This poetry book is more for the fanatic than the connoisseur of Bukowski’s work. It is sandwiched amongst his fire in the belly writing of Burning in Water, Drowning in Frame (1974), Love Is a Dog from Hell (1977) and his intense and diverse philosophical ruminations found in War All the Time (1984) and The Last Night of the Earth Poems (1992). Dangling in the Tournefortia was published when Bukowski was fifty-nine years old and his reputation was clearly established and growing exponentially.
The collection characteristically explores many of Bukowski’s favourite themes: women, gambling at the racetrack, the writing process, public readings and observations of quirky people. Sometimes you get the impression that he is writing for the hell of it. He meticulously records every event, impression, memory, wild thought- no matter how trivial, inexplicable or random. Too many poems focus on domestic, ordinary experiences such as shopping, going to restaurants, cleaning his room or negotiating with his then partner Linda.
The language in this collection seems comparatively pared down with few literary allusions or concentrated lyrical passages. The tone is typically self-effacive with a hint of cynicism. The poems are often structured to deliver a street-wise sermon at the end. The best poems are the longer narrative poems like ‘Independence Day’, ‘yeah, man?’ and ‘a poetry reading’ which evolve and surprisingly morph into unpredictable territories.
Only a few poems explore Bukowski’s working class roots, such as, ‘blue collar solitude’, ‘sick’ and perhaps one of the best poems in the collection ‘guava tree’. Chinaski, (interestingly only mentioned once in the book) Buk’s alter-ego, knows he has it good. He overlooks the ocean at San Pedro, drives a new model BMW for tax purposes and sleeps with women decades younger than himself.
I suppose that Bukowski was writing so much material at this time and struggling to cope with his rising fame that there is a complacency and lack of urgency in this collection as a whole. A few poems like ‘we evolve’ and the Cold War ‘taking care of the whammy’ attempt to rise above the temporal but most of the poems fall flat and don’t offer much apart from a perverse curiosity. Delay purchasing this book unless you have an academic interest or are a fanatic like me.