A Little About Todd Moore

Todd Moore grew up on the wrong 
side of the tracks.  His was a
world of crooks & hookers & guns
& knives.  This was in the mid-

Now he lives in ABQ, NM with his
wife and his memories and his
amazing knife collection.

He was named Lummox of the Year
2000 by the Lummox Press and 
has had three books published by
Lummox in the last two years.

Todd is also a regular contributor
to the Lummox Journal, from which
these two essays come.

From The Corpse is Dreaming

the corpse is dreaming
at the biograph theater
& the dream is a broken movie
sledge hammered into
one hundred thousand fragments
shattered like glass
& flickering
in the heat
& the dark
where was I standing when the 
first bullet hit
I need to know the precise spot
what does precise mean
what do they call this
reconstructing the death scene
& who sez that I'm dead
what is dead
is it like when yr sleeping
I can feel my bones moving
but are they my bones
what is a bone
tell me my name
where is my face
is it on the head of the other
I wish I was
I wish I was
I wish I was
father  is that you standing in 
the shadow of the horse in the barn
why are you wearing the face 
of my mother
why are you swinging that long 
stick w/the leather strip tied to the
it makes a funny crack when the 
tip hits the dark
it makes a black crack across 
the horse's red back
I used to step aside
I didn't want to get in the 
leather stick's way
you know that
you always knew that
like when you made it touch me 
& touch me & touch me & touch me 
& I didn't know
if I cd run fast enough to get 
away from the hitting
& it made raised lines across 
the side of my face & neck
what do you call them
the words have a hard time of 
coming when I call them
they don't want to be here anymore
& I'm calling them now
I've been calling & calling but 
they don't listen
can you hear me  father
I don't like it when you wear my 
mother's face & then stick it deep
inside her clothes drawer
so far away I can't find it

I want to wear it
don't you know that
didn't you ever know that
maybe you did
maybe that's why you hid it to 
keep me from ever trying it on
where is dillinger
& who is the other
I thought I used to be lawrence 
but that was before
or was it really ever
I've looked in the drawer where 
my mother's face was
I thought lawrence was in there 
I thought he was my brother
he had a face that resembled mine
I cd've sworn we were tied to 
each other
have you seen him
my mother used to call him
she used to stand on the back 
porch at night & call him    
or was that johnnie
come on home to supper
come home so she can eat w/you
or was that really my mother
I don't remember
is remember the word

is remember any kind of word at all
maybe it was my sister
& father wd put the leather stick 
way back in the barn where the dark
was a field where the black grass 
was growing
she used to call johnnie
& then the neighbors wd call 
across the field to her
& they'd talk abt weather & clouds 
& crops & the way the days were
getting long from winter & 
the dark like a huge round bullet 
I cd feel it coming & tried to 
run away
if I don't see it
if I don't see it
then it won't happen
& lawrence was calling
his voice was so pure & clear
like water I cd drink
he was calling for dillinger
but what was the reason
was the name magic
did he think something or 
someone wd appear
sometimes things happen

both inside & outside the body 
at the same time
what is the word for that
is there a word for things 
happening right now
what is remembering
how is this dreaming
when does it happen
the best dreams I ever had 
were at the movies
I'm the only one inside the 
movie theater now
the screen is empty before 
the movie begins
it's flawed where people 
have thrown things at it
there are holes in the whiteness
the color of innocence has 
been replaced by darkness
but are colors ever anything 
else except colors
pretty soon the lights go off
are those the words I want for it
does go off mean the same 
as get dark
so I will just say get dark then
like the dark of my bedroom
where my father came in
he used to say he was scared 
of the dark
then he'd crawl under the covers 
w/me & do things I don't like to
& he wd have his fingers up to 
his lips
I knew what that meant
it meant not to talk

no matter what
I learned that before I knew 
the word silence
tho in the banks I didn't 
have to do that
the guns did it for me
& now the word silence is 
going away
letter by letter
it's sliding like hot butter 
off the end of a knife
or maybe a bullet
& it was always cold the 
nights father came in
I think he brought the cold 
I think he was the cold
he brought something I don't 
want to think abt
he brought the ice
the cold was always in the dark
& of the dark
& I never called for him in the 
deepest parts of those nights 
when the
ghosts wd come
when the monsters sneaked in
because I knew he used to 
come in w/them
my face is up on the movie 
screen now
it's part of the news
I am the news
that's me shooting guns
what are they
& when I see my face I can 
somehow squirm my way right 
out of my body

Published Jan. 2000 by the
Lummox Press (LRB 20)

BLOOD AND BONE by Todd Moore

From the November 2000 issue of Lummox Journal

(Editor's note: I originally asked Todd to write a brief description of how he came to write his epic poem, Dillinger, which he has just added at least another section to. The idea was to use it to pitch Dillinger to a bigger press, so Todd can get a wider exposure - which I sincerely believe he deserves. But what he sent me was so much to the theme of the journal, that it made more sense to share it with you, for now. Todd's just stuck with the Lummox Press for a while longer. The essay follows.)

There was a time when I thought I'd be done with Dillinger, the man and the poem. But it isn't so easy to get him out of my head. And, just when he came into my head I can't say. Sometime in 1973 I think I'd been reading some of Olson's MAXIMUS and all of Mcgrath's LETTER and it seemed to me with all of the energy building inside me that I was going to write a long poem too. I knew that the way some people know they're going to write a novel. The way that Faulkner must have known about the novels he had inside him. And Hemingway. And Fitzgerald.

Only with me it wasn't novels. It was these big lines starting to rev UP inside my head. Short poems were okay and easy and I could do them in just a few minutes but for a long time I'd somehow known that a great long poem is the equivalent of a great novel. So, I started thinking of a subject. Most poets use themselves as the main characters. That kind of thing went all the way back to Wordsworth and THE PRELUDE. And Whitman's LEAVES OF GRASS. "Song of Myself" is the heart of it all. And. I wanted to write something that took a lot of breath and something that went way into the dark heart of it all.

The last thing I wanted to do was copy THE WASTE LAND. Or Berryman's DREAM SONGS. Those poems were unique, uncopyable. And, MAXIMUS is powerful in places but the main character is so vaguely drawn. I wanted a character who was absolutely unmistakable. In every thing he did. I also wanted him to be an outlaw. But not Jesse James. He'd been done so many times. Or Billy the Kid. Michael Ondaatje had done him to perfection in THE COLLECTED WORKS OF BILLY THE KID. The book is a kind of hybrid half poem half novel.

Of course, there was Dillinger. I'm not exactly sure what it was that reminded me of him. I'd heard of him first from my father. who also liked outlaws. And. I lived in the part of Illinois that Dillinger had driven through on his way to rob banks in Iowa or to hide out in Chicago. Why not Dillinger? It was like he was waving from his getaway car.

So, I got my hands on John Toland's DILLINGER DAYS and Robert Cromie's DILLINGER DEAD OR ALIVE. And, I started to read about Dillinger the way some people read about ancestors. The more I read about him the more I felt the man growing, taking shape in the house. After awhile, it almost felt like he was alive and breathing and staying in the spare bedroom. He became that real.

The first year or two that I tried writing Dillinger poems, the efforts were terrible failures because I was doing it as a poet. a kind of Robert Lowell type. And, the poet, the feeling of being the poet suffocated Dillinger. In 1976 the door blew open and Dillinger stood there. The complete man, voice and all. That's when I wrote THE NAME IS DILLINGER. And. that's when I realized I hadn't been listening. The whole time I'd been doing the talking. Now. it was Dillinger's turn. And. he knew exactly what he wanted to say and how to say it. My job was to listen and get it all down the best way I could.

It's funny, looking back now. Because all I had to do then was to relax and let the energy come to me. It's a strange thing to say. What energy? How do you do that? It's the question most beginning poets ask. How do you know what to write down? How do you know which way the line should go and where to break it?

The whole thing comes down to this. You don't know anything. But you trust in the strong sense of not knowing. For me. DILLINGER exists in several different ways. First of all. it's the image of a man. Or maybe a mask. I don't know but then I don't really have to know it all because in some peculiar way it ---the mask and man know me. They can find me.

Second, DILLINGER exists as a huge field of energy. Something that is both fireball and black hole. And. I'm not necessarily talking about Olson's theory of field here. I'm simply talking about the energy that wells up inside which is the unknown part of the poem. And, the fact of the poem. The fact that it exists as a complex of voices. The fact that I can feel the energy of the poem pulsing, vibrating, breathing, talking both to itself and to me. The fact that the poem exists and has a life of its own.

And, I can just about tell when a little piece of that energy will break off and start to drift toward me. And, I can almost always see it coming. Or, to put it another way, I can see it coming in a kind of dream state and I can almost certainly feel it coming. I'll start to get some lines and I'll start to hear the hum of a voice. Maybe it'll be Dillinger himself or some other character howling to be born. And, the words will turn into lines and then I'm sitting in front of the computer trying to get down just what is coming to me. The poem can be just that strong.

Each time I go through that experience, it's something that is almost trance like even though I am awake. It's like dreaming with the eyes wide open. And, when the feeling comes intensely, it has to be put down on paper intensely. Because the strength of the poem is equal to its intensity. And, its intensity has everything to do with the velocity of voice and dream.

I may have dreamed DILLINGER in the beginning, but now the man and poem exist along a grid of blood and bone.


(From the September 2000 issue of Lummox Journal)

My obsession with outlaws began nearly thirty years ago when I started to write DILLINGER. Just exactly what the attraction was and is hasn't always been easy to explain. I suppose the most obvious explanation is that I grew up around a lot of small time criminals. People who routinely stole things for a living. Guys who resorted to violence more easily than to talking. Life at the Clifton Hotel meant staying right at the edge of the edge. Trapped in a dead end existence.

That's one explanation. An alternative possibility has to do with the fact that I spent many an afternoon and evening at the movies watching Humphrey Bogart. Richard Widmark. George Raft. Edward G. Robinson. and Jimmy Cagney practice bank robbery. mayhem. and murder and making it look just this side of wonderful. And. keep in mind. I was a street kid with not much of a past, a cramped two room apartment to live in where the floors were rotting and the walls had holes big enough for the rats to squeeze through, and a future that held no great expectations. So. when I saw Bogart or Cagney or Raft shoot a bank president who had just taken some poor bastard's farm, I was ready to cheer.

But that was me and that was then and this is now and it doesn't account for an obsession that still holds strong almost fifty years later. The other part of the equation is that I decided to write poetry. Or, maybe I should say I decided to rewrite myself through poetry. Because that's part of the process. You have to rewrite yourself so that you can fit into the poem.

So, when I came to poetry, I was still wearing part of my outlaw self. The funny thing about poetry is that it consists of a surface and an interior. The surface is what is celebrated now almost mindlessly every April. This is the cue for the Robert Pinskys and Bill Moyers of the country to stand at a couple of thousand mikes and drone on about the power of the word and Whitman and Shakespeare and ain't it grand and go lets really read this shit guys and for another couple thousand mediocre to fair to really lousy poets to get up and white knuckle it through poems forty 1ines too long and a mile wide about mom the joy of writing falling head over heels and the goddam moon. So much for the surface and making nice and cleaning poetry up so that Aunt Ethyl and Uncle Roger can sit through a reading of Billy Eugene's novel in verse entitled DREAMING OF THE TASTE OF Z and not be outraged or have the overpowering urge to scratch balls or doze.

And, the interior of poetry. That's another planet altogether. And has nothing to do with poetry theory which is really nothing more than poetry narcissism and intellectual masturbation. Show me a theory that created a poem or better yet show me a theory more important than a poem. It doesn't exist and never did. Writing poetry theory is for those people who can't write poetry.

The interior of poetry is the country where the dreams are where the demons live. Only the better poets get there. Only the superior poets even have a clue as to what I' m talking about. If you want to write poems that matter, this is the country you eventually have to get to. This is the country of the free floating nightmare. This is the country where each dream is a republic known only to itself. Ten thousand years ago a man wiping animal blood off a stone knife knew it better than the best of us know it today. And, that's because we've tried to tame the poem. We've cleaned it up wiped its ass and blown its nose. We've crafted the wildness out of it. We've scrubbed the blood off shaved its whiskers its armpit hair its crotch hair we've either hidden or removed its pecker and its cunt we've extracted its fangs so that now when it bites all it can do is suck without giving much tongue.

We've even reached the point where the language of poetry is the enemy. Language is no longer passionate communication but rather something more like a barrage of mathematical sets rigged to stand for art objects a fractal barrage that isn't supposed to tell you a goddam thing. And, when you have nothing passionate to say, what better way is there to hide behind than a wall of language? Where is the best hiding place for the self than inside the word. Or in the silent white spaces between words. There, the self is best camouflaged with whiteness because it's mostly scrubbed clean of race and gender. Whiteness piled and stacked on top of more whiteness. The best retreat of the self is in and through the word.

The interior of poetry is where you find the self. And. you discover it in the drifting wreckage of nightmares the debris of images surviving the hundred thousand lost great epics of the universe. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and became a kind of outlaw. He also became a hero. Today. in order to be both an outlaw poet and a hero, you need to travel into the interior of poetry and steal the raw psychic stuff swirling around you. The stuff filled with the energy and electricity of the body and the brain and the blood and the soul. You need to steal it you need to bring it back you need to somehow find a way to turn that energy those fragmented images and that debris into a poem that you can read and reread and never get tired of. Because isn't that what poetry is? The stuff of words that never wears out no matter how many times you read it?

When I was a kid I used to go to the movies over and over ,just to see certain scenes and hear the way the actors spoke the words. Bogart at the end of THE: MALTESE FALCON telling Mary Astor why he was a private eye. Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT telling Rod Steiger what it felt like to be a loser. And, Spencer Tracey saying almost anything in BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. I didn't realise it then but I was living from movie to movie, just for the poetry. And, of course, there isn't supposed to be any poetry in the movies or in kicking a can or throwing a curve ball or skipping a flat stone across a river or doing eighty down a back country road. There isn't supposed to be any poetry in doing anything physical until an outlaw poet comes along and makes doing those things okay and hearing about them feel so real that the hairs on the back of your neck tingle and stand straight up. If the outlaw poet is guilty of anything it is of preserving what it means to feel human. And, of robbing the First National Bank of what's left of the goddam American Dream.

He Stalks the Internet

Todd's latest LRB (26) w/ Mark Weber: Bombed in New Mexico
From the Epic Poem, Dillinger: The Corpse is Dreaming
Bone w/RD Armstrong: Where it all began
Todd's poem about Bukowski: