"Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way." - Charles Bukowski
Bukowski suggested that while intellectuals say simple things in difficult ways, artists say difficult things in simple ways. Joseph S. Pulver Sr. has been compared to Bukowski, and while I am loathe to compare him to anyone, his poetic-prose certainly falls in line with Bukowski's thinking. Pulver is an intriguing artist. His work, though fierce, is fueled by a bittersweet muse. It has rhythm and cadence and demonstrates with harsh grace the deeply poetic nature of the author's soul. In 1855 Sydney Smith wrote of the poet Thomas Campbell, "Poetry came from him drop by drop." The same can (and should) be said about Joe Pulver.
Portraits of Ruin (Hippocampus Press, 2012) is more than another fine example of Pulver's work. It is arguably his best collection to date. The tales within are laced with darkly melancholic visions, from "No Healing Prayers" through "And this is where I go down into the darkness." Pulver is a fearless writer. He openly defies formulaic convention in his relentless pursuit of artful meaning. For Pulver, that meaning can be found not only in each carefully chosen word but in form and function as well. The author's use of form - the aesthetic of the text itself - will challenge readers unfamiliar with his work. Those who find pleasure in convention might shy away from Pulver's artistic style, but those who appreciate his willingness to challenge the norm are well rewarded with gems like "Before and After Science and "Lena...cries." The later is wondrously bleak and beautiful and conveys pain with such power it is simply impossible to ignore. In an impressive collection, "Lena...cries" stands out as one of Pulver's best. It exemplifies Walter Wellesley Smith's meaning when he said, "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader."
Artists say difficult things in simple ways. Geniuses say profound things in simple ways. Pulver is and does both. His genius, his art, pours from his veins by the drop. In this sense, Portraits of Ruin is very much like his previous work. It contains the essense of Pulver. In every other sense this new collection outpaces his previous work. It shows his growth as a writer, his willingness to challenge, not just form but himself, to experiment, to push the envelope further beyond the norm. The literary world needs Joseph S. Pulver Sr. Readers and critics alike should read Portraits of Ruin, stand up and take notice. Pulver is (as always) a force to be reckoned with.