john yamrus | blind whiskey and the straight razor blues

A review of Todd Moore’s

BLIND WHISKEY AND THE STRAIGHT RAZOR BLUES

by John Yamrus

Maybe it’s the attitude. Maybe it’s the intelligence. Maybe it’s the wit. I don’t exactly know what it is, but there’s something about Todd Moore’s in-your-face approach to poetry that has fascinated and entertained me right from the beginning, so many years ago.

The prolific movie director, Roger Corman, the king of quickie movies…a director of talent and nerve, who wasn’t afraid of succeeding or failing by following the adage “first thought, best thought” (although in Corman’s parlance it was more likely “first shot, best shot”) once directed a 1958 gangster movie titled “I, Mobster”. For some reason I can’t seem to get that movie out of my head. It starred B movie legend Yvette Vickers and even had a part for aging strip club goddess Lili St. Cyr.

It’s a wonderfully tacky movie, filled with all the blood, gore, sex and guts that 1958 would allow.

Why all the tackiness? Why all the blood, gore and guts? I don’t know. Maybe we should ask the same question to Todd Moore, because his latest book of poems, BLIND WHISKEY & THE STRAIGHT RAZOR BLUES gives us all of that…and more. Starting off with that great title, the book takes us on a roller coaster ride through a wet-slick, rainy night world with a cast of characters who seem to have come straight out of the pages of a Mickey Spillane novel. There are no muted colours here. Everything is vivid, sharp and bright. The characters in the poems all have names like Whitey and Sonny and Taggart and Rio. Tough guy names. And you know it without it even being said that all the women wear red dresses and have garters and nylons with seams up the back of their legs. The book is consistent. Of course, consistency has always been a hallmark of Moore’s poetry. All but 2 of the 36 poems describe violent and deadly activities of some kind. Shootings. Stabbings. Beatings.

These poems are film noir on steroids.

Interestingly, though, the poems that tell the most about this great little book are those 2 that aren’t particularly overly violent. The first one, placed smack, dab in the middle of the book, written (I think) in Moore’s own voice, reads:

the way

i write
is strictly
fuck you
no cap
ital letters
no punc
tuition
the words
jammed
together
or all
smashed
up like bro
ken glass
crushed
pop cans
& used
condoms
the ameri
can sen
tence is
either a
stutter
or a
scream
& i’m
waiting
to watch
it explode

It’s almost as if Moore’s giving us a quick peek behind the mask, or showing us the wheels, gears and springs inside the clock. For some reason, this poem hit me even harder than the others. It seems to be Moore’s way of saying “Look, man, I am what I am and that’s just the way it is. Take it or leave it.”

Before I move on to the final poem in the book, the second less than violent poem, I’ve got to quote one of the other poems. It’s shorter than most of the other poems, but it’s certainly indicative of what Moore is doing not only in this book, but in much of his other work as well:

luke shoved

the auto
matic
straight
into far
go’s guts
& fired
then
his gun
hand
turned
blood
greasy

Take note of the hard-boiled action, the short, disjointed lines and the total absence of any type of standard denouement or explanation. It’s pure Joe Friday. Dragnet. “Nothing but the facts, ma’am, please”.

The final poem in the book is absolutely riveting. To me, it’s either a typo or a coolly, calculated head game, laid out not at the expense of the reader’s enjoyment, but more to make you stop for a minute and do a double-take…to make you ask “did I just see that?” The same thing can well be said about this entire book. This is a magic act by a master magician.

Look, I’m not even going to quote that final poem. I don’t want to give away the end of the movie. Get yourself a copy of this one. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. But do yourself a favour…before you open it…before you step into this room peopled with Todd Moore’s special group of low-lifes, killers, bastards and floozies, be sure to roll up the bottoms of your pants, because they just might get a little soiled.
And it don’t wash out.
John Yamrus – 11/10/08

BLIND WHISKEY AND THE STRAIGHT RAZOR BLUES

by Todd Moore | Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books | 44 pages | ISBN 1-877968-41-2 | P.O. Box 54 | Manasquan, NJ 08736

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