‘what matters most is how well you walk through the fire’, by Charles Bukowski. Ecco,/Harper Collins 1999


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

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