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Charles Bukowski and Al Purdy.

Sutton West (ON), Paget Press, c1983.
Distributed by Paget Press, Box 488, Sutton West, ON, LOE IRQ.
117pp, cloth, $23.00; paper, $8.50.
ISBN 0-920348-26-2; 0-920348-28-9.


Reviewed by James Kingstone.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

The advantage of reading a writer's letters is that one sees, often quite easily, the shape of informal thought that is frequently more revealing than the author's published work. By reading diaries and letters written to close friends, private communication, we see a writer's life focused for us in sharper detail; at least, that is the idea. But I cannot help but think that the private world disclosed for this reader in The Bukowski/Purdy Letters 1964-1974 would have been better left to the world of private correspondence. The writing is undistinguished; and, while one marvels at the spontaneity and the evolution of a friendship, the exchange of letters more often than not celebrates drinking and womanizing. The rather immature boasting by each be-'comes tedious, and though it echoes Hemingway and Dylan Thomas, at least with them there were letters whose critical intelligence redeemed any masculine posturing. In Bukowski/Purdy, one has to look very hard indeed to discover any insights into the craft of writing. Scrape away the occasional inventive misspelling or pun, and the very occasional verbal facility (as in the description of a teacher as "an upright piece of chalk"), and one is left with much that is crude and embarrassing. Four-letter-word dismissals of writers substitutes for criticism in this unfortunate publication. It is really very unfortunate, because it could have been the kind of work—it is imaginatively and cleanly bound—to provoke casual readers to search out the poetry of these two men.

I suspect the blame for this effort should be laid at the feet of the editor, Seamus Cooney, who could not have been less sensitive in urging these two men to publish their letters. They could not have imagined their letters would have been published, ever, let alone while they were still alive. The publishing of literary correspondence has become very popular recently (note the publication of The Nabokov/Wilson Letters and several others in the last five years), but perhaps the market has reached its saturation point. We may have reached a stage now where certain individuals feel they can pass anything off to an uncritical public, and in this particular publication we have been conned, because in the growing field of published correspondence it is certainly an aberration.

James Kingstone, Ridley College, St. Catharines, ON.
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