I was doing my usual Monday poetry surfing. I checked in to Read Write Poem to make a new friend, and of course that led to all sorts of links. Through several sites, I found myself on the Poetry.org site and I thought about my poet for this month, Charles Bukowski. I have two collections including what matters most is how well you walk through the fire. These are recent collections, (within the last 5 years), compiled by Linda Lee Bokowski. I return to them repeatedly and so I thought it was time to share my affinity here.
The Madness of Genius
Charles Bukowski, 1920 – 1994
I’m drawn inexplicably to his poetry, his story, his countenance, since I first came across him some eight years. He shared the truth of who he was, without apology, and that is enticing. In an interview with Linda Lee Bukowski, I saw glimpses of the poet, the scary ominous parts we don’t really want to touch—even while we may enjoy his writing. It’s the raw truth that I might touch that scares me, and yet I’m compelled to keep watching and reading, to see what I might of this artist that “the critics just don’t like.”
It was a bad idea to start my research, since I had to get ready for a meeting, but I couldn’t help myself. When I got to his page’s I found that Poet.org had posted this poem of his, so you want to be a writer? (You should go read it, right now—and come back.)
Now, I don’t agree with everything he says in this poem, so you want to be a writer? (If I did agree with everything that would mean I should put down my pen, because I do need to edit, and perhaps get edited, to reach the right word.) Still, I understand something about the passion and the drive that forces writing to be written and hands that are so compelled. I suffer from a similar affliction, this compunction to write at all costs, risking being shredded by critics, banned by friends and family.
From the information I’ve perused, Bukowski’s life seemed to be fraught with pressures he railed against, even when he was so intoxicated until it showed in his face. Even when he wanted to let go of poetry, it didn’t let go of him. When he stopped writing, in 1946, the writer of the Poets.org bio stated he went on a ten year drinking binge. And so it makes me question: What raw truths does the genius see that make him look away? When he can’t tear himself away, what is so overpowering that it makes him anesthetize himself against seeing it clear-headed and focused, seemingly ever again? Are all the greats a little mad?
John Martin, founder of Black Sparrow Press, who plucked Bukowski from one obscurity to another, understood that the writer would not have mainstream appeal. Still he knew he had befriended someone with an important gift that would be well received by it’s own offbeat audience. Adam Kirsch writes in The New Yorker, “He is one of those writers whom each new reader discovers with a transgressive thrill.”
Is his writing any good really? Yes.
Reading through and listening to the uncomfortable parts of his life, I still appreciate his writing. I still laugh out loud or hurt, reacting as his poems elicit. I still want to see the world he illustrates in his verses. His words depict life in plain text so you easily visualize. And I think it’s that hypnotic simplicity of plain text that draws you in and plants you his shoes to receive his life on his terms.
Some critics didn’t like Bukowski: the unctuous man who owned his excessive drinking habit, gambling and carousing; maybe his writing, maybe his arrest record. Maybe they didn’t like his life story. And they may have valid points in there too. Some of his writing may have been improved if he took the time to review, edit, work at writing. Either way, I remain a fan, because I like what I like. And since I’ve enjoyed his poetry, I need to read what he’s written in other genres too.
In the same vein of the above poem, about being fully invested in what you do, is another of his poems called roll the dice. Listen to this reading by Bono.
Apparently, there are quite a lot of websites dedicated to Charles Bukowski and his work. Whether in whole or in part, you will find sites or pages on sites that offer Bukowski information, insights, and criticisms. Do a search to see what’s out there. Visit your library or bookstore to read his writing. If you decide to look him up, I hope you find something you enjoy.
Come by and let me know if you liked his writing.
- “Bukowski, Charles – Introduction.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Justin Karr Editor. Vol. 45. Gale Cengage, 2001. eNotes.com. 2006. 11 Jan, 2010
- “Smashed” by Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker.
- “Charles Bukowski”, Poets.org
- “The Linda Lee Bukowski Interview.” By by Bradley Mason Hamlin and Gary Aposhian. Mystery Island Publication. 2008