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Monday, December 19, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Charles Bukowski New Poems: THE PEOPLE LOOK LIKE FLOWERS AT LAST. Edited by John Martin, Ecco, New York, 2007 ( 299 pages).

This is the 42nd of 44 books Ecco has published of Bukowski books, and without hesitation, I  would rate The People Look Like Flowers At Last at the bottom of the barrel of their posthumous poetry collections I have encountered thus far.

The Ecco books are printed on poor quality paper and while reading, the feel of the flimsy plastic like cover can sometimes send an uncomfortable shiver up your spine. If you are a Bukophile- sure you are going to enjoy this book. And granted, there are about twenty fine poems in this collection. The best are characteristically the longer anecdotal poems from the creative bank of Buk’s great repertoire of experience, both real and imagined. My personal favourites include ‘beef tongue’, ‘the dwarf with a punch’, ‘don’t worry, baby, I’ll get it’, ‘kissing me away’, ‘two kinds of hell’, ‘contributors’ notes’ and ‘sun coming down.’

The poem ‘the great debate’ perhaps sums up this volume best. Bukowski's alter-ego Chinaski receives the latest book from a friend he used to admire for his ‘crude, simple,/ troubled’ writing. But since his friend has become a university lecturer he considers his work ‘very pale’ and ‘spread across the page/ like a mist/ filling it/ but saying/ very little.’ Although his friend is now ‘a successful writer’ Chinaski believes he ‘no longer enflamed his readers’, ‘never made/ anybody/ angry/ disgusted/ sad’, ‘never made/ anybody/ feel the rush of wonder/ while reading/ it.’ It’s probably my critical eye and my familiarity with Bukowski’s work- but it is easy to draw ironic parallels with the speaker’s views and with this sad, inferior book of poetry. Many of the poems begin promisingly but often remain sketchy or fall flat on their face. But then again, who am I to question the merit of Buk’s posthumous work? I am a mere adherent presently suffering the effects of the over consumption of his dead vibes- having closely studied fifteen of his books this year.

The best previously unpublished Ecco collection of Bukowski poetry is easily Come On In! (2006) followed by The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain (2004) and much further lagging in merit is what matters most is how well you walk through the fire (1999) and then the stolid BONE PALACE BALLET: New Poems (1997).

Compare this with  the reader survey found here where you can cast your own vote:

For the full ECCO list of books search here:

Update: Also see my review- The Best & Worst of Charles Bukowski's Posthumous ECCO Poetry Books: