One look at the ‘also by this author’ page at the front of this book is wholly intimidating to any would-be or actual poet. I count 33 titles listed. What an output! And these are just the books! This book, ‘what matters most is how well you walk through the fire’, contains about 200 poems. Multiply that by 33 and you have 6,600! Well, a few of the titles are novels, so say 5000. That’s still a lot of poems.

But wait a minute! Are they all cracking good poems? No. And there really must have been some effort put into combing through C’s literary remains to assemble those 8 volumes which are posthumous to his death in 1994, of which this book is one. But I have to say that, having read several Bukowski books by this time (Dec 2009), even the most ephemeral offering does have something about it that makes it worth publishing. And what a tribute THAT is to ANY poet!

On one of his other books there’s a blurb comparing him to Wordsworth in the way he uses the language of the ordinary man. Blurbs mostly make preposterous claims but I think that this particular claim has a lot of truth in it. Even at this distance, Wordsworth’s Prelude has an immediate appeal. Bukowski too. He ‘cuts to the chase’ very often and the nub of the matter at hand is dealt with without any prancing around and also without being damaged by too soon an exposure. I’m really stuck to chose a poem which best exemplifies this directness (200 to chose from, remember!) but if I have to, then might pick ‘more argument’, a list poem that escapes being a mere list poem (and how boring they are!) due to the presence of the man himself having one of those interminable rows with one of the women that come and go throughout his poetry. Anyway, it’s not the list that is the meat of the poem. It’s the row! … Or maybe I’d chose ‘the first one’, a wonderfully minimalist treatment of loss.

By the way, I think anyone who has read Seamus Heaney’s ‘The EarlyPurges’ would be interested to see how Bukowski handles the same subject in his poem in this book called ‘the mice’. Heaney’s poem looks forward to many a dilemma created in the future by farmhand’s actions. Bukowski’s focus is on an unhappier past. Both youngsters are deeply affected.

Great poet. One my favourites

Camera d’albergo, a Pasqua

(una traduzione di ‘Hotel Room, Easter’ con aiuto da Giuseppe Vetromille)

Non dormo mai le mattine. Mi sveglio
presto, per una quotidiana possibilità
di un nuovo inizio. Potrebbe accadere qui
in questa camera d’albergo: un quadro solitario
(una riproduzione di Hooker, 1819:
prugni di New Orleans), e un guardaroba
con il mio unico cambio di vestiti. A differenza
dei soldati stravaccati sulla tomba io
non dormo mai le mattine, e specialmente
questa mattina è scritto che sarà
un nuovo inizio più che normale
Ovvero: una resurrezione.

(after Edward Hopper)

I never sleep through mornings. I awaken
early to the daily possibility
of a new beginning. It could happen here
in this hotel room: solitary picture
(reproduction: New Orleans Plums,
by Hooker, 1819), and a wardrobe
with my single change of clothes. Unlike
the sprawling soldiery at the tomb I never
sleep through mornings, and especially
this morning it is written there will be
a new beginning more than usual
with mornings. It is said: a resurrection.

I bought this book second-hand and in a hurry because I wanted to get a bus home from town and did not have the exact fare in coins (Dublin’s buses do NOT give back change!). It was an inauspicious choice of what proved to be a most interesting read.

First-off, the book is described on its front cover as ‘An elegant thriller’. If by elegant is meant slow-moving, with little concern for fulfilling other people’s demands (and I’ve heard worse definitions) than this is an elegant read. But the word ‘thriller’ has a more demanding meaning. The book meanders and opinionates and strikes out across too many landscapes to deserve being described as a ‘thriller’. Nor are there any of those very suspenseful moments we usually expect from ‘thrillers’. In fact, thrilling moments there are none. And, come to think of it, isn’t the description ‘elegant thriller’ a little self-contradictory?

So all this adds up to a failure? Well, yes. And no. That is to say, as far as being a thriller goes… yes. But the book is fascinating ‘on another level’– And before you get frightened away by that phrase (which usually signals a major shifting of ground and the introduction of some kind of dubious ‘special pleading’) please hear me out.

Ever heard of Spengler? Me neither, or at least only vaguely, until this book. He, Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), was a German historian and philosopher who, among other things, put forward a cyclical theory of the rise and decline of civilisations (thank you, Wikipedia!) and in the third chapter of this book (Phipps’s, not Spengler’s) we get a brief overview of one of his (Spengler’s, not Phipps’s) central cultural theories. It’s to do with cultures being imposed on, or being absorbed by, pre-existing cultures. In a lengthy conversational exchange between two of the book’s characters we hear that ‘… the Arabs had never been able to develop a proper culture of their own because the mould of Graeco-Roman civilisation was already there to receive them. Same thing with Russia. And of course that is exactly the problem here in Africa. The Europeans came with a new culture and set it in place, completely artificial and foreign to the existing tribal life. So it was bound to be pseudomorphic, forced into ancient, already developed patterns’.

This is all very interesting, you’ll say, (and there are a number of other very interesting cul-de-sacs) but has all this anything to do with the plot? Well, very little, I think. In fact, there’s very little ‘plot’, if by that we mean some kind of reasonably tight unfolding of a story. There is a story, but it is a loosely developed story which concerns the gradual degradation of a character who seemed to promise much when she was young. Nevertheless, this is a book which I enjoyed a lot. The characters all come across as quite believable and the descriptions of location are really well done. Recommended, but not to those who want ‘thrills’ (or even mild palpitations!).


Just to record that the last ‘Finnegan’ programme of the present series went out at 9.00 pm as usual last Friday 18th. We’ll be back in the New Year. Edward, Micheal and I had lots to say about the Irish Bishops/ Irish Catholic Church Child abuse fiasco and the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference fiasco. Edward also did a spot on a film from 1956 (or did he say 1946?) which was shot in Ireland called ‘I See a Dark Stranger’. It starred Virginia Kerr as an Irish girl who wanted to become a Nazi spy because of terrible things done on her family by the British in Ireland. I am completely unacquainted with this type of Irish cinema history/heritage and really must do something to make a hole in my ignorance.


Comh maith le sin agus abhair eile mhalartaiomar ar gcomhbhroin faoin mbas Ciaran Mac Mathuna. Craoiltoir den chead scoth ab ea e, agus rinne se a lan obair maidir le ‘ceolta tire’ (ainm clar iontach eile a bhi Radio Eireann fado) agus an ceol tradisiunta. Thosaigh ‘Mo Cheol Thu’, a chlar fhein,  ar an radio gach Domhnach timpeall tosnu na seactadai agus ta cuimhne maith ag daoine (cuiseach) aosta air. Ar a dheis De go raibh a anam.

I have been remiss in not blogging about our radio programme which goes out every Friday at 9.00pm on Digital Hub radio 94.3. We started back last month for another few sessions and with the usual suspects, viz., Edward Delaney (genial host), Micheal MacAonghusa (raconteur and current affairs guru) and myself (resident poet and court jester). One or two guests also, among them the very worthy Ronnie Byrne of St catherine’s Boxing Club in nearby Marrowbone Lane (our radio studio is off Thomas Street). And yes the club is for girls as well as boys, and no you don’t have to do the boxing. It can be just ‘keep fit’ and games if you like. It’s had its funding difficulties in the past, says Ronnie, but it’s come through those and is simply bursting at the seams with youngsters wanting to get involved. It’s more than a boxing club. It’s a social networking base. Any night you pick you could have 30-40 kids there doing training and other activities. For €20 once a year, and €8 per week it’s a great outlet, says Ronnie, and I believe him. I also believe that this type of thing would not be happening were it not for Ronnie’s commitment and dedication and you can see now why I began this piece by calling him ‘the very worthy’ Ronnie Byrne.

Ronnie Byrne of St Catherine's Boxing Club

Edward has been delving into films made in Ireland by Ardmore studios (fado’, fado’) and I have been surprised at the number of Abbey Theatre people who featured in them. Also according to Edward it was the Irish in America who created the ‘musical film’, starting with a film called ‘Sally’s Irish Rogue’. All this sounds fascinating and I hope I can get some time to have a look at this Irish Cinema History.

I had heard vaguely of Eric Newby (1919-2006), the travel writer, sometime in the past and chanced on this book recently, which I read for just for the first and last chapters where he talks about growing up and family. The intervening ones concern travel and travel writing usually bores me. However, I ended up reading those chapters too because they are so interesting AND well written. Lots of interesting autobiographical material too and I was particularly struck by the following paragraph: ” .. nor did I like the Church Hall, the scene of an unsuccessful attempt to ‘interfere’ with me by a bun-faced curate when I was a member of the Wolf Cub pack. The interference only amounted to my being bounced up and down on his knee but I didn’t enjoy it, as I felt that I was too old to be bounced up and down on peoples’ knees, and I told my mother and she told my father, and my father told the vicar and the curate was sent away to wherever curates who tried to ‘interfere’ with Wolf Cubs went at the time”. Well, Eric, we know now where he was probably sent, given the actions of the Catholic Church in Ireland (and elsewhere) over the past 50 years or so. He probably ended up in another parish where the people had absolutely no knowledge of his proclivities.

Newby was one of those men who packed rather a lot into his lifetime (he was taken POW during the war and escaped). He has a modest, understated, humorous style of writing which appeals to me.

 “Sir? Yes, back row, left… Just hold for the mic
 a moment, if you will… Yes, sir? … …
–ohm– it’s a multilayered process.
–ohm– the particularities of each instance
 –ohm– permutate. Permutate
 –ohm– even as events are still
 in progress. –ohm– But yes, we might have been
 –ohm– better prepared for the eventuality
 –ohm– that came about. –ohm– Yes,
 something programmatic like this, –ohm–
 that is to say –ohm– something planned
 –ohm– could’ve have been, –ohm– should‘ve been
 –ohm– quantified in terms of risk,
 strategic out-comes, types of ordnance. Yes
 –ohm– I would agree with you, yes. –ohm–
Yes, that would seem now, –ohm–
would now be seen as a preferred scenario
–ohm– and –ohm– we regret,
as always in these combat situations
–ohm– we regret collateral damage
anywhere it happens. –ohm– As regards
the numbers you have mentioned, sir –ohm–
regarding civilian casualties –ohm–
we have no official information yet to hand
So –ohm– I cannot comment on –ohm–
I am unable to confirm or deny
–ohm– the figures you have mentioned. –ohm–
Except to say that –ohm– –ohm– reports
of civilian casualties are probably
–ohm– exaggerated. –ohm– Yes, sir.
Yes, sir… well, I am trying to give you answer…
Well, if you will allow me… Thank you, sir…
–ohm– Yes, there are some reports
of children, of child casualties. –ohm–
unconfirmed as yet –ohm– –ohm–
Sir, if you will allow me… Sir,
 I am trying to answer… Sir… Thank you, sir.
 –ohm– As soon as –ohm– Immediately
we receive reports from commanders in the field
–ohm– a decision will be made –ohm–
as to whatever investigations are needed
–ohm– into the concerns raised –ohm–
Faint against the drifting sands
our elders— Silhouetted
on long strands of half-uneasy
sleep, their hands outstretched, their voices
trapped in syllables echoing
out of childhood. Deep
within the coils of dreams
our elders— Moving nightly
where the oil-lamps flickered
in the half-breeze, features
those remembered out of yellowed
photographs. We stir,
we turn, we stumble towards
their whisperings, across the dunes
we’ve crossed before so often, struggling
towards the rim, the moment when
we feel the final chrism cool
against our skin. And firmer
in the swirling sands our elders
every night that passes, every
night we strain to glimpse
their distant faces, hear
their voices clearer every troubled
sleep that draws them nearer, nearer…