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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Critiques and Reviews
Hanging Out in Bukowskiville
by Christian Prozak
Author's Links
Open All Night
, by Charles Bukowski
Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, Ca.
361 pp.

Hard to say what makes this
posthumous collection more
than the rest:

unnatural nature poems?
     (one great cat
      gits itself a wildebeest
      "his eyes like bottlecaps
      pray to the sky")
surprising surrealism?
("slowly going
      the way of witches...
      and the clouds hold nothing hidden
      in creampuff jowls...
      the devils drink from the breasts
      of stunned maids;
      it is beginning to rain:
      fleck, fleck, fleck")
daring poems pushing it?
     ("what you want to do and what you've got to do is the same thing...
      God is the invention of failures...
      the angels pissed themselves in fear.
      I am a beautiful person")
more beauty than ever expected?
     ("and it dawns on me now that
      there is nothing so beautiful and
      pure and as perfect as the well
      written line")
prophesizing omenly?
     ("the womb has spilled us into a sewer.
      new gods are needed.
      new doors must be opened")
shades of Céline?
     ("and she just sitting there with her big beer gut hanging out.
      all the other passengers were less than nothing")
plus honesty?
     ("the worst thing for me is not having somebody to talk
      to when something obvious must be said")
or critical Omnip?
     ("observation put to action
      is the essence
      of art")
or messages to audience?
     ("the reader is an
      the placenta,
      an accident,
      and any writer who
      believes otherwise
      is a bigger fool than
      his following")

Aye, Open All Night/
     Bukowski is
fear in the eyes of the bully
a final terrible beautiful whore
green dogs, dinosaur sky
honeysuckle summer madness.

Bukowski in Pictures
, by Howard Sounes
Rebel Inc., Edinburgh
153 pp.

Over the past few years there's been a deluge
of books about Bukowski
hopping on the bandwagon
of loyal readers
who'll buy anything that has the name
of their favorite alcoholic
on it.
Sounes states that Bukowski in Pictures
is meant to be "a complementary book"
to his 1999 biography
Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life

which had to leave
these pictures

this "biography in pictures"
ain't just pictures; half of it is text
providing us with some new information
mostly in the form
of irate love letters
and an FBI file.
There's nothing very remarkable about the writing
(or information, rather) though
except that the style is objective
in comparison to the other bios
and book-length essays
published over the last few years
in which personal perspective
saturates the market.

Bukowskiophiles will no doubt be intrigued
by the visual aspect of this book
in which we can see
if the leggy bimbos of his fiction
are really the "high-class pieces of tail"
he professes them to be.

Other pictures clarify
the over-described yet visually limited
(up until now) world of Bukowski:
beyond the standard shots
of a drunk old man in his underwear
there are childhood photos, family photos
car photos, apartment photos
girlfriend photos, photos of friends
wives, his daughter, his cats
bartenders, book covers
movie stars, etc.
ranging from amateur snapshots
to professional portraits.

And in almost every image of Bukowski
his stereotypical traits are there:
he is either
sporting a gaudy retro shirt
caught with the scars of acne vulgaris
or proudly brandishing
a beer.

One particularly disturbing picture
is of his first wife: a no-neck mutant
grinning in deformity.
Another shows Bukowski posing
with a fiberglass Colonel
bearing a bucket of Kentucky fried
In another he pretends
to attack a girlfriend
with a fork
as she licks his pot-belly.

We also see him taking out the trash
drinking with sundry literati
and of course, betting at the track.
Usually he is hamming it up
but in some he's depicted
as a more subtle contemplator.

Result: the strength of this book lies in its layout
which is so self-conscious
in its use of contrast
and its filling of space
that the outcome is a glossy

And whereas other books about Bukowski
have tried to rely on photos to show
the Bukowski experience (particularly Shakespeare
Never Did This
) (by Bukowski hisself)
this is the first book about Bukowski
that's thought-out enough, and striking enough
to lift the beer-bellied bard
from the gutter
               while attributing a sophistication
that American critics
have always shied away from.

Meaning that this is a good-looking book
about a not very good-looking guy
which can supply
some colorful vivid characters
to take the place of faceless names.
But then again, nobody reads Bukowski
to see the faces clearly.
What sells Bukowski
is an easy-to-relate-to
narrative voice
embellishing of drunken whores
hangovers, crummy jobs
and eventually
the rise from all this;
dredging humor
from horror.

This book is not a book that's needed
but it is a book that's in demand
(since Bukowskimania is now in full swing);
giving images
to imaginations
that want to see more.      

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