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Open All Night:
New Poems

Charles Bukowski
Charles Bukowski
Black Sparrow Press
361 pp.



Some writers struggle famously to fill a small shelf of books in the course of a career; others seem to breathe content and lack the space to get it all out. Charles Bukowski, it seems, falls into the second category.

Open All Night is the latest volume in Black Sparrow Press's ongoing series of Bukowski's previously unpublished poetry. As in the previous volume, what matters most is how well you walk through the fire (click here for WAG's review of it), the poems collected here were written between 1970 and 1990, and Bukowski left them as part of an archive to be published after his death. Even knowing how voluminous Bukowski's output was, it's still surprising to see how many superb poems didn't make it into the collections published during his lifetime.

Open All Night has plenty of space dedicated to Bukowski's favorite subjects--the racetrack, women, alcohol and a self-referential interest in the act of writing--along with his usual proud braggadocio about his physical toughness and his hard path to critical recognition. But it's also full of wonderful moments of candor, self-doubt, vulnerability and even fear, and these, I think, are consistently the most appealing in the collection. Take, for instance, the stunningly beautiful "to Jane Cooney Baker, died 1-22-62," which begins


and so you have gone

leaving me here

in a room with a torn shade

and Siegfried's Idyll playing on a small red radio.


and ends thus:


it is not enough that there are many deaths

and that this is not the first;

it is not enough that I may live many more days,

even perhaps, many more years.


it is not enough.

the phone is like a dead animal that will

not speak. and when it speaks again it will

always be the wrong voice now.


I have waited before and you have always walked in through

the door. now you must wait for me.


There is always in Bukowski this feeling that the real danger is an internal affair, a matter of letting yourself succumb to a secret, terrible truth. In "somewhere it's 12:41 a.m.," he writes


you know, I might easily let the

monsters have my


but once you let them in, getting

them out is almost



And it's against this existential dread that Bukowski directs his most powerful Camus-like edicts, as we see in this stanza from "for some friends":


I believe in the strength of the bloody hand

I believe in eternal ice

I demand that we die

blue-lipped and grinning across the impossibility

of ourselves

stretched across ourselves.


No wonder the French love him, eh?

Open All Night has its fair share of near-misses. For all its easy, rambling length, Bukowski's poetry has a pattern that resembles haiku: no matter how long the poem might be, he often tries to make its last lines turn in an unexpected direction, to end on a surprising moment of revelation. The need for marked closure is obvious and even understandable, but Bukowski's 'turned' endings sometimes seem a little forced, as if they haven't evolved naturally and smoothly from the preceding lines. Still, this is a superb collection, and I look forward to the future Bukowski volumes--an odd thought, really, when you consider Bukowski's been dead nearly seven years now.

--Charlie Onion

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With the Angel
Nick Hornby (editor)
Riverhead Books
233 pp.


Creative talent is put in the service of charity in Speaking With the Angel, a new short story collection edited by Nick Hornby: proceeds from its sales will help autistic children. It is fitting that these writers--ten Britons and two Americans--are contributing their work to help children caught in the isolation and mysteries of autism break out and engage the world because that is what the characters in the best stories here do: they break out of isolation in its various forms and engage the world. In this respect, perhaps, artists and autistic children have common cause.

In many of these stories, a character's world enlarges just a little bit. My favorite is Colin Firth's "The Department of Nothing." A schoolboy is transfixed by the stories told by his ailing, shut-in grandmother. She is simply using her powers of invention to distract herself from the certainty that she's dying, but to the boy, the world he finds in her room is the real world, and what's outside it is "the department of nothing." The balance between fantasy and reality is nicely nuanced: the fantasy that his grandmother's false teeth are talking to him leads him through a chain of real-life events to befriend the neighborhood undertaker. What better way to come to terms with death and the transformative power of storytelling?

Childhood transformations are themes in other stories in this collection too. Patrick Marber's "Peter Shelley" describes a boy's first sexual experience in his girlfriend's filthy apartment. The details may be squalid, but the result is exhilarating: "I spit my tea in her face and then she buries her face into mine and it's hot and wet. Her mouth tastes of beer and cigarettes." Afterward, going home, the boy tells us that "I go up in the pissy lift feeling like I could eat the world."

Speaking of that pissy lift--that's a stinking elevator to you, Yank--I got a lift of my own contemplating the expressive wonders of this collection's idiomatic British. Some of it is almost as puzzling as the futuristic language of the Beethoven-loving thug Alex in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Here, for example, is a Scottish tough in Irvine Welsh's "Catholic Guilt (You Know You Love It)": "All those fuckin' tossers were standing in the street talking to themselves. The yuppies were now emulating the jakeys; drinking outside in the street and belthering shite to themselves; or rather, into those small, nearly-invisible microphones connected to their mobiles."

What's a jakey? Beats the shite out of me. When the narrator gets irritated, he gets chuffed, and when he sees something, he clocks it--as in, "I clocked a twist of that diseased mouth." In this collection, I've clocked a new world.

--Arthur Alexander Parker

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Stephen King
621 pp.



Dreamcatcher, Stephen King's new horror novel, opens with all the creepy foreshadowing and otherworldly references you'd expect from the genre's genius: after a few pages of headlines referring to nationwide UFO sightings, we meet four middle-aged men (well, late thirties, at least) who, along with their common childhood in Derry, Maine, and their burnt-out dreams, seem to share a strange, unspecified mental power.

Or, to be as precise as King is willing to be in these opening pages, they're equally gifted, though in different ways. Jonesy, the college professor, catches a cheating student with his gift; Henry, the psychiatrist, gains stunningly clear insight into one of his neurotic patients with his gift; Pete, the car dealer, finds a lady's lost car keys with his gift; and Beaver, the carpenter, spoils an acquaintance's story of a fabricated sexual encounter with his gift.

But the gift can only go so far, it seems. As the opening pages come to an end, King teases out just a sliver of pending doom for Jonesy: despite Henry's phone call warning him to be careful, Jonesy, King writes, has "no idea that he is going to finish this [day] in a hospital room, smashed up and fighting for his goddam life."

Readers don't have to wait long to find out what happens, though: on the next page, King tells us that Jonesy, like King himself, was hit by a distracted driver and was forced to undergo months of painful physical therapy. But that's about all King reveals for quite a few pages, and it's certainly among the more straightforward events he relates in this novel that hinges, deliciously, on cunning authorial teases and neat narrative tricks.

Once Jonesy's recovered sufficiently to walk, the four friends make their annual trip to the Maine woods for a stint of deer hunting. But-inevitably-things don't go according to plan. Before it's over, the reader will meet strange, mind-controlling aliens that spread a potentially lethal sort of fungus, along with an equally lethal military man named Kurtz who's dead set on destroying the aliens and all they stand for. Which side, precisely, is worse is just one of the elements King masterfully manages to conceal.

This is King's first novel to be published since his well-documented road accident (1999's Hearts in Atlantis was a story collection and last year's On Writing was nonfiction), and it is by far the most satisfying work he's done in years. Given its heft and range, I suppose it's inevitable to compare Dreamcatcher to what is arguably King's masterwork, The Stand, and while I don't think King has topped his best early work here, he comes pretty close. His writing has subtly changed, though. His portrayal of the pain behind suffering seems more complicated now, more fully embodied, and the sense of fate and the unknowability of one's future is more poignantly drawn. Of course, King wrote Dreamcatcher while recovering from the accident, and the shift in tone might be somewhat obligatory. In the Author's Note, he writes that


I was never so grateful to be writing as during my time of work (November 16, 1999-May 29, 2000) on Dreamcatcher. I was in a lot of physical discomfort during those six and a half months, and the book took me away. The reader will see that pieces of that physical discomfort followed me into the story, but what I remember most is the sublime release we find in vivid dreams.


Finding sublime release through deadly plagues and military-driven massacres would be an odd concept for most of us, but for King, it seems comfortingly appropriate.

--Charlie Onion

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Robert B. Parker
294 pp.



For a book reviewer, getting a Robert B. Parker book--especially a new Spenser title--is a pleasant holiday from the travails of literary strain. Spenser's comically immodest narrative voice and Parker's knack for speed and snappy dialogue guarantee an effortlessly entertaining divertissement. So when I say that Potshot, the latest Spenser entry, may not represent the absolute pinnacle in the series, just remember: it's Robert Parker, so you won't hear any complaints from me.

Never one to waste time, Parker opens Potshot with minimum fanfare: a possibly dishonest--and certainly attractive--woman steps into Spenser's idle office and asks for his help. In a noir film script, it might be abbreviated to this: Daylight. Spenser's office. Enter femme fatale.

Or is she?

Mary Lou Buckman's husband has been killed in Potshot, Arizona, she tells Spenser, and she wants him to find the killer. The police suspect a local gang murdered him when he refused to pay a bribe, but they lack the evidence--or courage--to make an arrest. Spenser (never one to let evidence or danger get in his way) readily takes the case, but once he travels to the desert town and interviews a few hostile locals (including the gang's charismatic leader, the Preacher), the case gets a little complicated, to say the least. Who, precisely, are the good guys? Even after the town elders hire Spenser to destroy the gang, he still isn't sure about whose side he should be on. And being a resoundingly honorable tough guy, he isn't going to shoot anybody before he's sure they deserve it. Naturally, it doesn't keep him from rounding up six tough guys (all of them comically colorful characters from earlier Spenser books) and holing up in a rented house near the gang's compound. And it goes without saying that Spenser's own gang is armed to the teeth.

Potshot is an ironic twist on The Seven Samurai, of course, with the town elders as crooked as they come (although, artistic aspects aside, it might be more appropriate to compare it to the inferior The Magnificent Seven, given the Western setting). Kurosawa isn't Potshot's only film reference--the central plot draws on another great film, Chinatown--but while Parker's allusions are fun, the real reason to read Potshot is to watch a master show how effortlessly entertaining and fresh a time-honored genre can be.

Sure, Potshot is the literary equivalent of cotton candy, but it's the best literary fun I've had in months, and I only wish Parker could deliver Spenser titles by the armload.

--Woody Arbunkle

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