Poet Todd Moore, Albuquerque resident outlaw, author of many books celebrating John Dillinger, passed away this morning in Tucson. He left behind two sons and lovely wife Barbara. We'd been friends for years, following our initial connection as poets. He was kind, gentle, wise, outlaw in spirit, generous, totally devoted to the word in all of its more fiery incantations. Dillinger was his chant, his channel, his obsession, his godfather, his endearing myth. He understood the poetry inherent in the dark side of americana, of Dillinger as pop culture icon, like Bonnie & Clyde, still fascinating sorcerers in the American mainstream mind's eye.
I remember one time visiting his home and writing room filled with wall-to-wall books and the amazing collection of historic knives. The Bowie, the Spanish dagger, you could feel Todd's vibrant imagination run wild all over the blades; they were heavy in the hand like some of his books. Freighted with myth and history. His latest, maybe his best: The Riddle of The Wooden Gun and Dead Reckoning published by Epic Rites. Small press, Tough guy titles. His words, staccato machine gun bursts that fractured the American poetic line sometimes right at the joint, the syllable, are unique in American underground letters. Uncompromising lines are used as switchblades to cut into the corrupt, alcoholic gut of the American Myth. The fascinating girlfriends and gun molls of his vicious mobsters were almost as obsessed as his anti-heroes. As they seductively stroke Dillinger's lethal .38 and coo precocious bribes into his ear, they become as iconic as his gangsters.
His real life youth was full of uncertainty, violence, and adventure.
He was generous as a mentor and one of the most enthusiastic and devoted practitioners of the art I'd ever met. Our first in-depth discussion, in Santa Fe, of course, had to do with Westerns, movies, books, outlaws; more Bill Holden in the Wild Bunch than John Wayne, the conversation always wound circuitously back to the poem. As he wrote in his essay, Machine Gun Dreams: "And if I had to write Dillinger at the expense of Literature, then fuck Literature. See, I wanted flesh and I wanted blood and I wanted dreams and I wanted death all mixed up in a wild desperado stew. I wanted that above all else."
Todd and I met for our last lunch together a couple of months ago in Albuquerque. He brought with him a few books he'd been reading. One was a thick book on the mythology of the contemporary frontier, another a slim volume on Mayakovsky. Another book I don't remember, but his excitement for them, for literature in general, was sincere and infectious. Absorbing Todd's love of books was like loving writing itself. He had a schoolboy's crush on outlaw literature.
I'm selling books on a slow afternoon in the gallery as I write this. An older gent, maybe about Todd's age has just purchased 2 classic first editions of the genre: Turmoil In New Mexico and Violence in Lincoln County. Two titles I know Todd had read. I swear, Todd is here in spirit, just maybe, sharing his vast knowledge of western history with the cosmos, overseeing this transaction; I know he's now out there somewhere, where Heaven is caretaker to wind-swept Boothills and abandoned shotgun shacks, where Dillinger has lived just as large on the edge as Todd Moore's poetry surely will.
Rest in peace, hermano.