shadow of the outlaw

Maybe every forty or fifty years something happens in a culture, something so mysterious and subversive and fucked up it almost goes unnoticed at first. Every forty or fifty years something happens; it might be an earthquake but you can hardly feel it at first because it comes from some place deep down in the earth and deep down in the psyche. Something like a kind of bone cracking longing. You can feel it but you can’t hear it. You can feel the earth’s tectonic plates move a little, just a little, but a little is all that’s really required. You can put your ear to the earth and maybe hear it coming like some kind of crazy freight train that no longer needs any tracks. But you know it’s coming. You know in your blood that it’s coming and nothing can stop it.

And, at the same time, you know that it’s already here. What you have been listening to is your own ghost dance death song to the universe. It’s a song that doesn’t have any words but you somehow know that it’s going to get words, it’s going to get words that will work with a vengeance and with horrific ecstasy. This is what makes it Outlaw. This is what makes it dangerous. This is what makes it quintessentially american, bad to the bone blood honest and we haven’t had that kind of honesty in this culture or in poetry in a very long time.

Danger is the key and danger is the dream and danger is the Outlaw alphabet. And, all of this is the essence of Outlaw. And, it is so badly needed in the white bread culture we find ourselves trapped in. White bread because the poetry has gone whiney tame cowardly dishonest and stutteringly sour. Cowardly because the writing degree schools have had a lock on it for so long, so boringly so achingly long. The only thing that can cure it is a good dose of Outlaw Poetry. A good dose of Dennis Gulling. A good dose of the visceral from his opening poem, Burning, from SHOTGUN WEATHER, where a woman has just set fire to a car with her boyfriend in it. Gulling’s poems work like sound bytes from Jim Thompson’s novels. Gulling’s poem is a soul camera aimed right at the heart of the psyche.

About 2 in the morning
Marlene’s mama
Unloaded her shotgun
Into Harlan’s guts

by Dennis Gullin from Harlan.

What Gulling knows is that we all live in an irrational universe. A place where you can get laid or get killed in a car, shot to death in a kitchen, beaten to death while taking a shit or you can find a blown off arm in the street. Gulling’s world is never nice but it’s honest and that is what Outlaw is all about. Baudelaire would have loved Outlaw. Maybe Baudelaire invented Outlaw. Gulling knows where the town is. Garrison Keillor doesn’t live there. Maybe never did. Billy Collins doesn’t live there. And, probably never will. Robert Pinsky doesn’t live there. Very likely doesn’t have the guts to. But I do. I know those cars and I know those streets and I have heard the sounds of those guns.

We live in a time when the official stance is to keep the Outlaw locked away in the cellar. He’s good to go down there just as long as the cellar door is padlocked and that bad boy never gets out, we don’t want his scurvy ass out and free in society because you don’t know what he’s capable of. The problem is we have lived in a latte world so long we don’t really know what white lightning is. The problem is we have lived in a polite movie thriller world so long, we have denied the real Outlaw. He’s been shoved down in the mud of the id but I dare you to keep him there.

The question is what’s going to happen when the Outlaw can no longer be denied? The problem is what’s going to happen when that Outlaw in the cellar becomes so dynamite powerful, so homicidally so darkly irresistible he blows the padlock off the cellar doors, he blows the cellar doors to smithereens, he blows the doorway off the house, and then he blows the house to hell and gone. Then what? That’s when you build the big bonfire out of the timbers of your house. You scorch somores on splintered sticks that came off your bed. That’s when you get the ghost dance going full throttle. And, yeah I know, I stole part of this idea right off Allen Ginsberg, but so what? I’d steal Ginsberg’s eyes right out of his skull if I could. I’d steal Slinger’s pistol if I could find it. I’d jack Chigurh’s quarter but Cormac McCarthy has already stuck it into a hundred and fifty year old tree crotch where Doc Holliday used to have long conversations with Death somewhere down in Old Town, down in Deadstown where all the ghosts hang out and play.

The darkness in america is so juicy rotten ripe you can pick it off the trees and eat it. The darkness in america is so lethal sweet and badass nasty you can smell it even before you get to the tree. The darkness in america is there for the picking but the mfa poets are mostly too chicken shit to venture a taste, it takes an Outlaw to give it a try, eat it root, juice, and all.

Because that’s where we are right now in america. We live a culture where what passes for poetry could easily be flushed down the toilet along with all the other shit on a daily basis and never missed because it stands for nothing. And, when a culture’s poetry stands for nothing, that is a sign that the culture itself is already starting to take an apocalyptic slide toward the shithouse of oblivion. It’s already tanking and the pundits are just waiting for it to go it’s an apocalyptic joke and the fuckers wanna see it take the ultimate fall.

And, that ladies and gents, is why it’s time for Outlaw. That’s why it’s almost past time. That’s why I read Dennis Gulling and that’s why I read Miles J. Bell and that’s why I read Tim Wells and that’s why I read John Dorsey and that’s why I read Misti Rainwater-Lites and that’s why I read Raindog Armstrong and that’s why I read Christopher Robin and that’s why I read S. A. Griffin and that’s why I read Ron Androla and that’s why I read Kell Robertson, and that’s why I read Theron Moore, and that’s why I read Tony Moffeit.

virus history flickers
inside my heart.

by S. A. Griffin from The Apes of Wrath

beam. straight shots. pieces
of my teeth are breaking

by Ron Androla from Hangover Ode

Step out, gunslinger cool
sharp personal killers

by Kell Robertson
from Blues After A Western Movie

The girl in the Playboy interview said,
“I like doggy with a finger in the butt.”

by Joe Pachinko
from Doggy With A Finger In The Butt

I’m walking down the deadline in Dodge City, Kansas. For the uninitiated, that’s the railroad tracks. It was the line between the good saloons and brothels and the bad saloons and brothels. On a good day you can smell the deathshit odor blowing in off the stockyards. On a bad day you can smell the deathshit odor blowing in off the stockyards. And you can walk wrapped in a Dodge City dead man gunfighter blackwind stinking of cyclones, ghost dance shirts, gunfire, and blood. It’s still there and it’s full of Outlaw which is also american mythic and american haunted and it is blowing just for you. Because, this amigo, is your america whether you like it or not.

“Test me, see if I can take it, lay your language on my/sandwich and I will most assuredly eat it all, paper, too…” This a line from Scott Wannberg’s poem entitled “I’m just a gangster at heart.” And, apparently, he took the title from an HBO movie. Which is entirely appropriate because the lines from movies are there and ripe for the taking. They’re begging for it, they’re screaming for it. If it weren’t for fabulous those movie lines there would be no conversation in america, there would be no poetry in america. Maybe there would be no america. If it weren’t for Outlaw Poetry there would be no psychic risk in america. Nada, zip, the everlasting zero added to the zero. Just more stutter to add to the stutter. Outlaw Poetry is here to change that. Or, at least to kick safe and polite language in the ass just to hear it squeal. Like the man says, oink, oink, motherfucker.

John Macker’s ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE opened a second front for Outlaw Poetry in america. DILLINGER has always been the first front. Along with Tony Moffeit’s Billy the Kid cycle, Kell Robertson’s A HORSE CALLED DESPERATION, and Dennis Gulling’s Illinois Death Trip poems. (My designation, not his.) GUNTRADE is Macker’s bid for long poem recognition. WOMAN OF THE DISTURBED EARTH is an interim work. Mythically the poems operate on something like the same level, but these poems are more personal, work autobiographically in a landscape that he knows well and dreams of often. His predecessors and influences show up in these poems. Ed Dorn, Sam Peckinpah, Gregory Corso, Ted Berrigan, Robert Creeley, they’re all here, the usual, the extraordinary suspects. My favorite poems are Peckinpah’s Typewriter and the title poem, Woman Of The Disturbed Earth. To borrow a few words to describe Peckinpah’s Typewriter, the poem is really a snake bit tequila lyric with all the energy flowing out and away to the land surrounding Macker’s house and then back. Whether or not that old typewriter Macker found in his back yard actually belonged to Peckinpah doesn’t matter. The fact that that chunk of rust and shattered keys could be raised to the level of myth and even archetype makes the poem the masterpiece that it is. John Macker is one of the original Outlaw voices in america. And while he writes in and of the southwest, Macker’s work is ultimately american and absolutely Outlaw. GUNTRADE is only the beginning.

Mark Weber’s poetry mines a vein somewhere between Mark Twain and John Steinbeck. His body of work teases and flaunts the whole idea of writing school craft and English department allusion. Weber’s tradition is a combination of feisty celtic, L. A. moxie, jazz joint hip, Bakersfield Okie. He reminds me of a guy I used to know who liked to slug down the Beam and every so often say, “Fuck you, I’m an Okie.” Not that Mark Weber drinks anymore, he doesn’t. But he doesn’t take shit off of anyone. Especially the second raters who use poetry politics to promote themselves rather than concentrating on the writing of the poem.

Weber’s masterwork is PLAIN OLD BOOGIE LONG DIVISION. I can’t think of another contemporary book of poetry in america that even comes close to it in style because nobody sounds like Mark Weber. If that’s style, then he has it in spades. If that is voice, then Mark Weber’s sound is so totally sideways fantastic and so wonderfully american that it is gorgeously unmistakable. As unmistakable as Charles Bukowski or Ernest Hemingway. If I had to quote one line of Mark Weber’s, it would be, “he said, while hawking a loogy into the cuspidor with exactitude.” That’s from “SOMETHING LIKE ODYSSEUS, one of Weber’s recent chapbooks. Every time I read that line I crack up.

Mark Weber has played and continues to play a major role as the producer of the Zerx recording label and press. If anyone ever attempts to write a history of music composition and production in the southwest, that historian will have to deal with the huge part that Weber has played as a musician, song writer, composer, photographer, jazz and blues historian, laid back deejay and ultimately a kind of super human clearing house for whatever american music is in the latter part of the twentieth century and the first part of the twenty first century. His contribution is mammoth. It registers somewhere around the promethean and genius level. His contribution to jazz and to Outlaw Poetry is without a doubt incalculable. The only way I can approach what Weber has done is to say imagine Frank O’Hara as both an important poet and an important visual artist (not) and you will understand where I am going with this. Because of Mark Weber, the axis, the focus, the energy of the L.A. jazz and poetry scene has somehow shifted from L.A. to New Mexico. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t any poetry or jazz action in L.A. anymore. There is and it’s always at the top of its game. But, the Outlaw action is nearly solidly located in the american southwest. And, that Outlaw action is becoming one of the defining moments for american culture. Because the Outlaw Poet spreads his energy and his genius and his shadow over everything.

The portrait of the Outlaw is not complete without the necessary image and duende of Tony Moffeit. I could mention POETRY IS DANGEOUS, THE POET IS AN OUTLAW, as being one of the important founding texts of Outlaw Poetry. I could mention PUEBLO BLUES, LUMINOUS ANIMAL, NEON PEPPERS. I could write that BLUES FOR BILLY THE KID is Moffeit’s ongoing apocalyptic novel journey into the interior of the darkly affable Billy and also himself. If Vladimir Mayakovsky were writing a novel about The Kid this would be it. Because it takes a kind of hyper punk duende to produce a book like this. And, it takes a hyper punk duende souped to the max to make a cd like OUTLAW BLUES REVOLUTION.

For as long as I’ve known Tony Moffeit, I’ve also been very much aware that as well as writing poetry, Moffeit performs his poems and writes original songs as well. His influences are almost too numerous to mention but try Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and you’ll almost certainly come close. However, Moffeit is no wannabe and I think he masterfully demonstrates that with this cd. OUTLAW REVOLUTION BLUES consists of twelve very tightly written blues songs and they are all sung in the fire scorched voice of Tony Moffeit. It’s difficult to accurately describe the way he sounds. But, it reminds me of the way burnt blood would sound if it had a voice to describe what it was. Burnt blood, seared blood, scorched blood, the stuff that Lorca was puking up when that last slug hit him. The spit coming out of Hank Williams’ mouth when he died in the back seat of that caddy. This is the human voice sand papered, sliced, diced, and all scratched to hell.

listen to Tony Moffeit | give me the night


you asked me to pick out a favorite cut on this cd I couldn’t do it, though I do love “I want the bones,” “voodoo casanova,” “wanted dead or alive,” “give me the night,” “stones in my pocket.” But the energy level for the entire cd holds up all the way through. This is the kind of music that just doesn’t play itself out for you to be entertaining. It’s not wallpaper music, it’s not casual listening. This is the kind of music you can drink to in a nearly dark room. And, darkness really is the way you should listen to this music because it is all about darkness, it is all about Outlaw, it is all about driving right to the edge of the edge of america.

The key to OUTLAW BLUES REVOLUTION is that it really isn’t just about itself as a blues cd. What it is is a blues duende, a gravel on gravel sound of where america is right now. Where we all are. The shit and the glory. The railroad track deadline in Dodge City, Kansas, Pirates Alley in New Orleans where Chicken Man has conjured himself back for one more go round, lightning bolts streaking adobe walls in Taos. “The real revolution lies deeper.” This is a line from the Tough Love cut. And, this is also the essence of Outlaw.

OUTLAW BLUES REVOLUTION, like ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE, like PLAIN OLD BOOGIE LONG DIVISION, like DILLINGER, is a watershed moment in the Outlaw Revolution, one of the definitions that america has been waiting for all of its badass drifter history. Rick Terlep plays his heart and guts out on Outlaw guitar. He burns down the songs. Fifteen bucks is a small price to pay for all the dark miracles on that Outlaw ride.

1 Comment

Filed under essays by todd moore

One Response to shadow of the outlaw

  1. Raindog

    Mother of pearl! Is there any point in going on?

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