Author photo by Peter's son, Walter Bakowski

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cordite review of PERSONAL WEATHER

Review Short: Peter Bakowski’s Personal Weather

7 May 2014
Personal Weather
Personal Weather by Peter Bakowski
Hunter Publishing, 2014

Bakowski looks into the lens in the photograph by Nick Walton-Healey on the cover of Personal Weather. The poems are also direct. They eschew simile, ambiguity, and the abstract. Were he an etcher, Bakowski’s work would be figurative with clear outlines and orderly perspective. There is no hesitation in his lines. His skies might be cloudy but there would be no obscuring storms of angst, only fugitive rays spotlighting the quirky in the mundane.

The preface to his 1995 prize winning book, In the Human Night, states that he was ‘Born with a hole in the heart to Polish-German parents in Melbourne on 15 October 1954 … On 21 January 1993 he survived an eight hour heart operation.‘
In this volume birds fluttered through the verses with unabashed lyrical abandon. Natural imagery abounded:

In the mean time there are
more poems to write,
I like to try to put
a small truth in each one.
Say, about the size 
of a mouse or a matchbox.

(‘Self-portrait in East Melbourne flat, 22 June 1994’)
This is Bakowski’s credo. The poems presented as found objects the poet picks up on his daily walk:

The streets, of course
are full of poems
rushing off to work
fretting at each kerb,
waiting for the hiccup
of each cursed traffic-light
Undress them carefully
as you would, a peacock
as you would, a panther

(‘The Dictionary is just a beautiful menu, for Frank O'Hara’)
In Bakowski’s last collection, Beneath our Armour (Hunter 2009) he says ‘My aim as a poet is to write clear and accessible poems, to use ordinary words to say extraordinary things. No matter how many books I write in my life time they will all be about what it’s like to be a human being.’
The poems displayed international ambition. There were vignettes of writers such as ‘Portrait of Cyril Connolly’ and in another he had Sylvia Plath writing about Ted’s new lover.
Not all these life studies entranced but they reflect a working method:

learning the difference 
between the necessary and the overworked line.

(‘Caspar Morton, portrait artist, talking about his life and work’)
Personal Weather, Bakowski’s seventh book, continues this minimalist, sharp eyed project. In ‘Self-portrait in the shadow of scalpels, Melbourne, 26 March 2013’, Bakowski is glad he ‘wasn’t born a century before/the common use of antiseptics,/blood transfusions,/general anaesthetization,/morphine and oxygen.’
There are five portraits of other writers, including Plath. Maybe there should be a century embargo on Plath poems. There is ‘A Melbourne letter poem to Ken Bolton’ and ‘A letter from Rebecca Cartello in Scarborough, England, to her sister Carla in Longreach, Queensland, 15 December 1955’. There are four poems about letters, including:

‘The letter Y’

invented the martini. (p 20)
There is a sextet of epigrams, including:

'The pickpocket'
Wishing to reform
he joins
a nudist colony. (p 45)
There is a foreword by Barry Humphries, set out like blank verse. It could be taking the mickey. It reads, in part:

Most modern poetry like nearly all modern
is awful
but these poems are good.
Very good. (p 1)
A Spanish proverb prefaces the poems: ‘Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.’ A man with a serious heart condition may have a special relationship with tomorrow.
The poems in Personal Weather look similar: left justified, un-rhyming views through a 50mm normal lens with straightforward syntax. They have no interest in their own concreteness. They aim to mean. They aim beyond the delectation of other poets.
The book’s first poem is ‘City workers during morning rush hour, Collins Street’, alludes to John Brack’s painting of 5pm in the same street. The second stanza is:

What a gift is hunger. Because of it your ancestors left their caves,
Explored plains, valleys, rivers, seas. These
Adventures became paintings, songs, tall tales, family legends, headlines.
There's the story of each person, on the trains, trams and street corners.
How vulnerable you are, how strong you are. I want to reveal your
Essence via the camera of this poem, as you swarm and
Rush in the business district, glancing at your wristwatches. (p 3)
This has the yearning of Whitman without his music. It relies on lists and the close observation of a Cartier-Bresson.
Bakowski blogs poems and musings on poetry and his influences. He pays homage online in ‘One for Charles Bukowski’:

You've taught me
to be lean in the poem,
to say the thing 
the way the hammer
says things 
to the nail.
Online he discusses pruning and sifting his poetry: ‘I’ve realized in my twenty years of writing poetry I’ve now used the words ‘sparrow’ and ‘sofa’ enough.’
He talks about being inspired by crime fiction and biography. He describes writing poetry as ‘ambling with your thoughts on a long leash in the park of your skull.’
Do the words he finds in this park excite? His corner of the playground may not entice all players but there is a whittled, sly serenity in his best lines. From the book’s last poem, ‘Some observations and a wish, for Ron Padgett’ come:

During your life the speed at which your remove your clothes may vary.

If pigs could fly, there'd be less bacon.

To ants, a twig is a battering ram.

May your mind resist the impulse to be a closed fist. (p 72)
One hundred years of games in literature do not trouble this work but there should be some quiet in our hubbub for Bakowski to be heard.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The paper dolls

we had to dance
for a visitor’s amusement.

we are pinned
to a wall.

Our pencilled eyes
can’t blink away the dust.

Pale, thin,
we grip each other’s hands

and tremble
whenever the door

The above poem is from my new (fifth) poetry collection, Personal Weather, to be launched at The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 March.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The black room

                                                                                                                                       for Charles Simic
No light switch.
No windows.
A pile of kindling
but no matches.

Room without
books, or pillow,
or a thimbleful of water.

Nothing to do
except lie down
on the cold floorboards

and see how dark
it is inside you.

The above poem is from my 2014 poetry collection, Personal Weather, which will be launched at The Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 March 2014.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The letter Y

invented the slingshot.

Deep in the woods

He repaints the getaway car
the blue
of the bank teller’s eyes.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Charles Bukowski and me

The first lines in a Charles Bukowski poem that stayed with me were "people run from rain but sit in bathtubs full of water", from the poem "86'd", read on a park bench in Richmond, Melbourne in the first half of the 1970's. Some years passed, until a tram conductor friend gave me his copy of "Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame". I was struck by the poem "Something For The Touts". I liked the scope of the poem and how it incorporated ordinary people, such as nurses coming off a shift. The influence of that poem is there in a poem I had published in AMBIT magazine, a poem called "Like Talculm Powder In the Rain" and also in a poem, entitled "War And Journey", published in my first poetry collection, "In the Human Night."
I remember one Saturday in the mid-1980's whilst living in a shared house in Fulham, London, reading three of John Fante's novels back to back in 14 hours, having read Charles Bukowski's championing of Fante's works and clear, clean writing style.
Saturdays in London, I would catch the tube to Camden, go to Compedium Books to see if there was a new Charles Bukowski.
One London winter, I flew to Los Angeles, travelled down to Calexico and crossed the border into Mexico, wound up in a hotel room in Merida, Yucatan. In the hotel room I wrote the poem, "One for Charles Bukowski", which later appeared in my first poetry collection, "In the Human Night". I typed up the poem in that hotel room on a manual typewriter I had lugged all around Mexico, and mailed the poem to Charles Bukowski c/o Black Sparrow Press. Several months later back in London,
I received a letter typed by Charles B, the first line of the letter read "That was some poem you wrote, I'm honoured..."
In my next letter to Charles Bukowski, I enclosed a black and white photo of myself leaning against a London factory wall and said that a lot of my late adolescence had been spent playing pool(!)
I wrote my third and last letter to Charles Bukowski on the eve of myself undergoing a major heart operation at the age of 39. I wrote that letter from the cardiac ward of the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, and despite having read numerous Bukowski poems outlining his need to be alone, in the letter I asked whether in 1994 I could come visit and interview him.
His tactful gracious (and generous-minded) reply to me is there published in "Reach For The Sun" -Selected Letters 1978-1994 Volume 3 (Black Sparrow Press 1999).
Here my poem "One For Charles Bukowski" -

One for Charles Bukowski

I've carried your books like bibles
from Bali to Britain to north of Brazil,
past the Hollywood props, the neutered corral
of schoolroom nodding poetry and fiction,
to find again the hermit strength
of your unbartered words
under the reading lamp's halo.

And the bovine public
ever swilling at their trough
will best remember you
for your "dirty" stories,
but for me it will always be
the poems.

Rimbaud said, "So then,
the poet is truly a thief of fire."
Truly then
you are the best thief of all!

I like your poem about
when you were starving in atlanta
and writing your poems in the margins
of old newspapers.
I like your poem
"Have you ever kissed a panther?"
I've fallen in love with some too.
I like your poems
about working in factories and other
shit-kicker jobs.
I've chewed and bled some
against the wire of that life.

I like your poems about
your whores and your heroes:
the fist and earth of them,
their venom and their yearning,
throwing out a last horseshoe
from their hearts.

And I like the way
you've never really liked
giving poetry readings,
how you only did it 'cos
you needed the money.
It's alright, we've all
been whore to something

I like the way
you've ridden your horse:
through Andernach,
through a childhood of thorns,
through the whipped streets
of Los Angeles,
through the little magazines,
through the acres and alley-ways,
droughted of peace,
droughted of love.

It's a story of bravery
and I've always admired bravery.
Still do.

And don't worry about
non-acceptance; American literature
only bestows its laurels
to treaders of water,
inwardly they shudder
at your anvil songs.
On the Continent
they understand you better,
their eyes have long been propped open
by the singular barbs
of Cendrars and Genet.

You've taught me
that where a person's truth begins
is in the dawn realm
of solitude,
harbour of our deepest anchors;
and that
the way to love something or somebody
is by not committing surgery upon them,
to recognize and respect
their trials and graces
in their own arena,
be they
lion, horse, spider, cat
or human.
You've taught me
to be lean in the poem,
to say the thing
the way the hammer
says things
to the nail.

as the world sits on days
as thin and sharp
as the edges of razor blades,
as the world kneels, to docilely accept
the whip of new Pentagons,
know that
your books will pass as revolvers pass
through the hands of desperate men;
the splash of your poems will ripple
to the edges of the world
and there will be
a seed, a plan and a way
for new
thieves of fire.

Old dog, blowfly saint,
you can rest in the sun now
if you want.

You have given us more
than we deserve.
                                                           - from "In The Human Night"