erections, ejaculations, exhibitions and General Tales of ordinary Madness

by Charles Bukowski
(1972)
   Though generally known as a poet and novelist, Charles Bukowski was an outstanding short story writer. lawrence ferlinghetti, who was one of the first to recognize Bukowski’s talents, published Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness, dedicated to his young girlfriend Linda King, through City Lights Books. The volume was later broken up into Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983) and The Most Beautiful Woman in Town & Other Stories (1983). The stories first appeared in the magazines and journals Open City, Nola Express, Knight, Adam, Adam Reader, Pix, The Berkeley Barb, and Evergreen Review. Bukowski’s staccato prose and maverick grammar take us through the underbelly of city life that is full of horror and humor. Though most of the stories are classic examples of Bukowski’s stark realism, some of them are highly imaginative and surreal. “Animal Crackers in My Soup” is one of the great works that is uncharacteristic of Bukowski’s hard-boiled and hung-over style. The story is about a man named Gordon who is down and out. He encounters Crazy Carol, who has a house full of zoo animals that she takes care of. Gordon becomes one of the creatures that she nurses back to health. He learns that Carol has sexual relations with all of her animals. Bukowski describes very graphic sex scenes between Carol and a snake, Carol and a tiger, and Carol and Gordon. The short story is partially pornographic and reads like something at which even Penthouse forum readers would blush. Yet, this material is ingeniously combined with a political message. Carol is trying to create a Nietzschean Superman or Superbeast with all the best characteristics of the zoo animals with which she mates. Carol’s animals all get along because she exudes a love that they all adopt. The world that surrounds Carol and Gordon is described as vile and decadent, and for it to survive, there needs to be a new creature who will not be self-destructive like human beings. After going out for supplies, Gordon and Carol come back to find that the animals have been brutally shot to death by the vicious humans who are wary of Carol. Shortly thereafter, Carol’s child is born: an amalgamation of the animals and Gordon. The story ends with a hydrogen bomb being dropped on the city, San Francisco. Carol was too late. Yet, we can appreciate this story as an experimental attempt on Bukowski’s part to write a politically pertinent piece of pornography. One of the more interesting aspects of these short stories is the commentary Bukowski and his characters make on writers. The Beat writers and their associates come up several times, and it was obvious that the Beats were on Bukowski’s mind while he wrote these stories. robert creeley, who was also published alongside Bukowski by Black Sparrow Press, receives the brunt of Bukowski’s ire. “I do suppose,” writes Bukowski in “Eyes Like the Sky,” “that the biggest snob outfit ever invented was the old Black Mountain group. and Creeley is still feared in and out of the universities—feared and revered—more than any other poet. then we have the academics, who like Creeley, write very carefully. in essence, the generally accepted poetry today has a kind of glass outside to it, slick and sliding, and sunned down inside there is a joining of word to word in a rather metallic inhuman summation or ‘semi-secret’ angle. this is poetry for millionaires and fat men of leisure so it does get backing and it does survive because the secret is in that those who belong really belong and to hell with the rest. but the poetry is dull, very dull, so dull that the dullness is taken for hidden meaning. . . .” In “My Stay in the Poet’s Cottage,” Bukowski writes that Creeley is one of the poets who puts him to sleep. “Bukowski is jealous of [allen] ginsberg,” he confesses in “I Shot a Man in Reno.” In “Eyes Like the Sky,” he writes, “Ginsberg, meanwhile turns gigantic extrovert handsprings across our sight, realizing the gap and trying to fill it. at least, he knows what is wrong—he simply lacks the artistry to fulfill it.” Ferlinghetti, Jack Hirschman, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, charles olson, neal cassady, jack kerouac, philip lamantia, timothy leary, bob dylan, gregory corso, William S. Burroughs, and harold norse (whom Bukowski praises) are all mentioned in this collection.
   The success of the book occasioned a flight to San Francisco in September 1972 that started with the audience throwing bottles at the hostile Bukowski during his reading and ended with a drunk Bukowski destroying Ferlinghetti’s apartment. Norse told Ferlinghetti after, “Didn’t I warn you?”
 Bibliography
■ Sounes, Howard. Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life. Edinburgh, Scotland: Rebel, Inc., 1998.
   Kurt Hemmer

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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