todd moore | outlaw poetry, psychic damage, the survival of wounds

Despite the fact that Tony Moffeit wrote a book entitled POETRY IS DANGEROUS, THE POET IS AN OUTLAW, is poetry really dangerous, is the poet really an outlaw? I’d like to think so though I’m pretty sure John Ashbery’s poetry is not really dangerous and John Ashbery is not really an outlaw. Louise Gluck’s poetry is not really dangerous, Louise Gluck is not really an outlaw. Ted Kooser’s poetry is not really dangerous, Ted Kooser is not really an outlaw. Billy Collins’ poetry is not really dangerous, Billy Collins will never be an outlaw. And, I suppose I am loading the dice here because these poets are all mainstream, they all have the establishment’s seal of approval, they are icons of the safe, the politically correct, the untaboo.

I want a poem to be a little more like the monster in the closet. You know it’s in there just waiting to be let out. And, sometimes you can hear it calling to you, whining and crying to be released into the psychic burn. But, you’ve been warned in no uncertain terms to open that door. You’ve been told that it’s both beautiful and dangerous, homicidal and loving. And, the door is calling you. The door is like the first words of some Outlaw Poem calling you to put it in your mouth, to taste it and let it eat you up bones and all. And, you reach for the door knob.

writing poetry

a little
the wolf
in the
you get
you get

What I want is poetry that is enormously dangerous. What I want is poetry that will really scare the everlasting shit out of whoever reads it. I want poetry that will definitely be 86’d at Carnegie Hall, the Poetry Foundation of America, and the Library of Congress. I want the poem to be as palpable as a Glock 40, a stainless switchblade, a baseball bat to the frontal lobes. I want the kind of poetry that will not only heal you but hurt you deeply, wound you in ways that you have never been wounded before.


for playing
russian rou
put the
in an
spin the
3 times
cock the
back lick
it off for
luck &
the black
taste of
take a
very deep
let yr
finger fall
in love
the way
the shock
of the
kill you

I want a poem that threatens the reader with psychic damage the way that a 45 auto could take out the eyes. I want a poem to be so dangerous that just the simple reading of it could take you right to the existential brink of whoever or whatever you are or could ever hope to be. I want a book of poetry to be as lethal as a razor to the jugular. This time a nick, the next a slash. I want to see a book of Outlaw Poetry to be so dangerous it might bear this warning: Reading this book could be dangerous to your mental health.

I want an Outlaw Poem that might have knocked Nietzsche back on his ass. I want an Outlaw Poem that could have given Roberto Bolano his worst nightmares ever. I want an Outlaw Poem that would send Charles Bukowski straight to the shittiest bar in the world and on the way have him mumbling, I wish to god I’d have written something like that. I want an Outlaw Poem that William S. Burroughs might have written right after he blew Joan Vollmer’s head off with a drunken automatic.

And, I don’t want any philosophy involved in the writing of Outlaw Poetry. No hint of an Andre Breton manifesto, though I will take the blackest wildest most incoherent of rants from Antonin Artaud. I don’t want any rational justifications for the writing of any kind of poetry, let alone Outlaw. No polite excuses. No chickenshit poetics. Just give me the blood dance psychic act of writing an Outlaw Poem all by itself.

And, I don’t want Harold Bloom anywhere near Outlaw Poetry. Or Theodor Adorno or Walter Benjamin. All they’ll do is fuck it up with theories. All theories do is weigh the poem down with so much unintelligible intellectual freight.

In BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid is getting all set to target shoot a stone when he says, Can I move. Movement is the essence of Outlaw Poetry. Movement like when you are getting ready to blow something up. Movement like when the poem is all movement and you are flying through the space and time of it at the speed of psychic light. All theories are bankrupt. Or, is this just one more theory? If it is, it’s totally Outlaw and anything but bankrupt.

We are living in the first decade of the twenty first century, but in poetry we may as well still be stuck twenty years from the end of the twentieth century. All the same tired old strategies in poetry remain in evidence. All the same old kinds of boring poems continue to be published in the same old boring poetry journals. Where are the powerful revolutions of the word? We’ve had Modernism. It’s dead, though elements of it are still floating in the air like blown scraps of paper. And, Post Modernism? There are still fragments of its shrill artificial laughter echoing somewhere.

But, where is the essential poetry? The poetry that longs to be released from the blood. Those poems and those books you can’t wait to get to the bookstore to buy, you can’t wait to crawl into the quietest corner of some coffee house or bar or restaurant or library nook to read as though you are reading some bloody tracks left in the sand or splattered along the cement or splashed through the grass. Where is the kind of poetry that you would rush across town through a riot zone or a crime scene or a catastrophe to get hold of and then read as though you are reading a ransom note or a declaration of war. Where is the poem you would read the way you read the current best thriller? Where is the poem you would read breakneck and almost breathlessly the way you would read a very great novel?

the first

slug got
lorca in
the mouth
& knocked
away his
lower jaw
the next
3 blew
out his
eyes &
when he
he was
a poem

Personally, I have yet to find a book of poetry quite like that so I have been writing DILLINGER the way Pasternak secretly wrote DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, the way that Dostoevsky nocturnally wrote THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, the way that Orhan Pamuk wrote SNOW while being watched by agents of the State, the way that Camus wrote THE STRANGER while still searching for blood in his spit, the way that Melville wrote MOBY DICK inside a circle of harpoons, the way that Faulkner wrote AS I LAY DYING on the lid of a handmade coffin, the way that Cormac McCarthy wrote BLOOD MERIDIAN dreaming of scalps. I do it subversively, I do it clandestinely, I do it in a fury of scabs and festers, I do it in a crowd of death sentences and firing squads, I do it darkly at the center of deathkisses and blood. A powerful book of poetry is kind of like a wound. You want it to heal but some part of you wants it to still be a wound. We also survive by our wounds.


rather start
a poem
bomb go
ing off
than a
from franz
or theodor
guns have
a way
of talking
to ma
chine guns
& burning
lights up
the wolves

Todd Moore’s books are available here… and Tony Moffeit’s here…

0 Replies to “todd moore | outlaw poetry, psychic damage, the survival of wounds”

  1. Another front for the artist to fight through this outlaw poetry. You better vote once in awhile, demonstrate on the street sometimes, or do some other act in the world besides poems.

    Poets like Julia Kasdorf, who spirits language with life, real living the way folk love and live, are more outlaw than this ruthlessly experimental and so called outlaw poems.

    True outlaws die young or in jail; maybe some write poems.

  2. I rather loathe this continual banter of establishment poets or lambasting a figure as part of the patriarchy–a poet is good or isn’t who cares who likes them. Many so called establishment poets are as much outlaws as any outside it. I prefer the idea of prophet to outlaw and so would begin with Isaiah, Ezekial and Jeremiah and let’s not forget the Prophet of the Greeks-Euripedes. Milton was surely an outlaw (was threatened by the state to be drawn and quartered for his phamphlet supporting regicide) and is the father of the prophetic spirit in the English Romantics. From there I would assert Blake and Shelley, others might include Rimbaud, the dark solitary figure of Thoreau, Whitman, Neruda, Lorca…there’s a start.

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