Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Another Review Review

The local paper ran a series of short reviews on Sunday, one of which happened to be for Come On In, a posthumous collection assembled from Charles Bukowski's archives. I'm not a Bukowski scholar, but I am a bit sensitive to falsely (or underinformed) positive reviews, and I fear this column-third from the Sunday Star-Ledger may just meet the requirements.

Two comments in particular make me question not the reviewer's affection for Bukowski's poems, but his ability to place them in a context that lends credibility to those comments. First: "In a world of fakes and frauds, he was the voice you could trust -- a Howard Stern of poetry." I don't get this. I'm not a Stern fan, but I understand that Stern's self-proclaimed purpose is the pushing of boundaries, the introduction of subjects that force people to think about things they'd not otherwise think about. Is that really Bukowski's raison d'etre? Honesty, clarity, these I get. But I don't understand how the deliberately contrived (though honest within the contrivance) Stern is a useful comparison for Bukowski's work.

Which raises the issue of the other comment I have trouble with: "In today's environment of willful poetic obscurity and theoretical nonsense, this is refreshing and charming." This contradicts the Stern parallel for me, since "refreshing and charming" runs counter to what I understand Stern to be all about. I see the utility of the parallel from the reviewer's perspective -- "poetic obscurity" practiced by "fakes and frauds", but this statement lives in ignorance of "today's environment" of poetry, especially egregious with Billy Collins on the best seller list and especially egregious in a Dodge Festival year. This statement signals to me that this is a reviewer not in touch enough with the subject about which he writes to have anything useful to say on the subject. At least to me.

This is not to say my paper ran a poor review (if I can find it online, I'll update with a link). It's well-written, excerpts the book reasonably, and uses references that will clearly help most readers decide if they'd like to read the latest Bukowski collection. It also strikes me, however, as the impression of someone with a bias against and no real interest in poetry, someone for whom "simplicity" is both expected and considered the ultimate act of rebellion. But I suppose that is the audience of a newspaper, after all.

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