Review: I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf

Leah Angstman
Jun 27, 2016 · 4 min read

Harry Calhoun
Poetry | “Forty poems in three acts”
53 pages
ISBN 978–0–578–01634–4
6” x 9” trade perfect-bound paperback
Published by Trace Publications
Available HERE
Review originally published on 2/27/10

This paperback is a journey in ‘three acts’ about the passions and relations of human beings, surrounded by nature and questions and expectations, accepting things in the past that cannot be changed, and looking ahead to a future that is not just owned, but shared. The title sums up two main ‘characters’ in the book touched on repeatedly: Bukowski and nature, seemingly polar opposites, but obviously the cornerstones of two distinct sides making up Harry Calhoun.

The poems are definitely lavish with nature-speak, naming different flowers, giving them almost humanistic personification, describing the seasons of North Carolina with a fondness in which one can revel only when truly in love with his surroundings. On occasion, the reveling is a bit much, as the language becomes — pardon the pun — quite flowery at times, naming a few too many plants and comparing a few too many things to the taste of wine, but it is, nonetheless, pleasant, and certainly one can enjoy flowers and wine enough not to mind.

The book is divided into ‘three acts,’ mostly with a set-up, confrontation, and resolution flow, although the divisions offer up a bit of gray area as to a clear distinction between the poems’ placement within the acts. The main arc running through is that the book starts on a very depressing, negative note, dealing with past events — such as the death and subsequent painful forgiving of the author’s mother — and ends up far happier, with the author finding a quite-significant significant other and turning a hopeful eye toward the future.

The poems deal with age, coming to terms with getting older (from “Baseball, behind the trees”):

the aforementioned dealings with the lonely death of the author’s mother (from “Bad joke”):

the author’s correspondences with Bukowski, and the parallels this had to other parts of the author’s life (from “I knew Bukowski”):

the finding of true love that most definitely lit up the author’s life (from “A guest in the house of winter”):

the necessity of beliefs, questioning, having the imagination to create what’s around you, not just live in it (from “The superstition that sustains”):

to the lessons learned from his beloved black Labrador (from “At four years old, I asked my mother: will I die?”):

The topics are universal, and the poems are bursting with personal emotion and the baring of one’s soul, stripped down to the sadness and the joys in one equal breath, side by side, taken as the parts that make the man.

Overall, a very decent collection of quite pleasant poems. Nothing shocking, nothing crazy, but subtle stories of overcoming a painful past to find a brighter future that will make you want to go water a flower.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Leah Angstman

Written by

Historian, The Coil & Alternating Current editor-in-chief, book nerd, author of OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA (Regal House, Jan 2022).

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.