This edition of my column is a bit unique as the writer, Todd Moore, passed away in March 2010. But Todd Moore is an example of a man whose life and words will live for decades to come.

This edition of my column is a bit unique as the writer, Todd Moore, passed away in March 2010. But Todd Moore is an example of a man whose life and words will live for decades to come.


On the day of his death, Moore's first full-length short poetry collection "Dead Reckoning" was released. I think Moore described his work best in this excerpt of his instructions for reading "Dead Reckoning":


"I write poetry the way some people bet on roulette. I write poetry the way John Dillinger robbed banks. I do it compulsively, I do it quickly, I do it incessantly, I do it explosively because writing poetry means engaging in an act of unpredictable psychic aggression. When I write a poem I intend to assault you. I need to pull you into my long unforgiving nightmare war."


To gain perspective of the world Todd Moore grew up in requires a keyhole to the past. Moore's son, Theron Moore, created that keyhole in a compilation of his father's poems and essays about his youth - "Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves: Down and Out at the Hotel Clifton."


The Hotel Clifton in Freeport, Ill., was that place every film noire, hardboiled, private eye slept with a half empty bottle of bootleg liquor under the bed. It was a place where seedy contacts were made, deals broken, lives ignored, and where Todd Moore lived as a child with his father, a would-be gangster who did odd jobs for the Capones.


"Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves" is a snapshot of desperate and tangled lives we can't pull our eyes from. It is a boy snatching the ten-spot from the hat of man found hanged, the disposing of a murder weapon, and a brittle outlook of "you have to die if you want to dream."


Q. Theron Moore, what prompted you to create this book of your father's work?


A. There was a lot that prompted me to do this, actually.  For one thing, I had heard the Clifton Hotel horror stories growing up.  I can remember being a kid and hearing my dad, aunt and grandma talk about my grandfather’s drinking and living at that place, and this could be intense, at least to a kid’s ears, to hear those details told by the folks who actually lived it.


A few months after his passing, I was going through all of his floppy disks (60 total), organizing, and saving all of his writing and decided to take the time and really read what he had written, something I had done over the years, but not to this extent.  I found poems and essays that talked about the Hotel Clifton, his experiences living there, his father, etc. so I decided to put them all together and see what I had, and five days later, I had something like 90+ pages of poems and essays and excerpts from essays collected.


About six or seven months into the writing and editing of “Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves …” it finally dawned on me that not only was I putting together a kind of cool, film noir styled book that would showcase my father’s writing to folks outside of the small press community who didn’t know my father or his body of work, but I was also creating something of a historical document, a snapshot in time, if you will, of what Freeport, IL was like back in the late ‘40s - early ‘50s, which also doubled as a biography of my father’s childhood as well. 


Q. Your father's childhood molded his future. What did he do to ensure his children never lived as he had?


A. My father hated the fact that he and his family lived the way they did when he was growing up at the Hotel Clifton. He vowed, at an early age, that if he ever had a family, he would never subject them to that kind of life. His father was an alcoholic – some days were good, but most were bad, and my dad was a self-professed juvenile delinquent who stole and burglarized.   He knew he had two choices – he could continue living his life on skid row just existing as a professional criminal or he could make better choices – go to college and make a real life for himself.  He chose the latter, thank god.


Q. Will there be more books like "Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves"?


A. Oh, yes, a lot more. I’m actually working on editing / compiling two other books as we speak. The first book should be ready by spring of 2012. It deals with how certain segments of American pop culture have influenced the genre of Outlaw Poetry.


Beyond that, I’ll be tackling my father’s body of writing regarding “Dillinger,” which is several thousand pages of loose paper in addition to 300-500 more pages he had saved on computer disk. 


All I’ll say in closing is, if you enjoy movies like “Public Enemies” with Johnny Depp, gangster movies, or Frank Miller’s “Sin City,” you’ll really dig "Gangsters, Harlots & Thieves: Down and Out at the Hotel Clifton." Trust me, this book is right there.


DA Kentner is an author and journalist. www.kevad.net


http://www.facebook.com/pages/Todd-Moore-Appreciation-Group/405237591801 http://www.epicrites.org/todd-moore.html