AND BONE by Todd Moore
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
may have dreamed DILLINGER in the beginning, but now the man and poem exist along a grid of blood and bone.