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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York City.1999. Edited by Alan Kaufman. 685 pages.

"Outlaw Poetry, basically, is a stance against academia and the writing degree establishment. Outlaw Poetry is also a stance against the politically correct in poetry. Outlaw Poetry comes along at a time when the arts in general and poetry in particular are moribund, stale, boring, cowardly, candyassed and dead." —Todd Moore

This book of ‘outlaw poetry’ is the best collection of alternative small press work I have ever read. This is a sprawling, motley collection of rebellious, non-conformist verse. The editor and poet Alan Kaufman set this book in motion after the death of his friend- the beat poet Jack Micheline in 1998. It successfully assembles for the first time in one volume the greatest outlaw voices of the post-war period.

The collection is mammoth and from a variety of diverse voices & is structured through loose, highly arbitrary categories: American Renegades, Slammers, Meat Poets, The Barbarians, The Carma Bums, The Unbearables and the like. You will also find largely tokenistic contributions by cultural icons, such as- Jimmi Morrison, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, Richard Brautigan, William Burroughs, Ken Kesey & many others.

I first came across this book about ten years ago and was able to read in one hit literary legends such as d.a. levy, Harold Norse, Jack Hirschman, A.D. Winans, Todd Moore, Gerald Locklin, Jack Micheline, Steve Richmond and many others for the first time. One of the book’s weaknesses is that it includes too many minor writers without giving due significance to others, such as, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Snyder and especially Charles Bukowski, whose estate, according to the writer John Bennett, was demanding more than the $250 paid to the other contributors.

In the opening acknowledgment section of the book, Kaufman praises Neil Ortenburg, the publisher of Thunder’s Mouth Press, for providing adequate space for his literary bible: ‘Most editors starve a book; Neil said, “Let’s double its size!’ This generosity allowed for the vast and unprecedented sampling of about 270 poets in this book.You probably won't enjoy every poem but you will have to admire the energy and the spirit of personal expression and rebellion evoked throughout.

These aren't the voices of nerdy wanna-bes sitting behind the comfort & anonymity of their personal computers & MFAs. These are authentic voices of those who have lived the life of street 'warrior-artists'. This stuff is real, raw, with nothing held back. Everything is permissible, with no subject taboo- explicit sex, drug taking, homosexuality & the measured scalping of mainstream values & cultural icons.

If you are unfamiliar with ‘outlaw’ verse and not riveted to your ways of thinking, you will find this book fun, fascinating, daring, exhilarating.

You can find some affordable copies of the Outlaw Bible on amazon here: