publication date: 1984
My interest in Charles Bukowski was piqued last year when he was mentioned several times in the movie Beautiful Creatures. That interest solidified when I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls last month and Bukowsi was discussed by three lovably precocious teenagers. Anything on Gilmore Girls is gospel for me, but the discussion included this especially winning dialogue:
Lovably Precocious Female: Typical guy response. Worship Kerouac and Bukowski, god forbid you pick up anything by Jane Austen.
Lovably Precocious Male: Hey, I’ve read Jane Austen. And I think she would have liked Bukowski.
Well, suffice it to say I went to the library the very next day and picked out the Bukowski book with the best-looking cover. After reading my inaugural Bukowski, I have to say I agree more with Lovably Precocious Female than Lovably Precocious Male. Not to say that guys only read Bukowski, but I don’t know that Austen would have liked him. This collection contained none of her subtlety and wit, and wasn’t so much satire but a diatribe.
The poems centered around an uber-Bukowski narrator, known as Hank Chinaski, as he drank, gambled, and screwed his way through life. During his escapades, he managed to write poems about humanity, most of which were negative. His negative observations were sometimes contradictory and often repetitious. As an example of how repetitious this work was, I will confidently open the book to a random page, and am certain it will contain some dig at the amorphous “them” who just aren’t clever enough, or high enough, or exciting enough, for Chinaski. I am not disappointed:
they are at the track every / Saturday afternoon: two / immensely fat men / a fat woman / and the fat woman’s son / (who is also getting obese / and is the son of one of / the men). / they sit together / eat hotdogs / drink beer / and scream together / during the race / and after the / race. / no matter / who wins / they scream. / between races they / argue while consuming / hotdogs and beer.
Bukowski’s poems were not always blatantly negative; they sometimes contained hope, and even joy. Here are the ending lines of a poem written as the narrator watched young ice skaters:
I stand up, wave, smile, / things seem very happy / as down below us they whirl and / glide. / some moments are nice, some are / nicer, some are even worth / writing / about.
Bukowski also had moments of insight and clarity, which to me is one of the advantages of poetry. Sometimes feelings or sentiments simply can’t be conveyed linearly or directly, but can be conveyed through poem. For example, this stanza, where Bukowski’s pacing and rhythm created a mood and idea:
well, I think the idea of the track or the / roulette wheel or whatever else is around is / so that we don’t have to sit around all day / thinking, I am a writer.
I found Bukowski’s poems generally repetitive and uninspired, although there were moments of wit or courage. If you want to read more about Bukowski’s writing or his life, read this wonderful and perceptive New Yorker piece about the poet.
3/6: more good than bad