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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: Jory Sherman Bukowski & Me: The Beast and the Bastard. Rebecca J. Vickery Publisher, 2011 (178 PAGES).

Jory Sherman is a renowned writer of Western novels and short stories but he began his literary career as a poet in San Francisco’s North Beach in the late 1950s. Editor Evelyn Thorne of Epos first introduced Sherman to Charles Bukowski's poetry and he was immediately impressed, “Bukowski is an original. I have never read anything like it. It’s raw, rough, crude but oddly beautiful.” At the time Bukowski was starting to appear in small magazines but Sherman had not yet been published.

Thorne gave Sherman Bukowski’s address on Mariposa Street in Los Angeles and they corresponded in 1960-1961. In Bukowski’s first letter to Sherman in 1960 as documented in his Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960-1970 he writes, “you are to my knowledge, the best young poet working in America today.”

Sherman notes in his memoir that “Bukowski’s letters reeked of cheap booze and the rancid sweat of whores”. He admired how “Bukowski had a way of starting at one simple point, an observation of some ordinary event, and taking the poem in a new direction almost before one knew it.”

In his nine letters to Sherman in Screams, Bukowski discusses a range of issues, including Pound’s Cantos, the poet Lorca, how he thinks he is “written out”, & how he saw a bird in the mouth of a cat while driving home from the track, an image which later appears in several of his poems. The most notable letter to Sherman, Bukowski at age 41 (1961) reveals his poetics: “I have just read the immortal poems of the ages and come away dull. I don’t know who’s at fault; maybe the weather, but I sense a lot of pretense and poesy footwork: I am writing a poem, they seem to say, look at me! Poetry must be forgotten; we must get down to raw paint, splatter. I think a man should be forced to write in a roomful of skulls, bits of raw meat hanging, nibbled by fat slothy rats, the sockets musicless staring into the wet ether-sogged, love-sogged, hate-sogged brain, and forevermore the rockets and flares and chains of history winging like bats, bat-flap and smoke and skulls ringing in the beer.” In contrast, Sherman’s memoir is pared down, simplistic, as if the swarm of events have deserted him like flies after fifty years.

In one of the more memorable chapters “Meeting Bukowski’ he describes meeting the writer for the first time. He comes away dazzled, “I sensed that I had met a great poet, a man who could carry out his desperate desire to dominate the literary magazines. He had something that none of the other poets had- a deep and penetrating sense of life and a way of bringing beautiful lilies to the surface of a cesspool.”

For the most part, however, Jory Sherman’s memoir is overly general and without dates or documentation and he usually states the obvious about Bukowski. In chapter 5 ‘Back to the City’, for instance, he writes, “as far as I knew, he always drank beer when he wrote and it seemed to be the key to his creativity, as if alcohol suppressed all of his inhibitions and whatever shyness he may have possessed.” Or in Chapter ‘Charles Becomes Hank’, "Hank hated the job, but he knew he had a higher calling. He dreamed of becoming famous and getting out of the post office, away from the constant breath-sniffing and watchful eyes of guards and his supervisor.” To the seasoned Bukophile, Jory Sherman Bukowski & Me adds little to what is commonly known about the legend.

It wasn’t until page 90 that I felt I learnt something new about Bukowski- and even this information is heavily qualified, “ As far as I knew, Hank did not own, nor would ever use, a flyswatter. He had a tenderness in him that was more disposed towards animals than people.” The reader might also find mildly interesting Sherman’s recount of two fist fights he had with Bukowski in the chapter “The Rage & The Blood” near the end of the book.

Sherman himself admits in Chapter 16, memory “lies and cheats, it deceives, dissolves, hibernates and reincarnates, often in different forms. A memoir, such as this, deals with memory, and time flits in and out of memory with abandon, mixing up times and places, reshuffling all the memory banks into a muddle of confusing images.”

There is also a cautionary note on the licensing notes and copyrights page which states: “Bukowski & Me is a memoir based upon the remembrances of the author. Not intended as a biographical work, all accounts, correspondence, and facts are the contribution and responsibility of the author and have been related as accurately as possible.”

The book is not solely focused on Sherman’s relationship with Bukowski. He discusses his early artistic life and how he has met dozens of interesting  people such as Sam Peckinpah, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Richard Brautigan  and others.

Sherman amazingly appears during Bukowski’s most critical moments. He gives Jon Webb Bukowski’s address which leads to the publication of his first book It Catches My Heart In Its Hands. When John Martin asks Buk to quit his job at the post office, he asks Sherman for his advice. When Bukowski first began writing his Notes of a Dirty Old Man column he took along Sherman who introduced him to an old acquaintance, the editor John Bryan of the Los Angeles Free Press. When Bukowski’s first wife Jane died, Sherman was there to hear his anguish and grief. Sherman was also there to hear the news, “Jory, Martin wants me to write a goddamned novel.”

Probably the best chapter of the book is Bukowski’s ‘Introduction’ to Jory Sherman’s poetry book My Face in Wax. Buk doesn’t reveal much about the book but uses the review as a platform to rant on about his poetics: “When I run my hand across a page of poetry, I do not want oil and onionskin. I do not want slick bullshit; I want my hand to come away with blood on it.”

Sadly, after Sherman published a short memoir on his relationship with Bukowski  Friendship, Fame and Bestial Myth (Blue Horse) Bukowski disowned Sherman and never spoke to or ever wrote him again. In his last letter dated 18 June 1979, Buk scathingly writes to Jory: “I don’t know why but somewhere, somehow you’ve gotten it into your head that we have a friendship going, that we are comrades. We don’t and never have. It was always you who knocked at my door and it was always an intrusion. The reason I have not answered your letters is that I’m not interested and never was.” HANK. The book has been long out of print but it would be interesting to read what shitted-off Bukowski.

Overall, Jory Sherman’s memoir about his relationship with the American writer Charles Bukowski is a disappointingly shallow and unremarkable book. It is overly general and largely devoid of specific dates or details. Give it a miss even if you can’t get enough of Bukowski.

Here is Jory Sherman’s website: