Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness
by Charles Bukowski
City Lights Books, 478 pp., $3.95 (paper)
Charles Bukowski never did escape from California. Certainly he is quite unimaginable anywhere else, and he is still out there on the West Coast, writing poems and stories about his five decades of drinking, screwing, horse-playing, and drifting around, proving defiantly that even at the edge of the abyss language persists. "A legend in his own time," the cover of his new collection of stories calls him, and that seems fair.
Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness is a mixed lot. Bukowski's main market, the underground press and the girlie mags, casts a long shadow here"”as he says himself, "To get rid of a story you gotta have fucking, lots of it, if possible," and the little formulas of commercial pornography ("one of the best fucks I ever had," etc.) recur on cue. There are some heavy attempts at satiric fantasy, and a tendency to end stories with the kind of peek at the reader ("What would you do?") usually reserved for high-school composition classes.
But Bukowski is more fun to read than that. He writes as an unregenerate lowbrow contemptuous of our claims to superior being. Politics is bullshit, since work is as brutalizing and unrewarding in a liberal order as in any totalitarian one; artists and intellectuals are mostly fakes, smugly enjoying the blessings of the society they carp at; the radical young are spiritless asses, insulated by drugs and their own endless cant from any authentic experience of mind or body; most women are whores, though honest whores are good and desirable; no life finally works, but the best one possible involves plenty of six-packs, enough money to go to the track, and a willing woman of any age and shape in a good old-fashioned garter belt and high heels.
He makes literature out of the unfashionable and unideological tastes and biases of an average Wallace voter. And that sense of life is worth hearing about when it takes the form not of socko sex-and-schmerz but of blunt, unembarrassed explanation of how it feels to be Bukowski, mad but only north-north-west, among pretentious and lifeless claims to originality and fervor. Here he is in an underground press editorial office:
I had been given the idea...that since it was the first anniversary of Open Pussy the wine and the pussy and the life and the love would be flowing.
But coming in very high and expecting to see fucking on the floor and love galore, I only saw all these little love-creatures busily at work. They reminded me very much, so humped and dismal, of the little old ladies working on piecework I used to deliver cloth to, working my way up through rope-hauled elevators full of rats and stink, one hundred years old, piecework ladies, proud and dead and neurotic as all hell, working to make a millionaire out of somebody.
He comes off best at anarchist satire in a plastic world"”drinking and foul-mouthing himself into disgrace in cocktail lounges, on airliners, and at college poetry readings, showing up at a high-society Zen wedding as the only guest who's put on a tie and brought a present (he resentfully gets drunk, tries to remove the Zen master's marvelously translucent ears, and is felled by a karate chop), mistaking long-haired boys for girls, caught between secret pleasure and horror at the knowledge that his poems are known and admired by some of the cognoscenti. For all his dedication to the old role of the macho artist, the boozing, tough-talking writing phallus we knew and loved so well, Bukowski has a bit of the softy, the man of sentiment, the gull in him, happily for his art; he knows as well as we do that history has passed him by and that his loss is ours too, and in some of these sad and funny stories his status as a relic isn't wholly without its sanctity.
It's interesting to me that both here and in the Black Cat Review Thread, both stories get the number of Buk's published books wrong. Above, Jack Hirschman indicates that It Catches...is Buk's third book of poetry (publication date: 6/23/63) while in the Black Cat thread, an article published on 7/8/62 regarding the first copy of BCR describes Buk as a "colorful author of three books of poetry."
For the sake of practicality, let's leave A Signature of Charles Bukowski Poetry, Signature 2 and A Charles Bukowski Album out of the discussion. By June 1962, Buk had published the following books of poetry (parentheticals from Krumhansl):
Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail (October 1960)
Poems and Drawings (March 1962)
Longshot Pomes for Broke Players (early 1962)
Run With the Hunted (March 1962).
So, the 7/8/62 article is off by one; I wonder which one?
Hirschman is further off. Leaving aside The Priest and the Matador and Same Old Thing Shakespeare Through Mailer, It Catches was Buk's fifth book of poetry. It was published, not in June as Hirschman's article indicates, but October 1963. Such was Loujon Press, I suppose. But I wonder which books were either unknown or for some reason not counted as "books" in this context.