A Fifth of Whiskey & 3 Beers: R.L. Greenfield on Charles Bukowski’s Love is a Dog From Hell

Charles Bukowski,  Love Is A Dog From Hell:  Poems, 1974-1977, Black Sparrow Press, 1998



Bukowsi is often over-rated by bad writers but he tends to be under-rated by writers who are in the Classical academic snob mode & act like they are in the know.  Charles nails it  in this book better than any other book of his I’ve read.  I guess I’ve read 12 or 15 over the years.  He is brain sore from missing women & sex & the romance & he is often with a new dame it seems trying to get rid of an old one who is devouring his mind while he munches suspiciously & occasionally irresistibly on the new one & prepares for his next defeat.  And he knows it won’t take long for that death to arrive.


But what he does wonderfully is savor the melancholia.  He understands that Life is essentially melancholic but he never cries about it.  He manages to go to bed alone with that melancholy in the form of a dame or not.  And he is forever losing & missing the woman he wanted most.  But not for long.  Soon he will lose & miss a new one.  And the habit of finding a female replacement becomes almost his entire method of sex and romance & helps numb the pain of his latest lost lady.  In fact we begin to feel he enjoys losing women almost as much as finding a new one!  It gives him material for his poems & feeds his imagination big chunks of juicy story—plus activates the memory that “I have been through this dark alley many times before & it always ends in a cul de sac.  Let that not stop me from sexual pleasure!”  Crack open a fifth of whiskey & three beers.


He always has a glass of booze in his hand at home or in the restaurant or bar.  He also manages to lose a woman & then recognize her as trouble after he has lost her.  The great & naive rationalizer.  It happens again & again & becomes a creative experience & a cleansing form of suffering.  Glad to get rid of that bitch I wonder who she is killing now.  These are Bukowski’s actual words.  Though his use of the word ‘bitch’ is rare & always meant to be comic not merely or mainly vitriolic.  Thus he eases his mind with a smooth cheap pain-killing lie.  This has a healthy feel to it. The imagination is purifying itself.


Bukowski loves these women often & he always loses them.  He might drive his car up & down streets looking for that specific lady.  And he is almost crying he says.  He is also most excellent at not doing what he doesn’t want to do.  He seldom gets the woman he wants.  But what he doesn’t want to do is give up booze or cigarettes or pounding the story of his life on his typewriter.  He is also a champion masturbator before or after sex with women or after any old phone call or classical musical jag on the radio.  He is alone plenty   But he has many very excellent moments with women considering his incessant swearing off of them forever.  He has a tremendous appetite for appreciating the favors of females sexual & romantic & sentimental also.  And he is superb at staying away from male bullshit shop-talk sessions & that whole boring poetry-talk scene.  He is faithful to his booze & his typewriter & his appetites for women & the race track and above all conscious of writing it all down.  To fuck & to eat pussy is to write; and to write is to make love.  This is the unstated theology of real writers.  This book is solid as a rock in terms of its pounding out realistic details of the day to day & night to night life of Charles Bukowski.


He has taken us many miles beyond the formalist creations of Baudelaire & Paris.  Bukowski never hides in fantasy-land or in irony or paradox.  And there is never any fanciness or euphemisms.  And this book is considerably entertaining—totally unique in its dredging up of details concerning his intimate & raw experiences with women & booze & writing.  It may exaggerate but this book sure does give one the feeling of the author’s fidelity to the facts of his own life & experience.  And Charles Bukowski clearly loves women.  He is obviously in love with the wondrous vulgarities that make love so rich & thrilling & sometimes appalling.  And he leaves nothing out of this exciting bargain that promises us ecstasy & hell.



Love Is A Dog From Hell , Charles Bukowski



the night I fucked my alarm clock


starving in Philadelphia

I had a small room

it was evening going into night

and I stood at my window on the 3rd floor

in the dark and looked down into a

kitchen across the way on the 2nd floor

and I saw a beautiful blonde girl

embrace a young man there and kiss him

with what seemed hunger

and I stood and watched until they broke


then I turned and switched on the room light.

I saw my dresser and my dresser drawers

and my alarm clock on the dresser.

I took my alarm clock

to bed with me and

fucked it until the hands dropped off.

then I went out and walked the streets

until my feet blistered.

when I got back I walked to the window

and looked down and across the way

and the light in their kitchen was



Perishing Earth: RL Greenfield on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, Knopf

Cormac McCarthy writes a world where it is cold every day and dirty gray or soot black and raining or snowing or sleeting and there are no flowers or birds or people except the lone figures of a man and a boy wandering the withered earth desperate to find something to eat and clean water and a place to rest their bones and get warm and escape the unpredictable mad other survivors out there also roaming the planet in search of food including human flesh if so it be. The world has obviously been bombed into a state of torpor, sterility, and nothingness. It is now a wet filthy clod of destroyed cities and empty households with only these vagrants meandering listlessly through the devastated plains, mountains, cities, houses, barns and buildings everything covered by a gray coat of ash, a god-less silence, elemental darkness and the incessant unbearable cold.

For 241 pages McCarthy traces the steps of father and son in what appears to be the last vestiges of the human race as man and boy pry loose just enough cans of beans and fruits and meats and vegetables from concealed cellars and padlocked closets along the way to squeeze out a few more precious hours of life and extend their simple remaining consciousness with absolutely no future in sight and an equally erased past behind them with only here and there a sliver of memory shooting through the void only to be immediately erased before any meaning or purpose registers on their fleeting awareness. What prevails is the present never ending bleak moment of remaining human consciousness of the swiftly perishing earth and all its once life-giving forms from the opening passage until the very last page.

The novel ends with a shining epigraph or tombstone luminosity transcribed by the author as if to commemorate or offer an explanation for a state of affairs that once existed in the pure primordial past many eons before the descent of man and the debacle of the human experiment here ended. The writing is clean as a knife throughout with never a laboring literary device or esthetic skulduggery. We are simply handed the posthumous world of lame and impotent death and unromantic nothingness. Pass goal and lay down in the road and die. The last luminous paragraph I believe does not fit the book as a whole. That paragraph ought to be placed at the head of the book as an epigraph. It certainly is not part of the narrative proper. It feels like an apologia for the history of the planet—a total non sequitur to the novel The Road.

A PLENTIFUL WORLD: RL Greenfield on Russell Edson’s See Jack

See Jack, Russell Edson, University of Pittsburgh Press

I discovered an American master of wry fairy tales and gnomic wit coupled with consistently elevated blasphemies only yesterday. Of course I knew his name, Russell Edson, and had checked his books out before. But it was yesterday I was finally awake to finish a book of his (See Jack) and feel and know the author’s unique gift. I whipped through this fascinating book at one sitting (and read each poem twice, and sometimes three or four times). It’s beautiful and accurate stylish and rich in its promiscuous and utterly elegant use of the English language. It is also wildly comic and oddly gracefully obscene and post-surrealistically absurd.

Things do unexpected things in Edson’s dynamic cosmos of unexpected forces which behave in a most contrary and defiant manner upsetting every canon of predictability and order. The Idea Of Order At Key West is turned on its nose by Mr. Edson who cracks open the new egg of the post-nuclear age of catastrophe to reveal new creatures who are pretty crazy unless you live in the child’s world of eternal imagination and hallucination—the universe obviously occupied by Mr. Russell Edson. This guy has a load (lode?) on his mind and he finds ample opportunity for his characters of all species, notably, inanimate objects, to come to life and especially engage in the multiple forms of sexual intercourse abounding in the universe with any available mate— including walls, couches, musical instruments—you name it. Everything seems to be in love or at least in hate with everything else including itself. Edson’s is a plentiful world.

There are plenty of chances for each and all to score a good lay, kill a nasty king or, in the prophetic words of Dr. Hannibal Lecter at the conclusion of Ridley Scott’s movie Hannibal, “try out new things.” Dr. Lecter was was offering that counsel to a little girl sitting next to him on the plane to whom he was also offering a sample of human brain as a snack, unbeknownst to her. Mr. Russell Edson is somewhat like that—utterly and dangerously uninhibited, erotic. Ah, French, with a slice of Descartes wedded to a piece of the Marquis de Sade throw in some shit balls from fairy tale land, add a cup of urine, and two fresh tablespoons of semen from a bull-cow or horse plus some drippings from the mons veneris of a princess walking the strip in Las Vegas. Chop, stir & shake. Put in blender: grind, blend & liquefy. Pour into glasses. Drink. Serves the entire company. Repeat with double & triple doses. Add Viagra, salt peter & latest aphrodisiacs according to individual tastes.

Mr. Edson is a master of the refined forms. His elegant techniques lead to the Palace of Debauchery & the Temple of The Reversal Of Cosmic Habits & Attitudes. Anything can happen & does in the Russell Edson cosmos. His world is the new Metamorphoses which continues to evolve every time we turn a page. This is one of the most surprising books of poems I have seen in years. Call them prose poems. They are miniature 21st-century anti-fairy tales with a consistently rigorous intelligence at the controls. When is the last time you picked up a book of poems that you could not put down until you had absorbed the last poem in the book? Well, here is such a book.

Nature in its Raw: R.L. Greenfield on Charles Wright’s Littlefoot


Littlefoot, Charles Wright, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

This book-length poem is stunning;  I read it all the way through beginning in the evening and concluding the next morning. Then I decided to re-read, to find out why and how it is so wise and rich of a book. But I couldn’t. Littlefoot is not paraphraseable, and I was thinking of obtaining a neat answer which is exactly what this book does not afford. As if there is a plain English that can better state the meaning of a pure poem. No, there is no explanation of Poetry and Art or Beauty and Love. And I do not like to re-read a book immediately, especially a thrilling and deep book like this one. Let it sit for a year and then read it again. Its revelations are always like the inscrutability of Nature. And how words always are about something other than we think.

Wright’s book is a lifetime of experience–Charles Wright who was born in 1935 and who loves to dwell in the natural world of Virginia, Appalachia, North Carolina, Italy to name just a few of the places he has called home. The natural world washes over him day and night wherever he dwells. It speaks to him. He merely translates the language of the cosmos into these songs and brief tales, episodes, and epiphanies. When you read this book you will fathom that most books that purport to be books of poetry do not compare favorably with this one in the realm of truth, beauty and the good. This is a liberating book.

Everywhere one reads in Littlefoot one is freed from the constraints of the commercial order and its false worship of phony means and ends that cling like leeches to individual citizens and would-be persons. However, this book does not sermonize or issue propaganda. It feels the world about it with its fingers and eyes and with its ears and its nose and mouth. It is amazed at what it feels or senses while imagining and transforming what it is sensing. And it disappears as it were before our eyes and ears–we who are watching, listening, thinking, remembering, and forgetting. This book disturbs our habitual methods of experiencing life breaking up our neat little monologues and our false epistemologies.

It is clear as we read that we really do not know what we thought we knew. Words themselves have no attachment to nature;  nature is alone and independent of words. Nature is wise, possibly, but then again Nature doesn’t give a damn for the word or this discussion being perfectly content to be itself or not itself. Nature doesn’t need man the artist in order to exist or to be happy or sad or guilty or proud. Charles Wright sings of the inestimable power and detailed beauty of Nature in its raw, sprawling representation and of his own privileged position as observer/poet with respect to this vast world of evolving forms.