Todd Moore | Photo by Roy Manzanares
dragged back again almost hypnotically into PUBLIC ENEMIES, sitting hunched way down in my seat, popcorn with extra butter balanced on my knee, big cold drink jammed in the drink slot on the seat arm, lost and swimming gone and dreaming in all those quick murderous images pouring out of the screen. A twenty something blonde in the row directly in front of me leans over to her boyfriend and says, I wanna machine gun. Baby, you gotta get me a machine gun. He glances over at her and smiles while up on the screen Johnny Depp says, lets go to Chicago, make some money. Encapsulated in that magic moment is the electric essence of the american dream. Automatic weapons and movies and money, lots of money. Gatsby should’ve had a machine gun. Maybe Wilson wouldn’t have gotten him so easy.
Speed, death, love. Dialem up, baby. Someone writes from L.A., asks, Is the movie accurate. Death, speed, love, death again, gimme that good ole speedial, mama. You get this when you dream the roulette of american longing. Bet the red, the black comes up. A guy writes on my Facebook wall, says, you read all the books. Wadda you think of that Dillinger movie. Maybe the best answer I can give after I explain all the fast and loose moves that Michael Mann took with the Dillinger story is this film isn’t about accuracy. And, it isn’t really about history or the depression era or the midwest or the color of Dillinger’s eyes or the smell of rain or tobacco juice shot off the front porch or white lightning or all the lost shotguns. When that gets boiled away what it comes down to is Michael Mann’s obsessive exploration of the relentless american dark. This movie has roots that reach way down in the nightmare earth. Which never gets covered in American History 101 or American Studies and the Cultural Turn.
If you want the dark side of america you need to read THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson. If you want to get to the dark side of america you should read RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett. If you want to mess around on the dark side of america you should listen to some Robert Johnson while reading Gary Goude’s A CRUSHED, ROTTING DOG. Or, you need to get the video of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, catch the psycho killer empty in Javier Bardem’s stare. Or, beg borrow or steal Tony Moffeit’s novel BLUES FOR BILLY THE KID or John Macker’s poem ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE.
And I’m sitting at the table in the coffee house up in the mountains where I started to write THE RIDDLE OF THE WOODEN GUN but Cormac McCarthy isn’t here now. Instead, a roadrunner is walking around out on the patio looking a little lost. A storm wind is coming down off the mountains and the air is so black I could slice it like pie. I read somewhere, maybe it was in a Kell Robertson poem that storms like this carried double ought buck lightning. You get hit with it it just blows you all to hell. Shotguns going off in the dark always fuck around with me.
If you are looking for the dark side of america all you have to do is scratch a scab and watch the pus run. Then lick it up dried blood yellow shit dead skin and all, if you have the nerve for it. If you are looking for the dark side of america all you have to do is ride a Greyhound bus and read A HORSE CALLED DESPERATION while taking long hits of Beam wrapped in a brown paper sack. Or, maybe you could get good and fucked up and try conjuring Bukowski over on De Longpre Ave in Los Angeles. The thing about america is it has plenty of the dark side to offer and it is always available to you.
And, it is doubly available to you if you are an Outlaw Poet. If it weren’t you’d have to invent it. Lets get one thing straight right now. Walt Whitman never discovered the dark side of america. Otherwise, he would have written about Jack Slade, John Wilkes Booth, James Butler Hickock, and Doc Holliday. And Eliot and Pound and Crane and Stevens and Williams never wrote about the dark side of america. They may have touched the darkness a little but they never really tapped into that dark vein that makes america so wonderfully Outlaw, so attractively and magnetically bad.
The problem with american poetry is that it never had a Baudelaire or a Rimbaud. The trouble with american poetry is that it really never promised any real fuck you behind the eyes trouble. It was always slightly removed from the danger. Hart Crane might have been provisionally a bad boy but he was never an Outlaw. John Berryman painted his insides with darkness for THE DREAM SONGS but he was never a Outlaw. Hemingway came close because he liked to play with guns but he wasn’t an Outlaw. Bukowski, Bremser, Micheline, and levy came very close. They were the proto typical Outlaws. They lived by instinct, short grift, animal desire. Bremser was the only real criminal among them. But, he never had Dillinger. None of them did.
The interviewer leans in, says, are you an Outlaw. It’s almost a whisper. I reply, you mean do I rob banks. He says, Yeah, something like that. No, I don’t rob banks. Then what makes you an Outlaw? I give him a wide smile and say I don’t give a fuck. The interviewer is playing it cagey. He says, About what? He gives me an idiot quick smile that goes vacant. Most anything, I tell him. Except family, friends, writing. I write the way I want to and I don’t give a fuck. Especially about the literary establishment. The interviewer replies, Ashbery writes the way he wants to. Yeah, I say, but he gives a fuck. He has to. He’s locked into it, balls and soul. Okay, the interviewer says. Then is that what really makes you an Outlaw? You want me to make it simple, I say. Yeah, he says. Something I can cover in a couple of sound byte sentences. You give me a paragraph everyone’s lost. Okay, then, lets just bring it all down to this. I am stalked and haunted by poetry so raw it bleeds like a wound, I love the complicated violence and energy of John Dillinger, and I make little head movies of machine guns going off way into the night. The interviewer writes it down fast, then adds a quick note, bites a nail while thinking, taps the notebook with the ballpoint and says, that’s exactly what I was after. That’s what I really wanted to hear.
An L. A. writer is telling me I need to do a novel. People don’t read poetry but they would read a novel, especially if I wrote a novel the way I write poetry. It sounds like a reprise of John Martin and Bukowski. It also sounds like a hustle I’ve been through before. Thanks but no thanks. Still, I listen politely. I don’t say anything because I have said it all to myself a thousand times over. DILLINGER is DILLINGER because it is poetry and in poetry you can take enormous risks. Dillinger is maybe one of the most iconic characters ever because he is in a long poem. That’s the irony but it’s where he belongs, that’s where his dark, edgy, unpredictable violence belongs. Not in some chickenshit novel. The novel represents the accepted way of doing business in literature. It’s okay to tell stories there and it’s okay to read them because that is what everyone does. But you’re not supposed to do that in poetry and you’re not supposed to have characters in poetry especially characters like Dillinger not people who could press all your hot buttons not criminals you could fall in love with. That’s not how you do business in literature these days. Which is why writing DILLINGER is the equivalent of robbing a bank. It’s the best action going. Besides, all a novel would do is flatten him out into long strings of words stumbling across the page toward nothing. Long strings of words fanned out across a page in a novel bore me to death. I want action, I want energy, I want surprise, I want dreams going off like depth charges behind the eyes, I want to break all the rules in all the poems ever, I want the poem to explode in the reading the way it does in the writing. In the poem Dillinger jumps down the page the same way he would going over a teller’s counter, he is nervous and mythic and enormous beyond his bones and dangerous beyond dangerous with laughter and longing. He is the dark side of america, he is the trickster of all tricksters, he is maniacally archetypal in a way that most other characters in american novels are just simply flatlined and ordinary in sentences that threaten to hang them, drowning in the dreck and the slop of description. There are no great american novels about Dillinger, nothing all encompassing, nothing huge, nothing ambitious, nothing encyclopedic nothing endless and compelling which is the way it needs to be with this kind of character. The only great novel about Dillinger is DILLINGER.
Rainey sits near the second storey window of his hotel room playing with a 32 Smith and Wesson that has no cylinder. He keeps cocking and uncocking it, then sticking his fingers through the empty space where the cylinder holding the bullets would go. Every once in awhile he says son of a bitch and aims at someone passing by across the street below. Then he gives me a look, sticks the barrel in his mouth and makes the hammer go click, says I do this a lot at night in the dark.
I’m on the computer and have punched up Blogtalkradio. For the next hour I’ll be listening to Wolf Carstens interview John Yamrus who will read from his NEW AND SELECTED POEMS published earlier this year by Raindog Armstrong’s celebrated Lummox Press. Yamrus’ poetry has that laid back feel to it. You might pick it up sometimes through the paper thin walls of motel rooms or maybe in some city lounge where the blood red neon distorts the drinkers’ faces or maybe on the back porch right after dark when you could say things you really wouldn’t think of when it was light out. The look and sound of Yamrus’ work tricks wannabees into thinking, Hey I could do this. The reality is they can’t be this relaxed and meticulous with the line. What makes Yamrus’ work important is that he has that rare capacity for seeing what is futile, absurd, and broken in contemporary society while still holding onto that unique gift of disarming laughter. He laughs at the void the whole time knowing that it is the void and that we all stand poised in the doorways of our personal and undeniable and irrevocable black holes.
In PUBLIC ENEMIES Billie Frechette looks Dillinger in the eyes and says, Where are you going? Dillinger gives her a deadon stare and replies, Anywhere I want. The question no interviewer has yet asked me is, where are you taking Outlaw Poetry. My answer would be, anywhere I want, any way I want, any time I want. What Outlaw Poetry is doing is annexing the lightning bolt id to the american poem. Because that’s really where the Outlaw lives. It’s where I’ve been living for a long time now. .