Everette Maddox was given to me in a “if you like Bukowski…” sort of gesture, which can go either way very quickly. Many a “if you like Bukowski…” poet becomes such a see-through, cookie-cutter, tough guy bore within the first few pieces that I have to set the collection aside, but Maddox makes the case in his posthumous collection I hope it’s not over, and good-by that he isn’t just another acolyte, but rather his own entity. With all his drinking and curmudgeon-ish lines, there are certainly similarities, and like Bukowski, Maddox strikes me as someone who already saw the bare lightbulb of death at the end of his tunnel and was content to record the final miles in whatever manner they presented themselves. Yet there’s almost a begrudging joy to his bearing witness to life and all the foolishness and heartache littering the way, and a sense of belonging and being a part of his community comes through.
In his poem “Maintenance,” Maddox says “It’s a thankless task / sweeping the halls of consciousness. / My friends are all such fools / I can’t help liking them.” He later contemplates joining these friends at the bar while he gets drunk and talks to the rats. A very Bukowski thing to say or do, but there’s a sweetness to it lacking in others who write about the skid-row life. He muses how these friends don’t think he has any fun, but in his own way, and with his own flask, he does. And just because he’s not with his friends, that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking of them, almost enough so to make him rise and seek them out.
Even in the most glum of moments, he writes of the untouchable silver lining to death’s hand reaching toward him from the gloom. For every sour moment, a tender one lurking beneath. In one of my favorites pieces in the collection, his poem “The Job,” he begins, “It looks like rain / and that’s not / the worst of it. / But in a dream / I get a job. / It happens like this:” and there he goes spinning his dreams and ramshackle pining at you. Some poems are more dry-bone certain of life’s march of shit, but many others belie a poet’s playfulness with words, a hopefulness, a spirit flying in the face of the hard drinking and gruff exterior, which he still plays up in force with all kinds of moody jazz jumping and dark bar soliloquy.
Maddox didn’t survive to be another figure in Bukowski’s posthumous shadow. He passed before Buk, in 1989, but these poems still feel alive, like they could have been written ten minutes ago by your buddy down the bar, scrawled on a napkin to surprise you out of your besotted stupor. In fact, the collection contains some of his own napkin notes, with one musing, “Man, if I don’t have to pay cover, I’m gone have god’s own evening.” And he up and did, thankfully leaving us lines and napkins to lead the way down that tunnel toward our own bare lightbulb ending.
I hope it’s not over, and good-by is available from unopress.
- James H