Outlaw pushes buttons. Outlaw starts fires. Outlaw gets some people really excited. And, Outlaw also makes other people angry. Three or four years ago I had lunch with a poet who I just naturally assumed was an Outlaw Poet. However he let me know in no uncertain terms how offended he was with the label. As a label the term Outlaw can be offensive, maybe even deeply offensive. And, in some cases the more offensive, the better. I love the label Outlaw. I love it right down to the bones of its letters, I love the sound of it, the implications of it, the sheer aggression of the word. I love Outlaw in the brightest of New Mexico noons when the sunlight shimmers like hammered gold in the air and I love it in the New Mexico midnight when the skinwalkers are out and they want to fuck with your mind. I love Outlaw and I don’t give a damn who it troubles, offends, or just plain pisses off.
The Beats pissed people off. The Dadaists pissed people off. The Futurists pissed people off. The Surrealists pissed people off. However, they also changed the way that we look at poetry and art. Each movement changed the way that whole cultures hear language, see images, write poems, dream. This is where Outlaw is headed. This is where the Outlaw Poem is going, this is both the direction and the destination for the Outlaw Revolution. Outlaw is all about changing the kind of stale academic poetry appearing in the mainstream journals and the academic publishing houses. Outlaw is all about opposing the special interests, the huge foundations which award the lucrative prizes to all the writing degree darlings, mainstream press poets who have lost the juice, the mojo, the magic. Or, maybe never had it.
If pressed to admit it, I’d have to say that we’ve always had prizes reserved for certain poets. We’ve always had mainstream publishers more predisposed to publish a safe poet over a dangerous one. That held true for when Rimbaud and Whitman were alive and it holds true today. Maybe more so, for the twenty first century. It’s a risk free effort to publish the work of a Seamus Heaney and to neglect the work of a Kell Robertson. Heaney is a Nobel Prize winner with all the correct university teaching credits behind his name. Kell Robertson was on the road by the age of thirteen. He never graduated from high school let alone college. Yet, if given the choice, I’d rather read Kell Robertson’s poetry any time. He possesses one of maybe half a dozen truly authentic voices in american poetry during the last part of the twentieth century and the first part of the twenty first century. You don’t have to go to Harvard or Yale to acquire that. But, what you do need is damage, genius, and courage to write the great american poem.
Which also, currently, translates into the great outlaw poem. The great american outlaw poem. The great american outlaw damage courage genius poem. You want a poem like that, I’ll give you a whole book full of them by Misti Rainwater-Lites called DANGEROUS HAIR. I’d like to see what the Nobel Prize or Pulitzer people would do with that. You want damage, genius, courage, then read Joe Pacinko’s THE URINALS OF HELL. Damage, genius, courage? Read POET HEAD by Ron Androla or NUMBSKULL SUTRA by S. A. Griffin.
Damage, genius, courage is the bio for every Outlaw Poet I know of. Damage, genius, courage is what propels Raindog Armstrong’s FIRE AND RAIN, what gives the short circuit wham to Christopher Robin’s FREAKY MUMBLER’S MANIFESTO. Damage, genius, courage is what most Outlaw Poetry runs on. It’s like a form of black electricity and white hot duende zipped to the max. Damage, genius, courage was David Lerner’s alias. Damage, genius, courage should have been the subtitle for Albert Huffstickler’s WORKING ON MY DEATH CHANT. Damage, genius, courage is what fuels Tony Moffeit’s BLUES FOR BILLY THE KID.
I can’t think of any academic poets who deserve the words damage, genius, courage. Not one. But I know Mark Weber deserves them. Damage, genius, courage. I know that John Macker deserves them. Damage, genius, courage. I know that Dennis Gulling deserves them. I know that Theron Moore deserves them.
Poetry somehow damages you in subtle ways if you write it for very long. Little pieces of you crack off and get sucked into the poem. And, Outlaw Poetry damages you in the rawest and most savage of ways. Partly because there are no rewards, monetary, or otherwise. And, partly because the Outlaw Poem demands the rawest of scrapings from the skin, the blood, the dream and the soul of the person who writes it. However, in spite of all this, the Outlaw Poem offers, more than any other kind of poetry currently being written in this country, an opportunity to somehow alter or change the way we listen to the american voice, the way we get that voice down in words, and the way that we fundamentally talk to each other in the dark apocalyptic rooms of the republic. Outlaw is the way we tell our stories to the void and to ourselves. Outlaw because these are the dark stories, the ones we all long for.
A couple of years ago I had a dream about Dillinger. I was writing poetry in this old hotel room. It might have been the Clifton. It was the middle of the night and I was bent over an old typewriter at a rickety night table. The machine I was using was hard to work and wobbled every time I struck a key. I couldn’t go fast the way I like because the keys would stick together every so often. It was an old black steel Royal like the one in my office and now that I recall it seemed as though the story was coming right out of the core of the typewriter. The dark center of it where all the keys were all crouched and waiting for that ultimate swing up and back. The voice was pouring out quickly and the action of the typewriter was grindingly slow. But, somehow I was able to finish the poem.
I sat quietly on the edge of the bed a few moments just staring at the pages of the poem I’d spread out on the bed. After a little while there was a knock at the door. When I opened it Dillinger was standing there. When I invited him in he said he could only stay for a moment. Once inside the room, he said, “I brought you something.” He pulled a Thompson sub machine gun out from under his coat and said, “I think you deserve this.” I tried giving it back but by then he was already gone. Outside, the wind sang of the hotel’s twisted iron and nearly wrecked bricks.