Charles Bukowski

Betting on the Muse: Poems and Stories

Black Sparrow Press

           This collection of Bukowski's work--the first composed entirely of material never before published--makes one believe he is still alive, getting drunk, laughing at us. While he still drew breath, Bukowski cranked out more than 45 titles for Black Sparrow, books in which he peered at life from his own observation decks: the bar, the racetrack, the dashboard of his car, the blinds of his window. By contrast, many of the poems in Betting on the Muse consider the crapshoot of the creative process; in these reflections, the reader discovers that it is not only the infamous experiences of Charles Bukowski that make his poetry unforgettable, but also his imagination.

           Bukowski has always written like an animal backed into a corner. His chronicles of urban despair have been unmatched for their intensity, honesty, and vulgarity, and this book is no exception. Through all this raunch, however, Bukowski finds sophistication, elegance, and the triumph of the human spirit hiding in secret places. In an age where to be a writer seems like just another accessory to one's personality, Bukowski's insane relationship with his typewriter is an indispensable part of himself. An L.A. City College dropout, he's long been despised by Academia. Yet Betting on the Muse reveals his love of both reading and writing. It also shows that Charles Bukowski, one of the baddest of the bad guys, might have more insight into the human experience than all the supposed good guys put together. (Paul D. Dickinson)



           Just as old vaudevillians found new life in radio and then TV, the Oxbridge-educated upper class wits of Monty Python have moved from TV to movies, to CD-ROM, and now to the Internet. Since other activities have drawn some of the troupe away (to death, trains, training films, flop movies, and history books), it's left to Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam to adapt to cyberspace. Do they find new life? Well, "new life" may not be a proper standard by which to judge a Python; to say that they renew naughty old habits is probably more apt. Idle has done most of the work here, and the fey wickedness of his Web-writing--and its intentionally pieced-out structure--is definitely in line with past satiric and parodic glories. Like cobwebbed old reruns, it provides unique comic relief.

           Subdivided as websites are, this one offers a join-up Spam Club ("the most rapidly swelling organ in America"), a database search option (for randomized expressions of abuse), games to play (if you download the special software), chat rooms (and "chit" rooms), and, of course, merchandise. The pages are mostly black-and-white, with leering line drawings by Gilliam, but they have a certain dry energy that proves Idle is still truly active--and yes, even interactive. He makes an easy but very sharp jab at Royal sex romps by putting "Princess Di" in a chat room; creative timing makes it seem as if she and various randy pals are exchanging furtive comments: "Di.Com: Watch it Stinky, you know the tabloids are tapping everything. /Neddy: I'd like to tap your little botty sugar. / Oh stop. You know I love it when you type dirty." It's all so English, as in politely angry, and because Idle invites questions and provides updates, it's a place to pop in regularly. I'm going back soon to ask about this Tiggy Legge-Bourne person. (Phil Anderson)

Panic Encyclopedia: The Definitive
Guide to the Postmodern Scene

           With no windows, no clocks, and no chaperones, it's easy to see the Net as a virtual Vegas--at least if you adhere to postmodernism. Casting into the future while willfully deconstructing the present, pomo theory has a long line of thinkers, teachers, and philosophers behind it, and bringing them together is Panic Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Postmodern Scene. Surfers looking for splashy visual aids to define the postmodern movement won't find them here, however. Some select art, by Mark Kostabi and Ed Kienholz, for example, serves to reflect postmodern theory, but Panic mainly serves up essays and articles on postmodernism and its "key psychological mood": you guessed it, panic.

           With an A to Z index that touches on such subjects as Panic Elvis, Panic Sex, Panic Zombies, and Panic Babies, the alphabetical listings serve as a "post-alphabetic description of the actual dissolution of facts into the flash of thermonuclear cultural 'events' in the postmodern situation." OK. In plain English, what Panic Encyclopedia discusses are topics like Elvis's demise as a sacrifice of the Sun King, American style; the cowboy conquering the frontier giving way to the conquering of cyberspace; the suburbs being only a "real imitation of life"; and Eugenics as Eu(jean)ics--after a close study of the ads from Ralph Lauren, Esprit, and Jordache, that is. Sure Panic is academic--Jean Baudrillard pops up all over the place--but you might also start wondering just how Pavlovian your own response is to a culture that tells us what we need, when we need it, and why. And you thought the Net was nothing but fun and games and dirty pictures. (Vickie Gilmer)

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