God is a lonely place without Steak.
Check out my interview with literary agent: Andy Ross.
From a letter to a friend: Don’t worry about alcoholism; it keeps us from committing suicide. Bukowski’s drinking isn’t why most people are drawn to him, whether they are aware of this fact or not. What keeps people reading is the fact that underneath his drinking lived a gentle, emotional, sensitive, introspective man, who captured the world in his poetry through the eyes of someone who may just be your next door neighbor… a drunken next door neighbor that ogles your sister and hits on your wife, but you accept it because every so often he is there for you to talk to, or help you move a couch, or is the only person in a pinch that can repair a lawnmower.
He may be a lowlife scumbag, a fuck-up; a drunk with no future and no ambition; his life falling a part at every turn; a gambler, a lecherous, loutish, slob; however, he has something to teach you if you would just listen. And once you truly sit down with him, and have a quiet moment where he can open up and share his thoughts and views, you find yourself viewing him much more like a human, a human that has problems just like you, and who are you to judge? Deep down he is a good man, with good intentions and you accept what he is by letting him be a part of you and a part of your life in some way. It’s a social contract. It is mutually beneficial to you both as long as you open your eyes to ugly things and learn to love the bomb; the bomb’ll love you back, and it will do all of that without having some fancy moniker attached to its name. Bukowski wasn’t a Beat, he wasn’t a Modernist, he wasn’t part of the New York School, or the San Francisco Renaissance… he was just a man, in a room with a typewriter and a bottle.
This sort of humility and dubious nature resides in many of Bukowski’s poems, thus making it a difficult task to take preference; no matter the era in which they were written, at what point in his life, or to act as an artifice or statue of his body of work (it’s a fact he didn’t start writing poetry until age 35).
Here’s the idea: I would like to first talk about poems that are typical of his style. Things we sort of expect from him. Then, we’ll move onto poems that an average/common/casual reader may not presume to be Mr. Bukowski, to try and play with the idea that a stigma and preconceived notion is oftentimes synonymous with a writer. This way we can see the range in which he wrote and what was successful about it, keeping in mind the entire time what he advocated as veritas, “Writing a poem like taking a shit, you smell it and then flush it away… writing is all about leaving behind as much a stink as possible”.
Here’s our guidelines for understanding the reading:
Atypical Bukowski – Characterized by form or rhyme. Little or objective viewpoint. None or little of the below.
Typical Bukowski – One, straightly worded line usually in narrative/prose style, often no metaphor or the like. Shape “natural” to the poem (no form). Subject will always contain one of the following: self-boasting, exaggerated boasting, about women, about drinking, about hardship, daily experience as motivation, somewhere in each poem.
Please be assured that this cheekiness is being employed merely to prove that a specific reason Bukowski has such readability and staying power as a poet of the twentieth century (aside from what I laid out earlier) is because he was practiced, consistent, and wrote what he knew (over 60 publications while living). Each poem isn’t entirely different in craft and artist statement, so I think it may be unimportant to delineate betwixt and speak at length about just one for this purpose. One can read 300 Bukowski poems and just enjoy them. Bukowski’s path is clear and the reader feels the purpose is just.
So, with a FLIP of a thumb, and a stop on a page, we look at the first line.
I had boils the size of tomatoes
all over me
they stuck a drill into me
Exaggeration. Pointed and important, but there it is. Simple structure. However, and interestingly, self-deprecating, no matter the levels of boast worthy speech he may sometimes employ. He is still aware of himself as Bukowski, but will sometimes change this sentiment when he is Chinaski. It is important to note when he does this, because even in his prose Chinaski is fictional. And that’s when Bukowski gets away of creating a mythology of himself for the reader; a valiant and commodifying trick when the line between them blurs and the reader doesn’t know what is reality or just a story.
“girl on the escalator”
as I go to the escalator
a young fellow and a lovely young girl
are ahead of me.
her pants, her blouse are skin-
Women. This poem is quite lovely, otherwise. He follows his usual form, and crafts itself based on how the word feels in its place and works in the poem.
Also, there is a sense that although he is making a point about a Freudian psychosexual society that can’t seem to be comfortable with what they have, and who treat people like owned objects, he still exists outside of it. Here’s this 50-year-old man, who isn’t a threat to this young man with his girlfriend clutched tight, attempting to reassure the young man that he has no need to worry, he doesn’t think about sex anymore (an exaggeration, but to his point, he isn’t thinking about at that moment).
“when you wait for the dawn to crawl through the screen like a burglar to take your life away”
the snake had crawled the hole,
and she said,
tell me about
So interesting, this. Because although Bukowski seems to be using metaphor here (a no-no in typical style) he is actually using exaggeration. A little further down:
in the morning.
Once again, it may seem like metaphor, but what makes this contrary is that Bukowski is talking to the snake (who is probably just an actual girl he knew), so he could say the reason this works is because these are my exaggerated thoughts at five in the morning. There is no snake, and there is no girl. Also note structure falls under “typical.”
“Sunday lunch at Holy Mission”
he got knifed in broad daylight, came up the street
holding his hands over his gut, dripping red
one the pavement
First note the capitol letters in the title. Unusual, but worth noting because he knew that if he didn’t make proper “Holy Mission” then the area would be specific, making the experience less real. So he then did the same to Sunday for consistency (a strong trademark of his).
Then, we have an introduction of setting, of sorts, and from the onset we can discern that this poem falls under the typical Bukowski, because he is writing about his daily experiences (also in his lack of form and simply worded lines – which at this point is well over 90% of this collection). The poem continues on to tell the rest of the story, and ends with the homeless men who saved the day by stepping back into the society they left, and helping a situation remain under control by phoning the police.
There they (the bums) stand in triumphant glory, rolling cigarettes and feeling like heroes. Almost objectivity, but he either stood with them and shared a bottle or at least asked them how they felt, or even just observed them to get that feeling. Human nature is a simple matter when you understand your subjects, and Bukowski was a scholar of this.
Finally, it should be noted that this is close to every poem. Bukowski rarely deviated. He is as reliable as a yardstick. He wrote what he knew which is obvious based on just the few I outlined. It’s the sort of thing to envy. He knew his style and his limits. He had no facades or pretenses, and easily enough, if you enjoy one Bukowski poem, you’ll enjoy them all.
“The Democratic Ingress”
that our fair land, our great land,
in all its suc-
cess, and pro-
regressed into a
And where are we when it’s on the ground?
In our video arcades
biscuit and gravy
big hat wearin’
ginger bread eating
toilet bowl we call a culture, the toilet doesn’t flush counter-clockwise.
It travels with the appropriate measure of continuum,
towards a goal,
just as all things do
including you. So stop
This leads me to Hopkins and his influence: god; and his influence on me. God was who he worked for, that was where he drew his inspiration. Hopkins was fueled by his love for god and how he found beauty in all of god’s creations. Hopkins’ works focus on god’s grandeur in all things, and everything he does is in reverence to the almighty. So even though I am an atheist, I find deep inspiration in things like this (I’m also a huge fan of Johnny Cash, even his gospels) I love the dichotomy that exists within myself and how I think of Hopkins in his deepest sincerity for something greater and more important than he, when I read lines like:
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
I have never felt so strongly about anything. Well, I have never so strongly about anything that wasn’t something tangible or could be taken from me. His faith drives him. His love for something bigger than himself can be verbalized, and he knows that how much he cares depends on him and his feelings, nothing else. I could also define how I feel as jealousy. But I read it and I too am brimmed with his curse… yet I feel not even a tinge of the same thing he does.
I love his use of words that don’t typically go together (he is an odd man, after all — oh and yes I enjoy his Sprung Rhythm, but I think that goes without saying); words that create sound that make me have to read it out loud to feel it, to understand how he heard it. I think there is such great music in his works through repetition and images, that it connects me very deeply to him through my own love of music. Here in The Leaden Echo are some examples:
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty,… from vanishing away.
Ruck, and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets tombs
and worms and tumbling to decay.
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.
And I’m not even going to quote The Golden Echo, I think putting it all down here defeats the point. This goes for many of his works. They strike me so deeply that I find it taxing to chose which, decide which line, pick something that stands out, because so many of them do.
Finally, I was taken by his life and how he lived (especially that he lived during the Victorian era, but was not influenced by it; rather he seemed to defy it) that after reading much of his journal, I realized how alone he really felt. How disillusioned he was near the end of his life with his faith and what he felt he sacrificed to his god and seemingly got nothing. He realized his life’s vanity in salutation to a god that may otherwise exist, left him with nothing; but left me with an even deeper connection to the layers that present themselves in his works. Here are some lines from what most people call “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, if I Contend,” where he seems to do exactly what I outlined. He wants an answer. Here it is in its entirety:
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
–Such longing and sadness.
With this knowledge of disillusionment, so many lines can have double meanings now; his words aren’t just face value, everything can be read again, and as I peel back each layer I come to a new meaning, a new feeling, and Hopkins remains silent to let me do that. His work becomes beguilement, and I the detective to experiment and learn.
Hopkins exists inside my head. I learned disjointed-jointed rhythm from him, and before I ever heard someone who understood how to read him recite him out loud, I had my own way of reading him — especially his purposeful accents, which I, borrowing from French, would pull or push his words in what direction they pointed, grave ( <—); ague (—>). And I never cared if I was wrong, which strikes me as quite funny.
Miss Virginia Woolf, whose last words to her husband were…
“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I can’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
… She then placed rocks in her pockets and waded into the river near her house… Had she had a cell phone, her problems could have been averted.
“lmfao, these voices suck. Hitler is an ass, and I cant stop thinking about death, BTW England is cold and depressing lets move to Spain,” and by doing so could have thwarted the whole messy situation by receiving a quick text response from her husband that read, “OK, pack the dogs, we’re out Tuesday.”