Bob Dylan famously quipped “In order to be an Outlaw you’ve got to be honest,” and that paradox is at the heart of why the genre of Outlaw poetry is so powerful and relevant. At the heart of being outside the law is an eagle-eye perspective on what it takes to survive using one’s wits, natural reserves, and ingenuity. It is a situation that inherently involves creative solutions to problems that probably don’t even exist for others. So, in Outlaw poetry we see narratives about people making the best out of situations that would be above the pay grade of others. Sure, often those solutions lead to mayhem, disorder, bad decisions, and ultimately, self-destructive behavior, but as a reader those decisions can be extremely entertaining.
Take for example the new book The Blood Dark Sea by Outlaw Poet Dennis Gulling. He is one of the great undiscovered poets of the Midwest. In fact, after nearly thirty years of small press infamy, The Blood Dark Sea will be gulling’s first full-length collection of poetry. And what a collection. One hundred pages of his greatest hits from his poems written under the tutelage of Outlaw Poetry founder Todd Moore to last month, it is 25 years of greatest hits.
In The Blood Dark Sea we have one hundred stories of small timers finding themselves in bad places at the wrong time, but entertainingly so. Their misfortune is definitely the reader’s gain, as the German concept of schadenfreude is raised to an art form by this poet and his keen observation and detailing of the worst moment’s in other peoples’ lives. But it’s not simply prurient gaping at lowlife and bad decisions, there are no judgements here. Gulling delivers his poems like short, unexpected bursts of gunfire in an idyllic suburban afternoon. There is truth in the lives of these people. A truth that is ever bit as honest as the corrupt lives of bankers, movie stars, and politicians, but what these people do not enjoy is the safety net of knowing their actions will be condoned, forgiven, or expunged from the record by a team of lawyers. They must accept swift and brutal justice without flinching or making excuses. And in an almost noble way, they do.
The Blood Dark Sea will be available from Zombie Logic Press in April, 2016. In these poems readers are sure to find an unflinching honesty that has an almost documentary feeling to it. Dennis Gulling is a poet who pulls no punches, writing in a genre where phonies are quickly rooted out. This is the real deal. A crime noir movie of a book introducing the reader to legions of interesting characters who never seem to be anything but genuine and we empathize with them no matter how much we cringe at their bad choices. So, whether one reads these poems with a prurient interest, or whether one takes them as cautionary tales, there is an opportunity to learn from the bad example while simultaneously being entertained by it. We do not get a chance to know the innermost thoughts of feelings of the characters in his poems, because we do not need to know in order to identift with them, and their mistakes.