RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Charles Bukowski

The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee (W.W. Norton & Company)

The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee (W.W. Norton & Company)

Anders Carlson-Wee’s newest collection The Low Passions reframes some of the conventional American views of poverty and wealth much in the same way that Charles Bukowski, FrancEye, and Kevin Ridgeway have. In this collection, he asks us to reevaluate our conceptions of poverty and wealth, and also simply allows us to see the day to day lives of the people around us. At times, his work reminds me of all of these authors, and of Kerouac too, especially as he travels, but he is doing something beyond them as well, updating them, showing us what life is currently for so many people.

     Much of what Carlson-Wee reveals is what it takes to survive well. In “Asking for Work at Flathead Bible,” he works for a pastor as a “floater,” doing the work that he is asked to do on a day-to-day basis, and never knowing what is coming next. “It was easier to adapt than you’d think. / If I had a hammer in my hand, I pulled nails. / If I had a sheet, I found the corner” (28). Adaptation and dignity are two of the basic components of the collection. He finds ways to survive, and he thrives in those places. The people he meets have dignity as well. When his cousin passes away, he and his family find a way to bury him with the kind of honor he deserves. It’s hard to raise the money, so they find ways to make the burial more affordable: “And someone from Odegard / Funeral Home . . . gave us permission to come a day early / and dig the hole” (74). This kind of basic decency, from the diggers and the funeral home, is part of what I love about the collection. It’s often a primer on being human.

     Carlson-Wee also gives us a perspective of what it means not to be kind, not to be human. “Mark” sums up this perspective well when he writes, “Some say / we’re still on the way to human” (67). There are people with power in this collection who help others and there are people with power who try to destroy others. Perhaps, the character who will stay with me the longest is from “To the Rail Cop at Rathdrum.” Here, an officer catches the narrator trespassing in the railyard and warming himself with a fire. There is no thought of the idea that he might need the fire to survive. He simply handcuffs the narrator to a piling, and then tries to trick and manipulate the narrator into giving up his brother to be arrested too, assuming that someone else is probably with him. He threatens the narrator and tries to get him to betray his companion, all for the relatively minor crime of trespassing.

     The Low Passions is an exceptionally insightful look into the bad and good of human nature, and I was pleased to be involved with Carlson-Wee’s consciousness for the day. The vision he has given me asks me to look and relook at the people around me.

John Brantingham 28th April 2021

In An Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered by Chaucer Cameron (Against The Grain Press)

In An Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered by Chaucer Cameron (Against The Grain Press)

In this visceral, utterly essential poetry pamphlet, described as ‘part memoir, part fiction’, Cameron gives voice to what is arguably one of society’s most unheard groups: women working in the sex trade. Significantly, here is a woman’s voice in marked contrast to the male gaze of poets such as Charles Bukowski or Charles Baudelaire.

The collection’s harrowing title immediately gives a flavour of the bitter irony that characterises this poetry. There is a formidable, compelling honesty here which, combined with a deft and well-judged use of subtext, draws the reader into the poem’s world. Note the first poem, ‘128 Farleigh Road’, in which the speaker candidly observes a man lying dead at the bottom of the stairs, ‘Body Marks’, in which Caprice, Eve, Grace and Morgan speak flash in the pan images of the scars on their bodies. A palpable thread of dissociation runs throughout the book; love is ‘a forewarning of attack’, and the pamphlet’s characters ‘try to disarm you with laughter’. In ‘Cartoons’, the speaker tells of having ‘a near miss’, and of coping with this trauma by remembering her childhood spent watching The Flintstones.

Reading this pamphlet following the murder of Sarah Everard intensified the emotions stirred by the pamphlet’s narrative arc. Poems such as ‘The Green’ were all the more terrifying. Its ominous second stanza – ‘It was a dark winter evening. / Ellen still had a twenty-minute walk home’ – paves the way for the bleak declarative description of Ellen’s fate in the third stanza: ‘It took three days to discover the body, / reporters said it was hard to identify // – devoured mostly’. Ellen’s italicised thoughts surge out of the night – ‘That rustling crack closing in / must be animal.’ This line conveys what women have always known – that many monsters we encounter in life are not animal: rather, they are human. 

Of all the book’s affecting voices, Crystal’s is both enduring and particularly moving. It is rare to come across such a convincing character conveyed entirely through lines and stanzas. In ‘Switchblades’, when the pamphlet introduces Crystal, she is on the defensive. In her italicised lines, she boasts that she ‘carries switchblades’, and taunts the speaker: ‘I’ve heard you with the punters – / you’re no escort, you’re a whore’. However, several encounters in a King’s Cross Café show Crystal in various states of vulnerability. In one such encounter, she refers to her body as ‘bought and sold’. In another, she delivers a dramatic monologue in prose poem form, where she examines abortion: ‘It’s not that hard to flush a foetus down the loo, unless you listen to that claptrap from the pro-life lot…how could you flush a little beating heart down the toilet and not commit suicide when you can’t live with the flashbacks?’ One cannot help but hope that, whether her character is based on a real person to any extent, as several of these characters are, or whether she is purely a fictional character, her story ends with her, as she says in ‘King’s Cross Café (III)’, ‘getting out of this’.

The pamphlet ends with a hauntingly beautiful image, ‘It’s busy on the Thames; / Canary Wharf, I hear it sing’. This final couplet is left ringing in the air, a fleck of heartbreaking beauty among the ‘eerie’ grit of the speaker and subject’s world – ‘it’s extra cold tonight’ – and nightly rituals – inserting tampons and assuring themselves that ‘the cramps will ease with Valium’. In the pamphlet’s title poem, the speaker says of Crystal, ‘she understood erasure, turned it into artforms’, and Cameron’s poetry accomplishes exactly this. There is something remarkably compelling about not only the sparing use of language, but also the use of white space throughout the course of the pamphlet. These words emerge from a blankness onto the page, starkly, bluntly, and irrevocably said. 

Olivia Tuck 19th April 2021

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems (White Gorilla Press, 2013) is as vivid a portrait of the impact of the Reaganomics on the American working class between 1986 and 1989 as I have read, carrying within it a cinematic focus on the life and times of a wayward teenage narrator. It reads like a deranged cross between Charles Bukowski and William Wordsworth, yet draws its strength from both traditions.

 

Newman employs both long narrative poems, with precise and poignant detail, dramatic tension, and short pithy poems that reverse the narrative. He gives the reader a wide emotional access to the condition and relations of an impoverished and pressured community through direct speech, strong imagery, wide-eyed characterization and succinct dialogue. Each poem, never without wit and attitude, works to deepen the view of a striving and beaten underclass within a social malaise and economic recession.

 

Bikers, strippers, wrestlers, bouncers, psychos, drug dealers, prisoners, bowling alley and bar owners, slaughterhouse workers move in and out of the poems and leave a sense of desperation and of a bloodied economy. Newman has a Dickensian streak, and draws potent poems from the characters of the slaughterhouse, where drunk men work with chainsaws, cut the throat’s of squealing pigs, eyeballs collect over grates in the killing floor, and Crazy Ed, the world’s greatest juggler of cow balls, gets fired for fucking a 300-pound pig.

 

A Concise Lesson On The Delicacies Of Cuisine In Foreign Countries And Here At Home By Two Lifetime Slaughterhouse Employees

 

Because they threw pig eyes like ping pong balls

 

Because they pelted us with bull balls

because the testicles

were slimy and hard as rocks

 

Because I ran

and slid on a puddle of blood

 

Because a man older than my father

stuffed a testicle down the back of my shirt

 

Because there are lessons to be learned:

bull balls, they said, were a delicacy

in many foreign countries

and chefs for kings

called them Mountain Oysters

 

and the butcher wearing a funny hat

smoking a Marlboro Red

said “Foreign countries like Kentucky”

 

then asked me if I’d ever eaten any ass

 

 

The narrative blows and glistens entering into the signs and representations of the two America’s, and offers implied readings of the position of the lowest underclass, the single mother, as well as a contrast with the state of manhood and masculinity. People are used and abused by an economy based around neon sweatshirts, meat and killings. It is an honest and grim account of a vicious and fraudulent period.

 

The short poem, ‘The Worst Weed I Ever Bought’, echoes Ed Dorn in Recollections of Gran Apacheria, in its use of indirect implication and humour to convey a wider duplicitous situation. Seemingly self-deprecating, note how each line develops and turns the narrative into something else.

 

smelled great

didn’t get me stoned

and tasted delicious

in a nice tomato sauce

over angel hair pasta

 

Newman is an accomplished novelist and his narrative skills are given full rein in this powerful sequence of poems.

 

David Caddy  20th March 2014

 

Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver

Dave Newman’s Raymond Carver

Short story writer and poet, Dave Newman’s second novel, Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children (Writers Tribe Books), builds upon his oeuvre with an impressive range of humour from satire to self-deprecation through poetic word play. Like Carver, Newman’s writing exudes authenticity yet offers more than realism in its confrontation of deeper issues. The narrator, Dan Charles, struggles to find a balance between making a living to support his family and finding the energy to be creative. Deep inside working class America and the underbelly of higher education, here ‘The teachers wait tables. The bartenders teach school’ as ‘it is required that you must do to be.’

 

It’s almost weeks into the semester, and I can’t afford a bullet-

proof vest. I can’t afford anything. The students all think I’m in

charge of their lives, but I make less money than a shoe store

manager at the mall and with no job security.

 

He and his wife both have second jobs. The novel explores the concept of choice, through its use of detail, with a rigorous sense of humour that makes it lived and memorable. In the tradition of Bukowski, Carver, Philip Levine and Richard Ford, the novel questions literary and cultural assumptions with an engaging freshness about what matters most and shows that things for those with a work ethic are not as they should be. It is a novel marked by absence. Although based in Pittsburgh, the novel has a national and international relevance that elevates it beyond testimony.  Above all, it is very funny and that is recommendation enough.

Poetry Penguin

Fifty years ago this year Penguin started their series of volumes each containing the work of three poets. Penguin Modern Poets was a startling and splendidly eclectic venture than ran to 27 volumes over the next thirteen years and it says something about the faith a publishing firm had in both its readership and the value of the poets published. In 1962 the first volume must have sounded a safe note with its choice of Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings and R.S. Thomas but by the following year Christopher Middleton was there and the American West Coast scene was represented by generous selections from Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. To suggest a measure of the importance of the Penguin venture here it might be worth recalling that Andrew Crozier’s American supplement to Granta and Charles Tomlinson’s Black Mountain supplement to Ian Hamilton’s the Review did not appear until 1964. The series continued its highlighting of the Americans in 1967 with Penguin Modern Poets 9: Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams. Number 12 presented the punchy world of former San Quentin inmate William Wantling and in 1969 Charles Bukowski appeared alongside Philip Lamantia and Harold Norse. The series gave some context for the use of the word ‘Modern’ by re-issuing work by David Gascoyne, W.S. Graham (17), Adrian Stokes (23) and offering space to the more recent voices of Tom Raworth and Lee Harwood (19). It was a remarkable achievement and Geoff Ward’s comment in The Salt Companion to Lee Harwood is worth bearing in mind in terms of what it tells us about the poetry world of 1971: ‘Tom Raworth, packaged alongside John Ashbery and Harwood in volume 19 of the Penguin Modern Poets series, offers work that is broadly comparable at this early stage in its insistence on present tense actualities, rather than their ironised recovery by experience at a metrical remove.’

%d bloggers like this: