY, ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE, A HORSE CALLED DESPERATION, BURNING IN WATER DROWNING IN FLAME, NUMBSKULL SUTRA, or DILLINGER and see what happens. Listen to the way the mojo works both voice and poem. Listen to the way that the poem takes both the reader and the listener hostage and if the listener is simply the darkness, then for a little while the poem wins against oblivion. Only powerful poetry can survive the small lamp burning and the singular voice conjuring magic in the dark.
We know by now that all of the old strategies no longer work. They function, yes, but they really don’t mean anything to the poet who waits tables in the local diner, the bartender poet, the cabbie poet. I’m talking about the workshop, the writing degree, the good old boy prize system, the blurb tapdance purchased by money or favors or both, the poetry foundation ripe with stupid money which is capable of buying almost anything, and the lardass poem which lumbers across the page like an overweight penguin. It’s time to throw all this shit out the window with the rest of the slop and discover the poem once more for the first time. And, if this old fucked up world has only a few beats and breaths left, maybe the Outlaws can somehow make those breaths authentic again.