Writing a poem is like making a movie.
If it’s a short poem it cascades down me the way water pours across a cliff face and then plunges down. It’s almost always one single dive toward the explosive unknown beginning with the first word and continuing all the way through until the cosmic darkness at the end. Mostly, I never know what’s going to happen in a poem though I always know that something will happen. That’s what makes a poem so much like a movie. Gimme action gimme action gimme action. Something has got to happen or I’ll know it’s no good. Nicholson getting that knife in the nose in CHINATOWN, Kell Robertson’s image of The Gunfighter taking a leak out behind some outlaw saloon, the Reb getting shot down and dying in that sea of mud in SHANE, Holden saying If they move killem in a black and white bleed in THE WILD BUNCH, that look on Bogart’s face when he starts to go crazy in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, that layering of chant, song, poem, dream in Tony Moffeit’s BLUES FOR BILLY THE KID. I swim in poems filled with movies and I swim in movies filled with poems. I can’t often tell the difference and I really don’t want to. What I really want is the way a poem morphs into a movie and back again.
When I’m writing I’m always writing and when I’m watching I’m always watching and sometimes I am doing both at the same time. Poem movie movie poem. And, when I’m writing an essay I might be dreaming a poem. And, when I’m writing a poem I’m almost certainly dreaming an essay. It almost feels as though I am a movie that I can drop into any time I want to and walk around inside that action. Or, out of, and then come back to because that part of my dreaming is on a continual loop. It’s something I have no trouble accessing. A dark something that pulls me in even when I don’t particularly want to be pulled in. And, if I fight it I always lose so I usually don’t fight it.
And, I don’t know how many times I have gone to the movies and started getting a poem while I’m inside the movie, like that time right in the middle of HEAT where De Niro and Pacino sit facing each other in a diner during a pre showdown conversation and the poem is telling me it wants me to write it it wants to have a presence it wants to be out there to be part of the talking and singing and dreaming world but I have learned how to let it sing itself to me while I am watching. Pacino is a shadow up there on the screen. He bleeds his energy all over the white space. He has his own way of singing. The poem I am getting wants to counter sing his singing and Pacino is almost coming out of himself the way he does in a lot of movies. The way Nulla sings people to him in AUSTRALIA. The way the old Navajo sings Dillinger to him in Death Song. The way Billy the Kid sings Tony Moffeit to him over and over again, the song is always different, a variation of a ghost dance, a blood song. Poems sing themselves to me again and again and all I have to do is stand still and let it happen.
Writing a poem is like making a movie because I always see parts of it or I hear parts of it or I start hearing and seeing big jagged pieces of it which float all around me and I have all I can do to get it down the way it should be written, the way that it longs to be written because poems insinuate themselves into the secret rhythms of your being and it is your responsibility to get it right. Or, let s put it this way. It is my responsibility to get it right. I really don’t know about other people. I have no accurate idea how anyone else writes poetry or anything for that matter. The act of writing is one of the biggest human mysteries going and every writer stakes out his own little claim in the dark of that dark. All I really know is what happens to me and writing a poem that feels like a movie is what is happening to me.
Poems happen to me as though I am dreaming. One minute I am perfectly fine. The next something happens and I am inside a story. This feeling might have the same effect as an icicle going straight down my spine or a burning stick branding my arm. It’s that intense. And, while that kind of real pain never occurs, I can always feel a peculiar inner shaking as though I have caught some kind of chill and the only way to get rid of it is to write it out, to dream it out, to dance it out, to kick it out of my psyche and into a metaphor I may not understand but I know I have to use because it has dreamt its intensity into my veins and all the way through my skin.
This happened to me with Relentless, this happened to me with Death Song, this happened to me with The Sign of the Gun, this happened to me with Russian Roulette, this happened to me The Corpse Is Dreaming, this happened to me with All The Dark Talking. this happened to me with The Riddle of the Wooden Gun. All of these poems are sections of DILLINGER. In fact, this has happened to me with virtually all of the important sections of DILLINGER because this poem has gathered into itself an enormous dark energy that is just simply undeniable, irresistible. It contains the darkest of undertows that drags me back to it, it drowns me in its midnight exuberance, the noon of its darkness.
How many times have you seen CASABLANCA? How many times have you seen THE GODFATHER? How many times have you seen STAR WARS? How many times have you seen THE BIG SLEEP? How many times have you seen THE FRENCH CONNECTION? And, I am sure you could add ten or twenty or thirty more films that you can’t resist watching. This is what it is like with me and DILLINGER. For some reason this poem which is also a movie has become a bottomless pool of darkening energy filled with a magnetic force that I cannot resist. I know that there is only a discrete amount of work I will ever be able to use for this poem. Otherwise, it will simply be too long and repetitive. But there are those electric moments when something new happens and this is after having written maybe two or three thousand pages of a monster called DILLINGER, something so radically different occurs to me. Something I cannot deny any more than I could deny my own dreaming. And, suddenly, I am writing another section which is different from all the others I wrote in the past and I know I have to write it, I have no choice in the matter. Poems compel me to give them voices. Voices and destinies beyond my own.
DILLINGER is the poem I have to see over and over. It talks to me even in dreams. DILLINGER is the movie I have to write again and again, even if it’s just to get another way of seeing that world. Or, maybe I just want to reinvent myself in that lightning slit darkness again and again. That irresistibly archetypal haunted darkness.
There are no characters like Dillinger in poetry and currently in fiction I can only think of Cormac McCarthy’s fascinating Judge Holden from BLOOD MERIDIAN who stands out. Dillinger and Holden rise above the ordinary realistic characters of contemporary fiction. They’re not cartoon super heroes like Superman or Batman or Spider Man. Super heroes only satisfy a superficial desire for catastrophe leaning toward apocalypse. Dillinger and Holden plunge toward the apocalypse and drag us all with them. And, for all the dark reasons we are willing to follow.
I can’t help but think that McCarthy, in his private moments, is drawn back to Holden and BLOOD MERIDIAN. He can’t help but be pulled back to that black pool of energy, Holden’s murders followed by his lecture meditations. I wonder if McCarthy gets the night sweats and shivers just thinking about his seven foot tall albino killer. And, it had to be that way with Melville and Ahab. Ahab haunting Melville at night for years after the novel had failed. Coming back and coming back and coming back covered with a whiteness that obviously had rubbed off Moby Dick. And, Shakespeare and Hamlet. Maybe Shakespeare is having a drink in a pub with Ben Jonson and he sees a man sit at an adjoining table and he thinks this is the one, this is the man I was thinking of for Hamlet Burbage yes always Burbage but this man is the spiritual Hamlet and the stranger looks at Shakespeare and nods as though they both understand who Hamlet is the nod an inscrutable sign a movie and a poem in that gesture and then Shakespeare has a dream where this stranger comes back and in the morning the skull Shakespeare keeps on the table beside him the skull which was always facing the bed has been turned away as though it can no longer stare at Shakespeare all through the night or maybe Hamlet came in and turned it the way the moon turns away from the earth and Shakespeare understands that Hamlet does not want Shakespeare looking at him that intensely anymore. Though Shakespeare will anyway. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s psychic movie. Ahab and Hamlet and Holden and Dillinger. There are no limits for the way that I think about Dillinger stare at Dillinger watch everything that he does everything that he dreams. No limits for the way that I make twenty page movies of that poem. No limits for the way that I dream him in the darkness of the movie of my mind.
Or, the way that he dreams me.