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Book Reviews

Benjamin Ivry
Scarborough House
Poet Biography


A fascinating new biography that is part of the Outlines series of books dealing with homosexuality in the artist's lives. This book is the first Arthur Rimbaud biography to deal graphically with his homosexual relationship with Paul Verlaine, who was married and bisexual. Other translators and biographers like Enid Starkie have been timid in their dealing with this aspect of Rimbaud's life. The author provides evidence through letters and poem parodies written by Rimbaud and Verlaine and others that Rimbaud did have a gay relationship with Verlaine as well as five other men.

The book is divided into sections: Before Verlaine, With Verlaine, Getting Rid Of Verlaine, Travels and Hauntings (modern poets and writers who have been inspired by Rimbaud, from Henry Miller to Jean Cocteau to Jean Jenet and Jim Carroll, Patti Smith and Jim Morrison). It briefly mentions the great Agneizska Holland film Total Eclipse which came out in 1995, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud and David Thewlis as Verlaine. Ivry says that Leonardo was perfect for the role but David Thewlis was overbearing. I don't think so. Thewlis accurately portrayed the manic, effeminate side of Verlaine in all his weaknesses. Leonardo was great as Rimbaud, but River Phoenix would have portrayed him more accurately as an effeminate poet and a tortured soul (River was supposed to play Rimbaud in the movie, but he died in 1993 and the roll went to Leonardo).

Overall, the research is very good and Ivory makes a strong case and statement about R & V's homosexuality. Ivry states that Rimbaud's only sexual relationships with women were in Africa, and he also had a sexual relationship with a servant boy companion. Funny, poignant and sad, this is a highly recommended read that makes you wonder how much more Rimbaud could have achieved had he continued writing, and it also makes you realize how controversial and ultimately ground-breaking was Rimbaud and Verlaine's sadomasochistic love affair. Ivry states that Rimabaud engaged in homosexual activity not just because he was gay but because he wanted to derange the senses. Rimbaud paved the way for Oscar Wilde and other controversial homosexual artists, and he remains the greatest French poet that ever lived. This book is highly recommended. Two snaps up!

Ralph Haselmann, Jr.


Charles Bukowski
edited by David Stephen Calonne
Sun Dog Press


Charles Bukowski Sunlight Here I Am: Interviews and Encounters 1963 – 1993 is a fun, revealing new collection of interviews spanning the last 30 years of poet Charles Bukowski’s life. Editor David Stephen Calonne does an admirable job of selecting an illuminating overview of the best interviews with Charles, and notes that he came across 60+ interviews, enough to fill up two more volumes with what is left out of this volume. Such magazines as Litarary Times (Chicago), The North American Review, Los Angeles Free Press, Berkeley Barb, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Twisted Image, Interview, People, High Times, and Film Threat are represented here. Buk is interviewed by such luminaries as Sean Penn, Hugh Fox, and Barbet Shroeder and two of his own books, Shakespeare Never Did This and Hollywood are excerpted here.
Editor Calonne does a neat job of encapsulating Buk’s life in the first chapter biography that opens this book.

You know the drill by now. Charles was born in Anderach, Germany in 1920 and came to America at age 3. His father used to beat him with a strap until Charles punched him square in the face when Charles was 16; only then did the beatings stop. Charles also suffered from a horrible skin condition called Acne Vulgaris, where he had huge boils on his face which had to be surgically drained of the pus. This, along with bar brawls later in life, left him with scars and pockmarks on his face. He became popular in Europe and especially Germany in the 1970’s and later in America in the 1980’s. He carved out his own style of gritty hard – boiled realism, writing about drinking and picking a fight in bars, sleeping with whores, and betting on the racetracks. He wrote the semi – autobiographical screenplay Barfly, staring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.

He had a long time relationship with Linda King and was married twice, the first time to a wealthy heiress named Maria, the second to Linda Lee. He left behind 40 books of poetry and prose, and scores of imitators . Charles Bukowski died of Leukemia in 1994 at age 74 and remains the most popular and most imitated poet in the world
Rather than write an analytical review, I’m just going to recount some of the more amusing passages in the book, to convince you of it’s worth. In Charles Bukowski Speaks Out, an interview with Arnold Kaye from 1963, Buk is asked about the homosexual poets and replies, “Homosexuals are delicate and bad poetry is delicate and Ginsberg turns the tables by making homosexual poetry strong poetry, almost manly poetry, but in the long run, the homo will remain the homo and not the poet.”

In Partying With The Poets, an interview with Ric Reynolds from 1971, Ric recounts how Buk has a chance encounter at a party with some famous Beat poets, including Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The poets were leaning against the wall in the background. “Bukowski hugged Ginsberg closer and he rubbed Bukowski’s back. “That feels good, Allen, real good. No lie.” Ginsberg had been taken in by all the flattery, but when he saw that Bukowski was going to force some booze down his throat he slumped in a fake drunken drawl and said that he had been drinking all night. “God, it’s good to see you, Allen, really I don’t care if you are a fake. Did you hear that folks? Washed up. Everybody knows that after Howl you never wrote anything worth a shit..”

Charles Bukowski could be a mean drunk, but he was also capable of kindness and tenderness, and often displayed a sly sense of humour. In my favorite interview in the book, a self – interview from his book Shakespeare Never Did This, from 1979 Buk parodies the interview form to great effect: “I had a dream once that I had intercourse with my mom. Best wet dream I ever had…”No. Yes. No. NO. “I like Thomas Carlyle. Madame Butterfly and orange juice with the skins crushed in. I like red radios, car washes and crushed cigarette packages and Carson McCullers. “No. NO! No. Yes, of course. “Mick Jagger? No, I don’t like his mouth.” “Bob Dylan? No, I don’t like his chin” The interview ended there.”

In other interviews in this book, Buk talks about his favorite writers and musical composers, writing workshops, small press poets and the small press, and the Hell that is Disneyland. This book was very engaging and entertaining, and I highly recommend it. Do I think Charles Bukowski is a genius poet? Yes, along with Basho, Emilly Dickenson, Arthur Rimbaud and Bob Dylan, he is one of the few geniuses that the poetry world has produced. Do I want to read 40 books by him or any other poet? Absolutely not!! Is this book a keeper? Well, yes. It’s a sure bet.

Ralph Haselmann, Jr.


Paul Elie
Farrar, Straus & Giroux


As a rationalist agnostic, I have long been fascinated by faith. Faith being absolute belief without absolute proof. This is contrary to my every inclination. I can certainly see possibilities without proof. I can even believe in those possibilities without proof, but it is a tentative belief, ready to be reevaluated with the next evidence. In fact, in the end, I believe there are
some things which cannot be known through evidence and logic, things which require faith in order to belive them. I am puzzled, and curious, about those who do not think like I do. Just how do they make that leap to belief without

How does some one come to have faith? And what does faith really mean in
their life? How does it influence how they live, how they act, how they create?So when I saw this book, about the Catholic faith of four mid-century
American writers -- Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy -- I was immediately intrigued, especially as two, Percy and O’Connor, are two of my favorite writers. And are writers whose work never struck me as
particularly Catholic, or even based on firm belief.Both writers seemed to be struggling with their belief, not advocating it. So I hoped “The Life You Save...” might provide me with some insight into not only the nature of faith, but its influence on art.

I was not disappointed. By examining these four lives, Elie is able to provide some surprising (perhaps) conclusions about the nature and role of
faith. Most surprising to me was that, at least for these four individuals, faith did not provide all the answers. Rather, it provided a context in which to ask more questions. For all four, faith, rather than being an end to a quest, was a framework for further questing.

Elie recognizes this dynamic when he describes his book as a record of a pilgrimage. Pilgrimage here meaning less a specific journey than traveling through life in a search for knowledge. And faith.He tells the biographies of his four writers simultaneously. This enables him to not only keep track of when their paths crossed (all four had some communication, personal and professional, throughout their lives), but also when they reached similar crossroads in their respective quests.

Those quests were different for each writer.

Dorothy Day founded The Catholic Worker, a radical paper and charitable organization dedicated to feeding the poor. A radical in her youth, when Day converted to Catholicism she maintained her political beliefs. She saw them as
the natural extension of the command to live as Christ did. To her, this meant a strict policy of charity and pacifism. Day’s quest was how best to live in Christ’s example. Until her death, she was constantly strive to live closer to that ideal.

Thomas Merton’s quest was how to get closer to God. Also a Catholic convert, he became a monk, hoping to spend his life in contemplation. Yet he found there always remained barriers between himself and the pure experience of God. He spent his life searching for ways past those barriers. He is best known for The Seven Storey Mountain, his memoir about how he chose the life of a monk.

Flannery O’Connor was the only one of the four raised a Catholic. Perhaps because of this, her faith was the firmest. Her search was for ways to best express that faith through her fiction. Yet she chose a very open-ended style for her writing, dealing more with the questions and dilemnas of belief rather than the answers of faith. Yo her disappointment, her work was often misinterpreted.

Walker Percy seems to have maintained the most basic of religious quests. Despite his conversion, he continued to search for the meaning of life. This quest is reflected in his fiction. His protagonists are often on a search for meaning in their lives. In The Second Coming, his main character sets off on a mission to specifically prove or disprove the existence of God.

Elie explains the hows of these writers’ faith -- how they were converted, how their faith affected their writing. How their searches continues
throughout their lives. But he can never quite explain the why -- why they believed. Perhaps that is as it should be. Faith retains its mysteries. The reasons for faith are personal, and ultimately unexplainable, even unknowable.

Or perhaps that is just wishful thinking on my part. Just me interpreting the book to fit my beliefs -- that there are certain things which are
ultimately unknowable. That there are things which cannot be proven with concrete
evidence, which it takes faith to fully believe. Maybe I’m just relieved to find
that, even for those with faith, life retains its mysteries.

G. Murray Thomas

(continued top of page)





Graham Robb
W.W. Norton & Company
Poet Biography


This a remarkable, intense, finely detailed new biography of legendary 19th century poet and enfant terrible Arthur Rimbaud. Biographer Graham sheds new light on Arthur's homosexual relationship with Paul Verlaine, offers crisp criticism of Arthur's amazingly precocious poetry and offers new details on Arthur's travels and trading in Africa at the end of his life after he stopped writing poetry. Arthur was not a failed businessman as had been previously believed, but through recent letters and receipts that have come to light, it is shown that he actually made a small fortune gun running and trading in the Sudan and Choa.

The second half of the book details his dealings in Africa: "(In his letters), Rimbaud exaggerated the heat of the sun, the stinginess of his employers and his own incompetence -- why not also his financial hardship? The only real mystery is this: why has Rimbaud's tale of woe been accepted as the truth? Why, when the whole shape and meaning of his life in Africa depend on it, has the biography of his money never been properly pieced together? Like the tragic tale of Mozart's obscure burial, Rimbaud's fictitious failure in Choa is part of an edifying fable that makes the absurdity of his end more bearable.

It turns the sudden precipice into the tale of a neat parabola. The hero's transgression -- squandering his talent, denying the religion of Art, being too original, etc., is punished by failure in the material world. His death is cloaked in a comforting logic and attributed, without evidence, to a fate-like agency: usually inherited disease or mysterious bad luck. Fake reports of Rimbaud's death-bed conversion are rightly derided, but the idea of ineluctable decline is accepted in its place. Either way, Rimbaud's life is used, in spite of his own philosophy, to prove that human existence is subject to a superior form of administration."

The epilogue details how Arthur Rimbaud's younger sister Isabelle took to erase all traces of Rimbaud's deviant life with Paul Verlaine after his death, as she married Paterne Berricchon, an early biographer of Rimbaud, and with him she schemed to forge letters from Arthur to present a sunnier outlook, including his fictitious death-bed religious conversion, to please her mother, and burned incriminating love letters from Arthur to Paul.

How sad that these important pieces of history are lost forever, they would have been a fascinating drama to read. Fortunately enough of Rimbaud's early letters and poetry have survived. This book easily replaces Enid Starkie's biography as the premiere biography of Rimbaud, and along with Arthur Rimbaud by Benjamin Ivry, a study of Arthur Rimbaud's homosexuality as it relates to his Art and life, is the newest and most important study of the young genius poet Arthur Rimbaud. A magnificent accomplishment by Robb.

Ralph Haselmann, Jr.


Henry Miller
New Directions (Out of Print)
Dimensions (reprint paperback)


I found this charming book through RWD Book Search ( on the internet, for the expensive price of $160, but it is worth every penny. It is a little black book with die-cut windows out of which peer the eyes of Arthur Rimbaud and Henry Miller from portraits on page one. In his famous poem from A Season In Hell, Arthur Rimbaud remarked, "Now is the time of the assassins." He was in part making a pun on the word hashish, which he was smoking at the time, and also commenting on the assassination of President Lincoln. Henry Miller uses this phrase as his title. In the epilogue, Miller notes all of the great literature published in Rimbaud's time (mid to late 1900's) and he comments on the dangerous times in which we live: "What revolt, what disillusionment, what longing! Nothing but crises, breakdowns, hallucinations and visions. The foundations of politics, morals, economics and art tremble. The air is full of warnings and prophecies of the debacle to come--and in the 20th century it comes! Already two world wars and a promise of more before the century is out. Have we touched bottom? Not yet. The moral crisis of the 19th century has merely given way to the spiritual bankruptcy of the 20th. It is "the time of the assassins," and no mistaking it. Politics has become the business of gangsters. The peoples are marching in the sky but they are not shouting hosannas; those below are marching towards the bread lines…" It is in this atmosphere of chaos that Arthur Rimbaud's poetry is born, and it will shake and rattle the very foundation of French literature. Rimbaud was the first modern poet, along with Walt Whitman in America. Rimbaud lived a hellish existence, a life of suffering which Miller compares to his own life and the life of abstract expressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh died at almost the same age as Rimbaud a year before Rimbaud in 1890. Miller also talks about Rimbaud's harsh mother and his need to escape the womb, like Miller. Here again Miller identifies with Rimbaud's life and his odyssey of self destruction, and muses on Rimbaud's meaning in beautiful descriptions throughout this book. I found this book to be endlessly fascinating and charming, full of life and spirit and poetry and intelligence. When the late actor River Phoenix was considering the role of Arthur Rimbaud in the film Total Eclipse (the role later went to Leonardo DiCaprio after River's death on 1993), he read Henry Miller's The Time Of The Assassins and carried it around in his pocket, showing it to friends and reading passages from the book to all who would listen. River cherished this book, as do I, and I am overjoyed that I found this rare 2nd edition hardcover copy. If you can find this book, I urge you to buy it, for it is profoundly inspiring.

Ralph Haselmann, Jr.



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