poem by Todd Moore
In this excerpt from the incomparable epic, the Thompson sub-machine gun is our equivalent of the shamans stick, the bones flying in the air in Kubricks 2001, Lorcas waltz with death in Granada. AKA, the Tommy Gun, the Chicago Typewriter, chopper or trench broom, the machine gun sleeps at the black heart of the American dream.
Cinematic in scope, hypnotic when read, Dillinger stands as a challenge to every other American long poem published in the last fifty years. With cover art by Danger.
"This next entry in Todd Moore's epic masterwork in progress, DILLINGER, Dillinger's Thompson is an erotic journey into the American psyche masterfully achieved in verse via the voice of Dillinger's machine gun speaking in the person of the criminal icon's phallus. Exceptional, unforgettable and compelling work from one of the truly great poets of our time." -- S.A.Griffin
Also included in this volume: Machine Gun Dreams, which is the author's take on the Thompson submachine gun, the velocity of American Death, memories, movies and Dillinger... the man, the myth, the poem.
Street Date: 2002
paperback . 56 pages . 4.25x7 . with cover art by Danger . ISBN: 1-930935-25-0
Machine Gun Dreams
by Todd Moore
Memories get all tangled up with movies and feelings. That isn't history but most of the time history isn't history either. Unless Disney makes a cartoon of it or some director Pearl Harbors it into a movie. But if you want history to be personal you have to invent it or reinvent it completely. I remember watching a kid play with a switchblade while watching High Sierra. I remember shoplifting some stuff out of a five and ten just to get enough money to see The Asphalt Jungle. I remember putting a scar on a kid's face right after coming out of The Big Sleep. I remember a woman screaming just before she was strangled. Those are the events of my personal history, my skull danced dreams.
Dillinger was never anyone I knew. But I knew kids and some adults with the same kind of qualities. People who lived off and fed on dangerous fantasies. Guys who would do anything on a dare. People who were always in trouble with the law. Most of them were drifters avoiding the police. For years I lived in a hotel where marginal underworld toughs and amiable sociopaths would come and go. It was living on the cheap and dying with nothing. I didn't have to go to Paris, London, New York or LA to be down and out. I was more than down and out right at home.
So, I went to the movies to escape the hotel and I went to the hotel to escape the movies. I took me a long long time to understand that they were really mirror images of each other. And Dillinger, or dreams of a Dillinger, floated in and out of both worlds. It wasn't until I escaped from the hotel for good that I was finally able to write about it. That's when Dillinger finally began to materialize.
The historical Dillinger was an early 1930s midwestern desperado, famous for robbing banks, escaping from jails, and wielding machine guns. What he finally became in the movies, comic books, myths, legends, anecdotes and second rate novels was a powerful sexual icon. Irresistible and deadly. For awhile he was as famous as any movie star of his time. And, because he still survives in myths, legends, history and dreams, he's just as famous as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne. Even in death. Or because of death.
And, maybe you are asking why that is. It's because he became a kind of hero, even as an outlaw. Or, maybe it's because he was what every other outlaw dreamed of becoming.
While writing this poem -- which, for me, keeps going on, I made up my mind I didn't want to write something based on the old Greek epics or the Viking sagas -- I wasn't attempting to rewrite or freely translate the ancient poems. Forget Odysseus, forget Achilles, forget Beowulf this time around. Joyce wrote his version of Homer with Ulysses. Christopher Logue played the translator poet with War Music. So did Seamus Heaney with Beowulf. What I wanted to do was write my own version of an American long poem. And, I didn't want to do Maximus or Paterson either. Charles Olson was Charles Olson and W.C. Williams was W.C. Williams. I couldn't be them or anybody else. 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.
As for the Thompson submachine gun. It's the ultimate weapon of the American outlaw. Capone had one. Clyde Barrow had one. Baby Face Nelson had one. Pretty Boy Floyd had one. And, Dillinger being Dillinger, had to have one. It was inevitable as the rising of the moon.
Because the Thompson is still the classic model of high speed death. It doesn't matter what later incarnations it takes -- Sten gun, Tech Nine, AK 47. The archetypal father of the hand held fully automatic weapon is the Thompson. The Thompson in Tyrone Powers' hands. The Thompson in Robert Michum's hands. The Thompson in Paul Muni's hands. The Thompson in Warren Beatty's hands. The Thompson in El Indio's hands. What more could you ask for? What more could you want?
And, all you have to do is watch a few of the old classic movies to understand the impact the Thomson had and still has on the American psyche. Maybe the best example is that famous last battle in The Wild Bunch where three of the last four surviving members of the gang take a turn on a fully automatic Browning machine gun. Of course each man goes down in a tornado of lead, but not before he takes his share of Federales with him. The most dramatic death of all occurs when Warren Oates is pumped full of slugs. He does a balletic turn firing wildly and screaming and his scream turns into a kind of death song. It's both horrible and erotic at the same time.
Writing about the Thompson begs the question, what is the velocity of American Death? How fast does it go? Is it a shaking into or shaking out of? Dying violently is like setting your psychic house on fire. Dying violently in America is like setting a dynamite charge to all of your dreams. Dying violently in America triggers all the American last ditch stands. Custer at Little Big Horn, Jim Bowie at the Alamo, the Clanton Brothers at the OK Corral. Dying violently in America is Baby Face Nelson walking into a hall of machine gun slugs. Dying violently in America is Dillinger still bathed in all of his Hollywood dreams.
Maybe the marriage of Dillinger and the Thompson is the most subversive of all American couplings. It is one of the most extreme metaphors I can think of because it depicts the dark side of this country and this is a vision that will not go away.
© Todd Moore, 2001
published by Phony Lid Books