Monday, August 24th, 2009...6:59 pm

todd moore | I work the shattered line

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Todd Moore | Photo: Roy Manzanares

I work the shattered line

in american poetry because it is damaged because it is wounded because it is T boned and splattered all over the street. I work the shattered line in american poetry because the four beat, five beat, six beat line in american poetry are all dead or so close to death that they no longer have any power nothing to jump into my bones. I work the shattered line in american poetry because it is without pretension, it doesn’t try to hide its twistedness. It doesn’t try to bury rhyme inside rhetoric, it doesn’t try to meditate, it doesn’t try to teach any lessons, it doesn’t have Heidegger trying out his Bugs Bunny schtick re sein or zeit it doesn’t try to wang dang doodle you into thinking it’s alive when its very brokenness is proof enough that it works despite its brokenness. The grotesque nature of the way it looks on the page is what stops you in your tracks. It’s as memorable in appearance as a Jackson Pollack pour. The shattered line is the only real talking that exists in the broken world. The shattered line dates from Job’s cry and roars down to and well past HOWL. And, while HOWL is a long lined poem, the whole text is a masterpiece of shattered language. I work the shattered line in american poetry because for me and maybe only for me the shattered line is the most private the most personal the most wounded the barest and the most stripped down way of getting at and to almost anything I want to write.

And, writing in america is the closest thing I know of to kicking through the garbage, rummaging through the absolute shit and vomit and croak and rot of american culture. T. S. Eliot rummaged through all the stink and feces of his incessant dreams to write THE WASTE LAND. He was american in his hide and British in his intellect. He was broken inside that elite shell of the gentleman he tried to imitate. What he did can’t be done again. It is an unrepeatable act. Just as Hart Crane could never again write another Proem for THE BRIDGE or Allen Ginsberg could never again write another HOWL. They were all broken in chant and scrawl and dance and skin. Asking them to do that again would be like asking Peckinpah to make one more version of THE WILD BUNCH, expecting the Coen brothers to direct NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN one more time. Or, asking Michael Mann to bleed Dillinger out on the screen in PUBLIC ENEMIES again. These are electric acts of genius, sui generis, unrepeatable, and magnificent in timing, dream, vision, and event. Creating anything authentic and essentially Outlaw in america; poem, play, novel, painting is the closest thing I know of to trying to rescue the culture in the face of almost certain apocalypse. And, no one gives a rat’s bug infested ass except the Outlaws, the Outlaw Poets. If you stand at the margins calling down the black wind, you will get it. If you stand at the tornado blown borders conjuring the nearly demolished poem, you already understand.

I work the shattered line

in poetry because I respect the ultimate mystery of its damage and its power, because it almost looks like printed stutter on the page, it almost looks like all the syllables and words in my poems are trying to escape the inevitable violence of torqued nightmare and oblivion that await them. I work the shattered line in poetry because for me it is a reflection of the shatteredness the blown to smithereeensness state of language, the last tragic apocalyptic fuck you of the word. I work the shattered line in language because of the sheer aesthetic brokenness the jagged smashed fuckedupedness of language itself. The american language is wounded up to and maybe beyond repair and tries to hide itself in the Whitmanic line. And, what passes for the Whitmanic line is a an awkard lumbering cluttered march of mundane words across a page mined with silence, longing, and whiteness and each awkward line is followed by another and another and another with no energy or electricity or love or lust or want or hope or agony or murder or anything broken and remotely human. Nothing is going on. Nothing ever goes on in most of those poems. They ramble and chatter and take me nowhere and they should be an embarrassment for those use write them. No one since Whitman has used a line of that length and that depth and that breath of power with any matching originality or success. Only Whitman could write it successfully. He had the genius for it and it died with him. And, where is that genius that contemporary poet with a kicked and hungry drive comparable to Whitman?

I write the shattered line

because the world is shattered beyond all human understanding. And, maybe always has been a little broken beneath the river, inside the mountain. I write the shattered line and love its shatteredness. Love the way that words crack open like little bones with all the dried and primal marrowings falling out around me like pieces of an ancient corpse sheering off and twisting toward oblivion. And while I write, I have two minds going at the same time. One is plunging down the corridors of the poem. Maybe careening is a better word. Creeley used to write about breaking the line. The word breaking doesn’t mean anything when it comes to poetry. Breaking is so horribly and impossibly teacup polite. Breaking doesn’t suggest the real broken nature of the language after Abu Ghraib or Nine Eleven. Line breaks have always existed at the ends of phrases or even single words, obvious signals used for dramatic effects. Breaking a line is more like breaking air, the fart without the stink. Breaking a line is more like cracking gum in study hall, so what? It means nada. Shattering the line is what you do when the words are already fractured and wait in their quivering fracturedness to be snapped apart like old boards and bones, like something that is snapping apart behind the eyes. And, you know that that something’s going on in you, that some part of you is chipping into little pieces but you don’t know what and the same thing is going on in the culture and maybe for one knife edge Arthur Rimbaud snapped synapse second you want it to shatter into a million unrepairable bits. This is how it is for me when I write a poem. I want the poem and I want all the shatter blowing into my eyes and out through the back of my skull. Blue volt, then word scorching straight down the page.

The other mind, the second mind, goes in and out of it all. This is the blow fly of the intellect, sorting for story frequencies, going back and forth among the little fragments of memories or sub memories or sub sub memories any little thought or visceral echo, searching for one more resonance for the wooden gun one second and Dillinger kissing a machine gun the next. What is riddle, what is the impact of the riddle of riddle, death is a short red slit in a Mark Rothko painting bleeding the wound back into its wound, a shaved pale head in a Paul Klee painting that looks as though it is starting to tell a story but if it says even one word its head will implode, and the machine gun in THE WILD BUNCH is really becoming more than a machine gun, it’s death telling all the death stories while Pike Bishop is pulling the trigger, and Madam Rosa in MEDITATIONS ON A MACHINE GUN reminds me of one of Gauguin’s veiled women maybe a gypsy and she’s got that kind of blue jumping stuff she can do with her hands, she opens her mouth paints the walls with her dreams.

I write the shattered line

because it is really all I have left to work with or all I really want to dream and work with. I write the shattered line in order to get at what is left of the american story. I write the shattered line in order to discover what is left of the american myth. It lies way back in the language somewhere in a fetal position, waiting for the end. And, I tease it out every time I write. I write the shattered line because as short as this line is, it holds like rope, it twists like muscle over muscle, it cracks like a black whip while it dreams of splintering like a bone.

I work the shattered line

because of all the lines both short and long it is the one line which is closest to both speed and blood. Long lines drag all the words in and most of them are dead. Short lines kick all the words out except for those which are absolutely necessary for the archetypal story. Long lines depend on description. Short lines, especially the shattered line depend upon the bare declarative sentence smashed into greenstick breaks, fractures, and sub fractures. The shattered line is the end point and the origin for all of our words.

I work the shattered line

because it’s the place where the story has gone, the zone where the story has retreated. It is compelled to escape from the sound of its own dry shattering for awhile. I write the shattered text because it is a blown out line of words and each word or word fragment conjures all the wounds of language. I work the shattered line knowing full well that I am both retrieving and destroying the remains of the archetypal hum of what it means to be human.

Todd Moore | Photo: Roy Manzanares

1 Comment

  • i’ve always wanted to hear what todd moore had to say about his condensed line, his shattered line, and this essay takes it apart and puts it back together again. language smashed and in its destruction, a new creation. the shattered line with two minds going at the same time. fascinating reading.

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