Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Editor: RD Armstrong
Review by Dennis Daly
Here you will find shit jobs, mad women in miniskirts, junkies, cigar smoke, insomniacs, booze, broads, swollen testicles, and despair. Sound like the world of the late writer and poet Charles Bukowski. Well it’s not. But it is an anthology inspired by him and Bukowski remains the central reference point throughout.
RD Armstrong edited this ambitious book (apparently his second attempt to get it just right) hoping to lay out the legacy and influence of Bukowski for all to see. Like their mentor’s own work many of these pieces are angry and defiant in both style and subject matter. One of their repeated targets, and deservedly so, is academia.
Michael Ford’s poem, Not Celebrity Bowling: Cerebrally Bowling, goes right to the heart of it,
spare me the hypocrisy of the gutless rituals of
anthologized poetry; English Department ivory
tower cowards publishing what they have turned
the art of poetry into: bubbles on a fat vat full of
Mark Terrill puts it another way, but no less effective, in his poem Bukowski: 3/10/94,
..there are the
Great Living Poets
the Great Dead Poets
and then there’s me
another two-bit guttersnipe.
In an obscenity- laced poem, appropriate to the book, FN Wright’s Bukowski and Me makes the point that the underside of culture where Bukowski found his muses is not only alive and well but still a suitable setting for intense poetry,
I attract bad women
catholic girls gone bad
& Baptist minister’s
fond of me
I am not
a great poet
but I’m damn good…
My Comrades, a poem by Joe Speer with a provocative title, needles the literary establishment. Speer allies the underclass, non-elite writers with luminaries such as Sir Thomas Malory, a prisoner, Cervantes, impoverished, Thomas Hardy and Emile Proust, self-publishers, William Faulkner, a rum smuggler, and others. He details his points of comparison thusly:
this one teaches
that one lives with his mother and cat
another pencraft master takes drugs, non-prescription
and cleans house as his wife earns a living.
In other words, here are poets from the real world, not that rarified artificial world of artsy-fartsy elitism.
Poets, who emerge from this seamy world of damaged creative people, have advantages. In order to measure out the truth, they lie better than most. And that is only the beginning of it. Ellaraine Lockie in her clear-eyed telling poem, Poets at Any Price, says,
confessor, friend or family …
I tell you
Because I’ve been truth’s victim
Verbal accounts reiterated
verbatim in someone else’s poem
Secrets exposed as sonnets
Composites as transparent
as the silk panties I wore…
Plato was right: never trust poets.
The world of Bukowski and his acolytes is reduced to a piece of bruised fruit in an interesting piece by Doug holder entitled, It Is Late and the Fruit Is Bad. Beware there is a little bit of DH Lawrence’s poem Figs here. Holder’s persona chooses to eat in a way not acceptable in polite society. He says,
I take its flesh
deep into my mouth
digest the ferment
of its rotten skin
cut the lights
Cutting the lights seals the deal. We are among the vulgar. Not just everyman seeking satisfaction and a high, but an artist, who, even in miniature, meticulously records the truth of his appetites. If eating rotting fruit this way seems vaguely licentious, eating rotting fruit in the middle of the night in the dark seems downright obscene.
Another all-nighter was had by G. Murray Thomas. In his poem, To the Editor Whose Name Will Appear on my Next Rejection Slip, the poet says,
I sat up all night
and going over my
searching for one written
in the cheap…
The poet tries to match expectations of a Bukowski –like poem. He finally gives up, becomes himself again and writes this poem chronicling the process. I wonder if the rejection letter he expected was from this very anthology.
Breaking the mood, but not the context, the short story by RD Armstrong, Two Drink Minimum, grabs you with its great musically obscene refrain. The refrain breaks up the story of a construction job gone bad. Add the battle of the sexes and the result is a hilarious read.
Another one of the stories is an odd but serious piece by John Macker, called Not Too far From the Maverick Bar. The protagonist has packed his dead dog’s body in dry ice and trekked into the desert to bury him and seek redemption. The story takes a neat and satisfying turn at the end with Bukowski doing a cameo.
I found all the essays interesting, but one was especially memorable, A Buk Remembrance by Michael Meloan. Three quarters of the essay describes the legendary Bukowski alit with booze and on a rampage. The last quarter portrays a thoughtful, workaholic, with more than a touch of irony in his pronouncements.
That Charles Bukowski would really get a kick out of this book.