Title: Bone Palace Ballet
Author: Charles Bukowski
Page Count/Review Word Count: 363
I don’t tend to worship writers, because I’m a writer myself and I’d find it really weird if one of my few readers worshiped me. Having said that, the fanatical respect that I have for Charles Bukowski comes closer to idolatry than anything else I’ve experienced in my lifetime.
Bone Palace Ballet is a typical collection of Bukowski’s poetry, featuring his musings on women, booze and the races – it can be oddly prophetic at times, too. In ‘Good Night, Sweet Prince’, for example, he writes that “I will die in 1998 and flying fish will still continue to fly.”
He died in 1994, so he was a couple of years out, but it wasn’t a bad guess – I’m not sure when the poem was written, but I do know that the poems contained in this collection were part of an archive that the great poet left to be published after his death.
While I doubt he ever feared death (because if he did, he would have taken better care of his body), it does seem like his impending doom was on his mind when this poetry was written. In “Last Will and Testament“, for example, he writes: “My wish is simple enough although it may not be granted; that the living dead of this life will not soon die and then follow, after the graciousness of death hopefully rescues me from the monstrous weight of this drizzling suckerfish nightmare.”
Bukowski is one of those rare writers who didn’t seem to improve with age – his early work is just as good as his later work, and it’s difficult to rate any one collection of poetry above any other. While his work can be read chronologically, it’s not strictly necessary, and Bone Palace Ballet is as good a book to start with as any other.
His work has mainstream appeal, too – this isn’t Walt Whitman, a poet who’s best-suited to serious academics and lovers of language. This is Bukowski, the poet of the people who wrote with simple language and captured the concerns of a generation.