The Pleasures of the Damned

By CHARLES BUKOWSKI

black sparrow press was sold in 2002, renamed
black sparrow books, founder john martin retiring
and
the name of charles bukowski stripped from its catalogue.
bukowski who made martin and sparrow famous, or
was it the other way around,
or maybe
even
a two-way street?

but like their website says, “times change, tastes change, and bukowski thrives on the inside now,”
the inside being ecco press, an imprint of harpercollins,
and they
god bless them
keep over three dozen of hank chinaski’s books in print,
including the two new ones we’ll look at
here.

the pleasures of the damned: poems, 1951-1993 does a
helluva good job
of conveying buk’s range, from surreal (“the veryest”) to
to haiku-like (“Mongolian coasts shining in light”) to
of course
his dominant mode, the grittily, unprettily autobiographical.

and despite the legend of his drunkenly bashing out his stuff
(which maybe alright he did, but he also remorselessly
cut and trashed the worst midnight effusions)
these lines reveal no flab, no excess wordage,
but only a striving for taut liveliness and interest and connection,
the transcription of reality as filtered through one man’s life
and consciousness-
or in other words,
poetry’s essence.

oh sure, some repetition intrudes in a lifetime’s bunched work:
men who mow lawns are always dullards;
society and duty are always a charging bull;
life is always a horse race.
but there is more variety than sameness here,
and editor john martin’s grouping of similarly themed poems
(on a dead wife, john fante, cats, and buk’s own mortality)
makes for concentrated bursts of power.

martin also assembled the people look like flowers at last
the fifth posthumous collection, some of the poems in which
also appear in pleasures.

here we get bukowski ranging
still in vigorous form
over the whole territory of his life:
childhood, the peripatetic drunken era, the post office years,
the high tide of his
“success.”
some longer narrative poems such as
“Rimbaud be damned”
approach the narrative texture of his stories.

the sum effect of 800 pages of buk’s poetry
is surprisingly life-affirming in the face of his rep
as a cranky misanthrope.

cats, his daughter, mountains, certain writers,
beer, cigars, a lobster dinner-
these things and others shine out as beacons
amidst the desolate terrain
populated by
humans worse than beasts,
where only dodging, weaving, and feinting
through a web of words
keep a proud man sane, alive and
less lonely than otherwise.
-

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