Lummox Journal


Deadly Earnest

A review of Todd Moore’s 2 newest Dillinger books by John Yamrus

 RELENTLESS and TELL THE CORPSE A STORY are available for $7.00 each, U.S., from: Crane’s Bill Books (1907 Buena Vista SE 11 Albuquerque, NM 87106)

     Let me be up front about this; I’ve admired Todd Moore’s poetry for years now.  My enjoyment of his poetry probably goes back farther than 1980, but I can’t prove that.  What I CAN document is that the oldest of his books that I currently have in my library are ACES AND EIGHTS and DRIVING, which are from 1980 and ‘81.  I’m sure if I took some time and dug through my shelves I’d find something older.  That being said, it’s been interesting to watch how his lines have managed to change over the years, while in many respects remaining remarkably the same.   It was clear from the beginning that Moore is a writer with a distinctive voice of his own.  Not only that, but that voice actually had something new to say.

     Without a doubt, when his poetry comes up in discussion, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is his lifelong obsession, a series of interconnected yet independent books, magazine publications and as yet unpublished manuscripts commonly referred to as The Dillinger Poems.  This epic series of poems (which was begun in 1976) attempts to portray the 1930s gangster and sometime folk hero, John Dillinger, as a flesh and blood individual, as well as an archetypal figure straight out of American history.

     The two newest additions to the continuing series are short chap-books, both published by Crane’s Bill Books, out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I have no way of knowing which book should follow next in the saga, but it doesn’t really matter, because as I see it, each volume is intended to be complete in and of itself.

     The first book that I opened was RELENTLESS, which is just one long poem, without even a stanza break, from beginning to end.  At times, it appears to be written in the voice of Depression Era killer Baby Face Nelson, who in this poem is slowly and surely coming apart at the seams.  Technically speaking, Moore’s lines are laid out very narrowly on the page, with each line being no more than three words…more often, just one or two.  And he has the most interesting way of exposing the words on the page, sometimes breaking up individual words and wrapping them from one line to another:


& hates

him be

cause ba

by face

knows abt

the 2 kinds

of love


     He doesn’t do it often, but he does it just enough to make you wonder about his intentions, because over the years I’ve come to understand that every word Moore writes is put on the page with cold-blooded intent.  It’s almost like he’s trying to force the reader into looking at the words themselves in new ways…trying to find new or different meanings in them, much like you’d examine a precious stone, turning it this way and that…looking at it under different kinds of light to see just how it reacts.  I think that’s also part of the reason he keeps returning to Dillinger as a source for material and inspiration in the first place.  It’s like he’s saying “here, try this…”, or “what do you think of this?”

     You think you’d get bored having Moore revisit Dillinger year after year as he’s done, but that’s the remarkable thing about this never ending saga…Moore is a writer of great talent and he always manages to make it feel fresh.

     As for the other little volume, TELL THE CORPSE A STORY, it’s another slim chap of 18 short poems, none of which is much longer than about 30 narrow, deadly lines.  There’s absolutely NO waste here.  Remember, this is Dillinger we’re talking about, and there’s a Depression going on.

     It’s kind of hard to put into words why these poems continue to resonate and fascinate year after the way they do.  The poems are as interesting and brutal as Dillinger himself.  Take this one for example:


 on the

 way from

the car to

the bank


turned to

makley &

sd you

ever see

gable use

a machine

gun in a



took a

hitch in

his pants


the 45

auto &

sd not

that i


of does

this mean

yr still


of holly



had the


gun out

& the bank

door open

when he

grinned &

sd don’t

fuck w/

the dream 

     What else can you say other than this is a writer in total command of his talent.  And what else is there for you to do, but sit back and enjoy.  In this dawn of the 21st century…in this time of weak, watered down poetry, you can take a minute and travel back with Moore to a time when life was lean and hard and mean…just like this poetry.  I could talk on and on about the ongoing wonder that is (or are?) The Dillinger Poems, but you’re much better served going straight to the source and letting Moore and his poems do it for you.  These books aren’t very expensive, and they’re not very long, which is why I’m not quoting extensively from them.  Moore’s been on the scene writing top notch poetry for over 30 years now.  If you don’t happen to have any of his books in your library, then now’s your chance to rectify that situation. 

John Yamrus 4/16/08


Love at Gunpoint by Nila Northsun
R. I. Crow Publications
71 pages - $12 

I read LOVE AT GUNPOINT and it's a corker.  She's got a good, solid voice and can write about hell-raisin' or child-raisin' with equal fervor.  She writes about life on and off the Rez, sometimes poignant, sometimes with a biting satire, but always with just the right amount of wry humor.  I recommend her book.  You can order it through your local bookstore and at $12 it's a steal.  Here's one of my favorite poems:

cowboy fire

on nights like tonight
when i'm burning brush piles in the backyard
& the barbed wire fence and fence post
reflect the warm glow of fire
i fantasize
that a cowboy would approach
from the darkness
from the moonless night
from the crisp starlit night
that a cowboy walking his horse
would crunch the underbrush
& make me scared
i saw his familiar face
bright in the flaming light

& it would be you
that would be enough
just to see you again.