Tuesday, November 25th, 2008...2:58 pm

todd moore | coyote death mask outlaw

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Right next

to my computer desk I have a coyote death mask nailed to a bookshelf. It’s the top half of the head skinned down to the slashed off nose. The ears are curled knobs, the eyes are nothing more than furry slits of black air. And, I love this flattened wreck of fur more than I should and I love touching this thing for luck either before I start a poem or sometimes right after I finish one because I know I’m touching what is left of a real outlaw. The face of an outlaw. The eyes of an outlaw. What’s left of its outlaw breath caught in all that fur.

If you

asked me to absolutely define Outlaw Poetry I’m not sure that I could even though I have been writing this way for nearly forty years. I can tell you what I know. I know that we have been living through the biggest poetry drought that I’ve ever seen. And, how can I say that since thousands of poems are published in this country every year? It’s easy to say because it’s true. All you have to do is look around and ask yourself, where are the levys now? Where are the Whitmans now? Where are the Ginsbergs now? Where are the Bukowskis now? Where are those poets who can easily equal what these giants have accomplished, now?

The problem

is they are gone and we are swimming in hordes of writing school educated idiot poets who couldn’t write a decent line of poetry if their lives depended on it. Who survive as half assed teachers and so so translators but will never make that breakthrough into authentic poetic genius. And, I mean never. Here are two questions. When was the last time you read a Pulitzer prize winning book of poetry that did not eventually put you to sleep? Right out cold. And, when was the last time you heard of an excellent small press poet who won the Pulitzer prize? My answer to the first question is that I find it difficult if not impossible to read any mainstream poet, prize winner or not, without either nodding off or becoming just plain bored. And, as far as the second question is concerned, I have never heard of a small press poet winning the Pulitzer prize.

We are

currently living in a cultural trash heap, a literal as well as metaphoric poetry shithouse. The great poets we have are the ones we import from Ireland or England or the Antilles or Latin America or Europe or China or Africa to teach at Harvard and Yale and Princeton. The greatest american poets in academia are all citizens of some other country. The american poetry coming out of the mainstream including commercial publishers and academic publishers might be okay for starting your fireplace wood with but it’s really no good for wiping your ass. There are no great poets in the mainstream press now. Nada, zero, kaput. The only time I will read the American Poetry Review is if an issue is featuring a good translation of Cavafy, Lorca, Hernandez, Celan, Neruda, Rimbaud. Otherwise, why read any poets published in APR writing in English? They are simply not worth the trouble.

And because

we have reached almost total bankruptcy in american poetry, we have come to the place where the authentic american voice needs to come out from under the floorboards, where the next first poets need to drag the shit and the night and the angst and the primal violence out of the guts of an america we have almost forgotten and certainly neglected. This primal american voice needs to be heard or maybe reheard in all of its national death wish frenzy. And, this is what Outlaw Poetry is really all about. Outlaw Poetry is not another phase of Beat Poetry. Outlaw Poets for the most part aren’t interested in sitting crosslegged on the floor chanting Om. Outlaw Poets are not trying to out Burroughs Burroughs, out Ginsberg Ginsberg, out Kerouac Kerouac. We’ve been there, we’ve done that. In a very real sense most of the arts and especially poetry has hit the cultural wall. We are at a veritable dead end in the arts. We have been trading on Whitman and Eliot and Stevens and Williams for far too long. They’re all dead and they’ve been dead for years and we can’t use them to prop up a nothing poetry world that monster monied foundations and hustler poetry mavens have had supervision over for what seems like an eternity. We’ve seen this dead end coming for a very long time and we’re ready for something new.

And new

is Outlaw. Outlaw poetry is as nightmare visceral as a Basquiat painting. I love the tremendous energy he crams into a something like Riding With Death where a dark red figure is crudely mounted on four white bones and a fucked up skull. I want to put that kind of energy into a poem because this is the frenzy that jumpstarts a sensibility and I want that in poetry the way that I want speed and velocity and violence raw violence in poetry where it belongs, where it sleeps in the belly of the wolf. Haven’t we had enough bullshit garden party politeness and poems about our awwwwwwnnnnnts in poetry? Outlaw Poetry works against this kind of tricked out craft and careens down the raw. The meat on a stick, the turd pour glistening from the asshole. Outlaw Poetry, or at least Outlaw Poetry as I know it and see it and hear it wants to dream itself back into the unholy spurt of blood. Dream itself back into the death in the life of the fire of the blood. I love Basquiat’s painting Anybody Speaking Words where the entire body is intense black and the mouth has been disjointed and hovers just inside the ghost outline of a face with all the teeth showing. Where are those poems with all the teeth showing? Where are those poems with all the bones showing? Where is Paul Klee’s Angel of Death? That’s what I dream a poem looks like when someone is grinding it out of a mouth like night sausage. I say grinding it out because performance is too nice a word. Too professional. Too artificially correct. Which means controlled. I want it to be uncontrolled, slipped raw and bleeding into the black onyx darkness of evening. That’s Outlaw. The ferocity of a painting like Baquiat’s or Klee’s or like anything that is taboo is pure pure Outlaw and I love it. I want to be knocked sideways by a poem that somehow traps Death’s high voltage inside its whip thin lines.

Pure Outlaw

rips out the jugular. Pure Outlaw slams through the crotch. Pure Outlaw steps on the gas and heads straight to the edge of things. Pure Outlaw tells Robert Pinsky to kiss its unwiped ass. Pure Outlaw is a kick in the ass of good taste because the best poetry comes directly out of bad taste. Oedipus in bed with his mother is definitely Outlaw. Baudelaire cruising the Paris streets for hookers is definitely Outlaw. Raskolnikov butchering an old woman with a belt axe is definitely Outlaw. Is CRIME AND PUNISHMENT a poem? It is in the murder and the frenzy of the way it was written. Chigurh killing people with a slaughterhouse gun in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is Outlaw. And, is this a poem? Forget the prose look, it’s an american death song cranked to the max. Dillinger fucking his girlfriend Billie Frechette with the barrel of a thompson sub machine gun is a love letter death song fuck you poem to the american collective unconscious. To the american outlaw dark so long denied. And, I can see it all happen and I can hear the way the black steel slides into her. I want an american death song only an Outlaw Poet knows how to sing. And, if no one steps up to do it I will sing it myself.

This essay will be published in print form by Dancing Carrot in 2009.

Todd Moore books are available here…

1 Comment

  • I love the pure viscerality of this rare look into Outlaw Poetry. Todd Moore tells it like it is. No holds barred. Take no prisoners. He gets at the crux of it all. This is one I like to read over and over. It burns, it bleeds, it is a live pulse throbbing with Outlaw.

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