Review: I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf

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”):

[ … ] if I had a mirror
it would tell me
summer is not the only season
that relentlessly rushes in[,]

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

[ … ] finally got to see his mother
[leveled] by a stroke
and croaking like a seal
and unable to speak
and unrecognizing of her own son
[ … ],

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

[ … ]
Never met Bukowski
we just corresponded
I liked Bukowski
and I loved my mother
but I can’t say I knew either one
better than the other
[ … ],

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

[ … ]
I wonder why you have placed this fireplace
in the midst of my chilly unlit life,
made me 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”):

I’ve heard that people in Bhutan
now live unbelieving that the yeti exists
[ … ]
how I could live these many years
without my mythology
how I could live in barren grasses
and stuck in fields the prey of
owls and wolves and foxes
not knowing I had wings
[ … ],

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

my beautiful black Labrador
won’t live nearly as long as me
and will give me
a microcosm
of what it will be for me
to age from boy to adolescent to man
to decrepitude
[ … ].

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.