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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review: Melanie Villines (Editor) BUKOWSKI: AN Anthology of Poetry & Prose About Charles Bukowski. Silver Birch Press, Los Angeles, 2013. (272 pages)

This is a diverse compilation of poetry, memoirs, stories, interviews, essays and black & white portraits about the life and work of the American writer Charles Bukowski who died in Los Angeles almost twenty years ago. Close to one hundred pages of material has previously appeared in small press publications such as Lummox Press.

In her short introduction, editor Melanie Villines makes clear the intention of this book: “The point of this collection is to put our collective thoughts, feelings, and impressions together, share our stories, our poems, our portraits, and join in our joint missing of Bukowski. Now whenever we feel the pang of Buk’s absence, we can pick up this book and connect with others who feel the same way.”

Find Villines’ introduction and a list of the contributors here:

BUKOWSKI: An Anthology of Poetry & Prose is divided into eleven loosely themed chapters: Hank & Me, First Person, The Poet, The Artist, Collecting, Spirits, The Track, Women, Readings, The Typer and Don’t Try.

The strongest work includes poetry by Harry Calhoun, A.D. Winans, S.A Griffin, Henry Denander, Adrian Manning, Dirk Velvet and the article ‘Carl Weissner: One Hell of an Amazing Human’ from Joan Gannij’s forthcoming book My Real Life Encounters with Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller: Mythical Dirty Old Men of the Printed Page. Also impressive is Wendy Rainey’s interview with Gerald Locklin about his thoughts on Bukowski, including his films and posthumous books- although it seemed to end prematurely.

Personally, I enjoyed reading best David Stephen Calonne’s excellent extended essay ‘On Some Early Bukowski Poems: The Genius Emerges.’ Through a close reading of a “remarkable range” of Bukowski’s early poems, Calonne forcefully establishes what he set out to do. As he states in his conclusion, “I hope I have demonstrated in this essay that Bukowski- through both his natural literary talent as well as the impact of his early traumata, mid-life health crisis and ceaseless attentive reading of world literature (Catullus, Li Po, Tu Fu, Celine, Artaud, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, Turgenev, Saroyan, Fante, Heminway among many others) – transformed himself into a great writer.”

There are a couple of satirical digs at Bukowski, such as Jared Carney’s ‘Not Called Hank’ but usually the writers are huge fans and keep their gloves off him. Even Rene Diedrich’s poem ‘Bukowski Was an Asshole’ turns into a tribute. Perhaps the most damaging piece to Bukowski’s character is Karen Finley’s memoir ‘An Affair to Remember.’ Bukowski is represented as a vain and indifferent partner and when Finley tells him she is pregnant, he tells her to get an abortion because he believes it is Richard Brautigan’s kid. 

Bukowski was suspicious of people who claimed they knew him and wrote David Reeve in 1991: “Lots of women claimed to have fucked me. Well, lots of them have. But those who have don’t talk about it much. I’m just not that good. Not many sweaty horse fucks in my bag. I could go on and on. People who claim to be my friends. People who claim they have gotten drunk with me. People who claim they have beaten the shit out of me. Well, there are plenty of those, but those who really have done it know that it’s no great thing.”

I wonder what Bukowski would think of this re-imagining of his corpse? I guess he’d be wryly amused but he’d be too busy recycling his own shit to read it.