cover image Bone Palace Ballet

Bone Palace Ballet

Charles Bukowski. Ecco, $17 (368pp) ISBN 978-1-57423-028-4

Even as he approached death, Bukowski (1920-1994) remained a poet contemptuous of transcendence. From its first section, ""As Young As We Were Ever Going to Get,"" to its last, ""the big guy doesn't have me out of here yet,"" this posthumous collection of new poems revels in the substance of thoroughly earthy--and often sordid--experiences. Bukowski chronicles his own lusts, bad behavior and wry observations. The first section shows the young Bukowski staring up the skirt of a sexy English teacher and discovering the comfort of literature in his early dysfunctional home. The second section, ""the streets were all I saw,"" tells stories from Bukowski's early adulthood, when he spent his time starving ""in a roominghouse and/ pretending to be a writer."" Not surprisingly, Bukowski (Betting on the Muse, etc.) romanticizes the visits to whores and barroom escapades, remembering his drunken youth as a time when there was a ""feeling of/ joy and gamble in/ the air."" The third and fourth sections contain stories from his adulthood and some startlingly clear impressionistic sketches. In the final section, Bukowski stares down the reaper and takes stock. Receiving bags full of letters telling him ""what a great writer I am,"" he confesses, ""I read everything, dump every-/ thing, go about my/ business.// I am aware that no man is/ a `great' writer."" It's this kind of unadorned self-awareness that allows Bukowski to observe the world, have a laugh and mind his own business--all the while reeling off memorably candid poems that don't take themselves too seriously. (June)