Review of Charles Bukowski’s Storm for the Living and the Dead, appearing in Riot Material.
“Baby . . . I’m a genius but nobody knows it but me.” — Bukowski, Factotum
As a bottom-feeding, hardscrabble Walt Whitman, Bukowski sang of himself, incessantly, with a volcanic chip on his shoulder. He was determined to be heard, recognized, affirmed—Charles Bukowski Wuz Here stamped on Eternity’s forehead. He coerced you to see life as a cruel and dirty joke that he was in on, and often felt himself to be the butt of, and he would play the page like a blowsy stand-up comedian with too much acid in his diet. He was a living room Pulcinella with a beer-gut, a literary W.C. Fields tossing water balloons and Molotov cocktails with sardonic glee. And yet, much like a comedian whose routine never strayed too far from its chafed heart, from its wounded “bluebird,” Bukowski had the genuine knack of unlocking pathos in a single line or turn of phrase. There was a “knowing” to Bukowski’s writing, a sadness that always leaked out to soften the rough and bestial edges. Like a little kid who builds sand castles by the shoreline so as to delight not only in the act of creation but also the inevitable destruction by waves, Bukowski, in his stories and poems, would inflate his persona, only to stick a pin in and invite you to experience the deflation with him, to become intimate party to the willed ego-puncture. All of that is on display in Storm for the Living Dead, a new volume of uncollected and unpublished poems.
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