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Saturday, March 10, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Charles Bukowski ABSENCE OF THE HERO: Uncollected Stories and Essays, Volume 2: 1946-1992. City Lights: San Francisco, 2010.

This volume of uncollected Bukowski stories and essays is not as substantial as Volume 1: Portions From a Wine-Stained Notebook (2008) but full of gold for the Bukowski reader. David Calone’s introductory essay is erudite and demonstrates the serious tone in which Bukowski studies are now conducted. Calone provides a clear, concise overview of the context and personalities that Bukowski wrote about in many of the stories and articles which appear in this volume. He also reveals Bukowski’s deep links with the Beat writers and provides shrewd insights into the development of his writing style.

About a third of Absence of the Hero consists of reviews of books by Allen Ginsberg, Louis Zukofsky, essays on d.a. levy, Harry Norse, peace, the state of American poetry and reprints from his L.A. Free Press column Notes Of A Dirty Old Man. Probably the most appealing to me of his non-fiction writings, include ‘Manifesto: A Call For Our Own Critics’- an appeal to small press writers to develop their own language of criticism and ‘Bukowski On Bukowski’ in which he favourably reviews Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969): ‘Frankly I read my own stories in easy wonderment, forgetting who I was, almost almost, and I thought: Ummm, ummm, this son of a bitch can really write.’ In contrast, he says of reading his poetry, ‘Once I have written a poem and go back to it, I only get the sense of vomit and waste.’

Far more interesting are Bukowski’s short stories, particularly the longer ones which characteristically begin simply but branch out like cancers into other sub-strands of stories with unpredictable abandon and mayhem. The best short stories often fictionalise Bukowski’s life as a writer in his early 50s and include ‘East Hollywood: The New Paris’, ‘Vern’s Wife’, ‘The Gambler’, ‘The Cat In the Closet’, ‘The Ladies Man of East Hollywood’ and ‘The Big Dope Reading.’. The best short story in the collection is clearly ‘I Just Write Poetry So I Can Go To Bed With Girls’ which provides a deranged but affectionate portrait of Gregory Corso.

City Lights take their Bukowski uncollected stories and essays seriously and David Calonne has meticulously assembled and documented the two volumes of this series. Unlike a lot of the posthumous ECCO publications, this is essential reading for every Bukophile. 

See also my short review of Portions From a Wine-Stained Notebook here: