11 responses to “Anthony Bukoski on Finding His Father”

  1. Dick Cummins

    AB: Lovely – I read Time Between Trains.

    Fine, fine storytelling! Loved the one about the 100-year-old confessional that after being retired, had to have the patina of all those years of all those sins and tears stripped off with paint remover before it could be sold…

    Also there was the fine story about a gay waiter in a Polish restaurant (with a Ph.D in Philosophy no less) who ends up with a straight construction worker roommate.

    Some of the excellent expository internal narration explains how gay men “feel” about other men. This was important because it gave insight into a human condition and it felt emotionally correct and promoted understanding.

    Why so important and good? There are two ways to understand human conditions (although I’m sure Don Wallace says 27 – just to be difficult).

    Anyway, one path to understanding is to read a textbook about something so you can say: “Sure – that makes sense.”

    The other way to understand something is after reading a story – maybe fiction maybe not – doesn’t matter – you can say, “I think I know how the writer ‘feels’, as in ‘I’ve just walked a mile in those moccasins’ – and now I get it.”

    I wake to sleep and take my waking slow … We learn by feeling, what else is there to know? — Rilke

  2. Anthony Bukoski

    Thank you for your kind comments regarding the stories. I remember the inspiration for the confessional story. In my hometown we once had three principally Slavic parishes, St. Stanislaus and St. Adalbert (my family’s church) for Poles, Sts. Cyril and Methodius for Slovaks. The three churches have been razed. Anyway, I’d heard at the time of their razing that the St. Stan’s confessional was for sale. Either someone would buy it, or it would have to be carted off to the dump. Surely, it’s buried in the landfill these days, for who’d want an ungainly thing like a confessional? But as you say, think of all the sins in those walls. Now the sins are in their rightful place, the city dump.

    The other story, “A Philosophy of Dust,” came about when yet another pipeline was coming through the place near where I live, a mile or so away actually. Some pipelines are much closer to our house. A young, broken-hearted construction worker from out of town finds himself in an East End Superior tavern where he meets the philosopher who falls apart toward the end. It is kind of an odd story what with the philosopher’s education, his long fingernails and ethnic apparel, his adoring the “Polish James Dean,” Zygmund Cybulski, and so on.

    So thank you again for reading the book. I live in a strange place. There’s sure plenty to write about here. You’re very kind for taking the time to write.

  3. Cheryl

    Tony, I feel compelled to respond to your “who’d want an ungainly thing like a confessional.” When Eric and I were living in Iowa City, one of the local Catholic churches had a sale which included one. It was hand-carved and beautiful and seemed like the coolest conversation piece (make what you will of the pun) ever. Of course, starving students that we were, we couldn’t afford the low asking price. Would’ve been a bear to move, but I still think wistfully of it. We did buy a brass candlestick that’s followed us through many moves and still haunts a corner of the livingroom.

    Thanks for sharing your essay and inspirations for stories. You’ve inspired me to ponder the confessional.

  4. Anthony Bukoski

    You’re right of course, Cheryl. Many confessionals are beautifully adorned. Ours at St. Adalbert’s was as plain as could be. Maybe we weren’t very lavish sinners like the people at St. Stan’s, whose confessional was more ornate.I should also say that, lest anyone think I mock Catholic customs, I’d never do that. For the occasional humor that appears in the confessional story, the story is still serious and respectful.

    On a related note, W. P. Kinsella and I became friends before he was famous. His office in EPB was across from mine. When Bill left Iowa to teach at the University of Calgary, we kept in touch. When he got famous with “Shoeless Joe,” later the movie “Field of Dreams,” he came several times to stay with my wife and me in Superior. Bill and his wife stayed in my sister’s old room upstairs. Because many scapulars, rosaries, religious statues, and missals adorned the room, Bill’s wife began calling it “the prayer tower.” I took all of these items with us when my wife and I moved to a home in the country a little outside of Superior.
    Anyone in need of a prayer book?

  5. Dick Cummins class of '70


    How’s W. P. doing? I read quite awhile ago that he was hit by a car while walking – suffered a serious head injury and could now longer write… I’m assuming you have seen him since.

    I was looking W. P. up on-line to see if there was progress about his condition and came across the piece pasted below. Could be a topic for discussion for our coven of interested writers no?

    “W.P. Kinsella was involved in a car accident in 1997 which resulted in the end of his fiction writing career. He was struck by a car while out walking and suffered a head injury when he hit the ground.

    In a 1999 interview with the University of Regina‘s student newspaper, Kinsella explained that he could no longer write as he lost his ability to concentrate. The injury also robbed him of his senses of taste and smell. Kinsella said he went from being a Type A Personality to Type B. After the accident, he didn’t feel like doing the things he had done in his normal routine and didn’t care.

    He did write book reviews to keep his name before the public. …But that’s not quite what caught my attention. What did was the following:

    “He was cited as an archetypical victim of changes in the publishing industry during the late 1980s, which accelerated during the 1990s, that made it more difficult for well-regarded “mid-list” writers such as Kinsella to remain in print.

    The publishing industry underwent a wave of consolidation in the 1990s, as publishers were acquired by big communications companies seeking marketing synergies. The new publishing houses poured more capital into higher-paid, best-selling writers and celebrities who could guarantee “hit” books. Mid-list writers with first-rate reputations but mid-range, non-spectacular sales suffered accordingly as they were ignored by the newly publishing conglomerates.”

    I would be interested to hear from our we-wanted cabal with book sales, what their experiences have been with the evolving ‘mid-list’ mindset of the publishing conglomerates. Also if anyone has had success with e-publishing, vanity, etc.? dc

  6. Anthony Bukoski

    Bill Kinsella wrote me the other day. His fourth wife? died recently. His health isn’t so good. He’s moving to a retirement complex in Hope, BC. His webpage, he wrote, is http://www.wpkinsella.com. Things have been tough for him.

  7. Dick Cummins

    Thanks Tony –

    Will have a look at his webpage. I’ve never met W. P. as he was after my time at the workshop but remember reading ‘Box Socials’ after seeing ‘Fields’ and found it inventive, enjoyed the narrative drive and color and history of small village life in – Alberta I believe it was – and the local baseball scenes of course.

    After living in San Diego for 22 years, remember driving a rental from my wife’s sister’s place in Omaha to the 75th reunion – cruising through through Iowa on 80 when we saw a sign announcing that if we wanted to see ‘The Field of Dreams’ – take the next exit.

    We didn’t but I pointed to a likely suspect as we sped by:

    “There it is. Doesn’t look very dreamy to me.”

    “That’s because it’s a field of beans. I think you’ve been away from the land WAY to long dear.”

    I’ve been thinking about ‘Trains’ and bet you have probably been tossed into some actually non-existent, chimera category called ‘regional mid-list author’. Too bad as ‘Trains’ is good writing about characters first and setting second – although of course the (freezing) setting and ethnic cultural context is the basis of your ‘Superior’ stories.

    So it goes… I’ve been reading some other ‘wewanted’ class of ’77 authors and picked up Doug Unger’s ‘Looking for War’ – used on Amazon. It turned out to be a library book from Port Hadlock, WA and on first page I saw that it had been checked out nine times from 2004 – 2009.

    At the top of the page in all caps and red block print was rubber-stamped with the word ‘DISCARDED’.

    Another fine ‘mid-list writer’ and ‘wewanted’ friend, falls into desuetude? (Think that’s the word and if not, should be. Sad… Back to WIP here… dc

  8. Anthony Bukoski

    You mention San Diego. By this date forty-nine years ago, June 1964, I’d been there for a week in Marine Corps boot camp. I’ve written several Marine Corp stories. I set one of them, “The Six Purposes of Drill,” in boot camp. Another one, “I Want to be a Nudist,” takes place in November 1964. In the story Private Bronkowski, finished with boot camp and back in California after a month’s leave in Superior, goes to a movie house in downtown LA that shows “naturist” movies. Wanting to get in the spirit of things, he gradually disrobes in a remote area of the theater.

    One semester I taught Doug Unger’s Looking for War in a creative writing course. Several of the stories impressed me.

  9. Dick Cummins

    So Tony – guess the San Diego stories were not quite right for Trains? Too warm? Too urban here? (Not to be confused with “urbane” either because we’ve lived here for 22 years and know better.)

    We do have a clothing optional beach —— Black’s —— just north of Romney’s mansion in La Jolla. Probably why he bought the place, for the view…

    But due to advancing dotage that no erectile dysfunction drugs can assuage —— also blurring eyesight and a trick knee —— I haven’t hobbled down there for years.

    Sounds like a country and western song for college grads:

    Due to my advancing dotage
    No erectile dysfunction drugs can assuage
    And this trick knee and blurring eyesight
    I haven’t gotten down to our nude beach
    Here near La Jolla for more than several years.

    Anyway, I agree that Doug is a fine writer. Loved his story in Looking for War called “Leslie and Sam” I think about a young lab assistant, Leslie, who works on spinal cord injury research with cats and monkeys —— gruesome. She’s living with a brilliant young researcher from the lab, Carl, who is enjoying the erotic and domestic comfort she provides him. However she knows the inevitable outcome of “med-school first-wife/lover” relationships. She has also bonded with an old and worn out Rhesus lab monkey —— maybe projecting?

    Sam has been used and reused in addiction experiments and has outlived his usefulness. The lab director tells her that the next day Sam will be euthanized and at home Carl decides they should “…have a talk” —— this conveyed in a note left on the fridge.

    The next evening there’s a tender scene between Sam and Leslie as she says goodbye to her old friend and he brushes her cheek with the back of his furry hand – “the way simians kiss” she believes. Then she goes to her cubical and types up a resignation letter to the lab director and at home, she packs up to move out on Carl for good.

    On the fridge she scribbles a reply to Carl’s “Let’s talk’ note: ‘Let’s not talk after all. I’ve decided to avoid you for the rest of my life – L’” (I would have added – ‘P.S. Happy birthday’ or something —— just to be a smart ass of course. But that’s just me!)

  10. Anthony Bukoski

    “The Six Purposes of Drill” and the nudist story are in a new collection I’m finishing. An early version of the former appeared in “War, Literature, and the Arts,” published by the USAF Academy. Colonel Donald Anderson, the journal’s editor, has published a story collection with the University of Iowa Press and, very recently, published a memoir, “Gathering Noise from My Life,” with Iowa. The nudist story appeared in “Hawai’i Review.” I first heard of the journal when Tom Boyle published a story there in the early 1970s, one that later appeared in his first book “Descent of Man.” In the past twenty or so years, I’ve had three stories in “Hawai’i Review.” I owe this to Tom. By reading “Descent of Man,” I learned of “Hawai’i Review,” a very nice journal.

    About Doug Unger’s collection, I loved the story you mention. I recall another very gripping piece in “Looking for War.” Probably six or seven years ago, Doug and I read together at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota.

    I met so many great people at Iowa. In various ways either the people or their names come back to me. You know that W.P. Kinsella wrote the other day. Moreover, I just completed a review for the Minneapolis newspaper of Ramona Ausubel’s “A Guide To Being Born,” a strange, lovely short-story collection. An UCal-Irvinealumna, Ausubel while studying at Glenn’s alma mater won the Glenn Schaeffer Award in Fiction. It seems like only yesterday Glenn was a callow youth pumping iron and sparring with Eric Olsen and me. Now to see his name associated with a fiction award, it all seems funny, mysterious, and wonderful. Then, too, Riley Hanick, the son of a friend from the Iowa days, has been teaching up here. His dad, Kevin Hanick, was to be a co-owner of Prairie Lights when it opened in the 1970s; he and Jim Harris, the long-term Prairie Lights’ proprietor, were friends. Instead, Kevin went on to become a successful Iowa City realtor. Anyway, Kevin’s son is leaving the Duluth-Superior area to teach non-fiction writing at Murray State in Kentucky. Riley, the son, has a book forthcoming in October 2014 with Sarabande Press.

  11. Ross Howell

    Excellent piece, Tony. Thanks for sharing.