Sunday, February 25, 2007

Todd Moore: The Name is Dillinger

Reviewed by: Victor Schwartzman

I've never met Todd, but we have periodic email conversations. Todd sent me several copies of his work, "The Name is Dillinger" being the oldest. So I started there.

Where can you get this book (24 pages, all one poem)? The edition I have is from Kangaroo Court Publishing. I could not find this small press when I Googled it--it probably no longer exists. I did check out Amazon, and found one used copy available, for $57.75.

It was a surprise to read “The Name is Dillinger”. First published in 1980, it is the American gangster icon John Dillinger musing in the first person about where he is from, what he means to other people, what he means to himself (what he means to himself seems to be what he means to others). The surprise? The writing style—not lean with very brief lines, but closer to Carl Sandburg with a heavy dose of Walt Whitman and some echoes of Allen Ginsberg: musical, long flowing lines filled with rhythm, invoking a song to America. No, not a song: a chant.

Dillinger is always on the run, “gun hand in my clothes”, both living and running past life (at least, the life the rest of us know). He has no peace except in tiny moments:

Turning my rabbit’s foot between my fingers
For good luck
Turning my lady on her back
Turning down a drink just before a job
Turning my name over in my mind
My magical Dillinger name
Turing the pages of a magazine
w/an article about me
turning my collar to the cold
asking someone to turn the eggs over easy
turning quickly on the avenue
for police
turning over in bed w/handful of pistol
whenever footsteps come up or go down the hall

It is not a peaceful life. He is always on the move, and always seeing people while moving.

The poem is not just about Dillinger, but about everything around him: people, cars, those who hunt him, the women who want him for what they think he is—it’s even about farm animals. He has a mother and father—he writes some about his mother, but it is his father who repeatedly reappears, haunting him. The women he engages in fleeting encounters are phantoms, as are the FBI agents watching for him. Of other human beings, only his father stays in his thoughts, always distant, waiting for his son to come home. His mother is warmth, the sun. His father is his lost life.

The poem is long, 24 pages. At times I would start to think it was getting repetitious, that I had already read these thoughts, but just as that feeling would begin there would be a twist. It was as if Moore was playing with the reader, bringing the reader along to an expectation, then playing with that expectation to show one more side of a man everyone thinks they know, but whom none do know.

The writing style is consistent. At one point, though, the page splits in half, with a line beginning on the left, then being finished on the right, only to lead to the next line on the left. While that may sound tricky, it worked, and did not feel like a “style tricky”. Like Dillinger doing a bank robbery, Moore gets away with it (except he is not stealing anything from us, he is giving to us). So no, not tricky: but then, there are very few poets who could write an extended stanza about urinating on various objects (okay, “pissing”) and get away with it—like a Dillinger getaway.

A man defined by how others see him, by what he does—but the real man himself remaining a dark enigma.

It is a long poem but suddenly it is over, at just the right moment and on just the right note.

1 comment:

Rick Lopez said...

Kangaroo Court...

I've still got copies of the three Dillinger Volumes I published. I just started putting them up on eBay a few weeks ago. They're also on my sale list linked off my main page here :::

I've been selling a few too-- I believe I owe Todd about $13 so far.

Rick Lopez
EX-Kangaroo Court Publisher

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