todd moore | the dark country

They found a body in the Rio Grande today. The back of the head was blown off. Most likely by a shotgun at very close range.

I am haunted by the ghosts of the outlaw poets. I am haunted by certain lines from their renegade poems. d.a. levy stands in the doorway talking. He says, when i look for the quiet place, i sometimes find a pale horse and ride to the clouds. I love those lines and I love THE BOOK OF THE NORTH AMERICAN DEAD where they came from. I am haunted by the ecstatically apocalyptic faces of the outlaw poets. Haunted by the broken clown face of Jack Micheline haunted by the punched up potato face of Gregory Corso haunted by Tony Moffeit’s Billy the Kid’s face haunted by Kell Robertson’s weatherbeaten John Grady Cole face haunted by Mark Weber’s jazztrickster thousand riff face haunted by Michael J. Pollard in John Dorsey’s face haunted by S. A. Griffin’s pale rider’s face haunted by Raindog’s ride the dark country face haunted by Dennis Gulling’s Wisconsin Death Trip face haunted by Ron Androla’s weed and whiskey face haunted by John Macker’s Sam Peckinpah face.

Haunted by the faces and poems of all the best outlaws. Haunted by an america that is so Guernica broken it almost could never be painted again. And yet absolutely must be. Haunted by the rotting head of a coyote I once saw spiked on the top of a fence pole out in the badlands. Haunted by Doc Holliday’s Wells Fargo shotgun haunted by Billy the Kid’s Colt 41 haunted by Frank Hamer’s Browning Automatic I love you rifle haunted by all of Elmer Keith’s long magnum mother immortal dreams haunted by William S. Burroughs’ shaman danced automatic.

Haunted and in love with nightmare raving in an america of love and death hauntings. Haunted by the way Heath Ledger painted his mouth a ripped garish red for his Joker role in Batman. Haunted with everything that looks like a wound in an america where the tongue loves to go in explore the blood. Outlaw america, bullet wound america, Dillinger america.

I heard the woman being strangled by a toaster cord. It sounded more like a round of rough sex.

I am haunted when I read MALDOROR I am haunted when I read ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE I am haunted when I read BLUES FOR BILLY THE KID I am haunted when I read A SEASON IN HELL I am haunted when I read THE WASTE LAND I am haunted when I read HOWL I am haunted when I read I WANT A NEW GUN I am haunted when I read THE KID IN AMERICA. I have to read all of the outlaw american kids. I have to know where they live.

The first time I read A SEASON IN HELL I had trouble staying in a chair. I kept getting up and pacing around. I kept wanting to read the lines aloud. I kept wanting the walls to read with me. I kept walking out into the darkest corridors of the hotel to see if Rimbaud was maybe crouched in a corner with a gun in his hand. The first time I read HOWL was in a car, Dickie Boy was driving and I was reading the lines aloud to him and he kept saying Christ because we’d never heard anything like it and pretty soon I was feeding him lines and he was yelling them out the window to people on the street. When I stop to think about it now I truly believe that Ginsberg could just as easily have written HOWL in Paris and Rimbaud would have had no trouble writing A SEASON IN HELL in San Francisco.

When the next door neighbor hanged herself from a basement beam, I heard her kick the folding chair over.

And when I was writing THE CORPSE IS DREAMING I got so wired into the narrative flow that the skin on my back was starting to shake and the movement went all down my arms and I could even feel it in my hands. I could feel Dillinger’s death voice moving all over me his breath or no breath covered me and even after I stopped writing it was still going inside as though pieces of his dying had gotten into my muscles and bones was inextricably tangled into all of my dreams.

And, the whole time I remember little places in between getting the lines where I wondered what Raskolnikov would have thought about this shot to hell mumbling, where I wondered what Hemingway would have thought about this dead man talking, where I wondered if Faulkner would have gotten into the broken stream of this fractured blood whispering, where I wondered if Nietzsche would have put his Zarathustra mask on for the death death death tick of Dillinger’s raving.

In John Macker’s most recent book WOMAN OF THE DISTURBED EARTH, Turkey Buzzard Press, ten dollars, the poem Peckinpah’s Typewriter has these lines. I’ve ascribed all sorts of/snakebit tequila/mysticism to it. He’s writing about finding an old typewriter out behind his New Mexico house and imagining it’s Peckinpah’s Typewriter. All by itself, the poem stands on its own as a solid piece of work. However, on another level, the poem becomes something like one of the key metaphors for Outlaw Poetry. Inherent in that typewriter image are all the gone dreams and wrecked alphabets of a former america. In this respect the poem assumes an important centrality to any understanding of what Outlaw Poetry is all about.

And, what it is about is somehow rescuing Peckinpah’s Typewriter, even if it doesn’t work, even if all the keys have been forever rusted together. Even if the carriage is frozen and fifty years of dirt are packed inside it. Peckinpah’s Typewriter is the symbol for an older more primal american alphabet and Macker, by example, is asking us to rescue that alphabet, is asking us to revive that old fugitiveness, all those inspired “last gasp novels written/on the homicidal edge of/barstow in/motel rooms/that smell/of weaponized rhetoric &/apocalypse…” Essentially, Macker is calling for a more edgy dangerous poetry. A poetry that will to take huge chances because the stakes for writing poetry are really all or nothing.. You not only bet with your blood, you bet with your bones, your skin, your breath, your eyes.

Frankie T put the shotgun shell next to his ear, shook it, and said you can hear the powder moving around inside.

Writing an Outlaw Poem is a lot like getting into a souped up hotrod like James Dean did in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and driving to the edge. Not just the edge of the poem, but to the edge of america, to the edge of the culture, to the edge of the enigmatic american nothing with no hope no possibility of ever returning. Once you are that far out you are gone.

When I wrote DILLINGER’S THOMPSON, I let Dillinger shoot off the locks on the doors of america’s cellars. The Thompson bucked fast in his hands oblivion was buried deep in his laugh. I let him continue firing until he blew the wooden doors themselves into big jagged splinters. When he finished, I went over and picked one out of the desperado grass. Then I walked to over what was left of the cellar door and looked down the steps. Those underground rooms were swimming with darkness.

Rainey got drunk he motioned me close and said don’t tell anyone I said this but when it gets dark I can hear the preacher from THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER breathing behind the clothes in my closet and when I go to sleep he talks to me he tells me things from his dark country.

Todd Moore books are available via the Metropolis Shop Page here…

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