HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHARLES BUKOWSKI

P.S. You’re a sod and a womanizer.

The People Look Like Flowers at Last

My friend Tim Becker introduced me to Bukowski about a year ago.

We met up at a coffee shop, he threw this skinny orange book of poetry across the table to me, Play The Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. He said to me “I got this for you. It’s Charles Bukowski. I think you’ll like it.

Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit? Yeah, Tim, I think you’re right.

Tim and I parted ways and I read a few poems. I wasn’t overly impressed until I read this bit:

I got it through the eyes: hatred,
centuries deep and true. I was wrong and graceless and
sick. all the things that I had learned had been wasted.
there was no living creature as foul as I
and all my poems were
false.

That hit me. A poem called I’m in love. I’m in love. It’s not she is so wonderful. It’s not he is so wonderful. There is joy maybe in the first few lines of this poem. This poem is him telling the woman he’s with that he’s in love with someone else, and expecting her to be excited. This poem was filled with the bitter taste of life.

I knew I loved Bukowski when he told me the disdain that was in this woman’s eyes. He was not the hero, and he wasn’t going to pretend to be, because that’s not who he was. His poem leaning on wood revealed him a barfly. His poem the red porsche revealed him a romantic, but I couldn’t care less until I saw that cold honesty.

This man had seem some shit.

Over thirty books of poetry in one lifetime. This man wrote several poems a day, while somehow working several billion odd jobs (see one of his several novels, Factotum, for further details). I was all for Ginsberg until I met Bukowski. Don’t get me wrong. They’re both gods to any poet, Bukowski was just the god that spoke to me a little more.

A couple months later I’d picked up a copy of Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. I was sitting at work at the call center, and for the first time in my two year career at this godless call center, we had two minutes between calls. I devoured the entire 400-some-odd page book in one shift. It was crack for me. What I said in my previous post about having to trick people into reading poetry; Bukowski had mastered it.

You know when you’re eating a good meal, and you’re eating this delicious steak and you’re in love with that delicious steak, but in the back of your brain you’re drooling waiting to eat those delicious garlic potatoes. That’s what I was having with Bukowski. I wouldn’t be half-way through a poem before I started to crave the next course.

Then, I read Post Office. It was the most disgustingly raunchy and innocently heartfelt book I’ve ever read.

Then I read Betting on the Muse. Then I read The Roominghouse Madrigals. Then I read The People Look Like Flowers At Last (on a side note, Bukowski book titles are often something you have to check your book shelf to remember the proper title for.)

As for now, I’m reading Women. You don’t put down a Bukowski book in your right hand until you have the next one ready in your left.

Some of you who read this will be like “Yeah. Bukowski. I was alive when he read in New York. He’s old news…” and I envy you a bit, but I’m writing this more for the person who says “Who’s Bukowski?” Because they desperately need a little Bukowski in their life.

I leave you with Bukowski’s poem so you want to be a writer? and a link to one of my poem’s involving “Henry Chinaski,” as you’ll soon come to know him: ANDERNACH.

so you wanna be a writer?

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

22 thoughts on “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHARLES BUKOWSKI

  1. P.S. And angry and kind of a dick.

    But his poetry is accessible and raw, which I appreciate. I haven’t read Factotum or his other novels, but I might have to pick one up.

    • haha. I heard that bit. Norman Mailer is a subject I haven’t quite got a hold on yet. I get the impression he just tried to be an asshole all the time?

  2. Thank you for visiting my poetry site with WordPress. I am honored by your visit. Your blog is well done and insightful. I am now officially a follower of your blog. With all the work available to you of such famous poets, I am humbled that you might have found poetry on my blog that somehow inspired you. Blessings in your journey.
    John

    • John, thank you so much! Gotta read the stuff of “Texas’ Poet”. I appreciate poets and writers who make their home part of their writing. That’s why my blog is Flashlight City, because I love Denver and I want to help this dim light to shine a little brighter. Can’t wait to read more of your stuff.

  3. Hi Brice. Bukowski makes us feel it’s okay to be who you happen to be and to write like the person you happen to be. He also reminds us not to expect to be liked for any of it. Working on it! x

  4. ‘so you wanna be a writer’ is one of the best poems I have read as a poet. If its not the thing that a writer absolutely has to do, they should spare themselves and readers the pain

  5. That brutal honesty is addictive. Just introduced to him, but most excellent stuff. Hell, just gave him a belated tribute m’self.

  6. Like the post. His poem reminds me of Rilke’s letters to a young poet, how if not writing would be like not breathing then by all means write. If not, just do something else. I use that as a kind of writing barometer that tells me when to drop the pen, go outside and look around.
    Also thanks for following my fledgling blog. :)

  7. I feel like his poetry is much better than his fiction — except for, as you’ve mentioned, Post Office — simply because it’s like an overdose of every one of his negative traits. Around page 50 or so, you kind of get that sick to your stomach feeling, not necessarily because it’s too graphic, but because it’s all true. You should check out the film Born into This, if you haven’t already.

    • Born Into This is wonderful. Yeah, I finished Post Office and tried to read Women, and couldn’t get into it. I think there’s something extra in Post Office. I saw the film Factotum and that was pretty good. Any suggestions for reading for a Bukowski fan?

      • I think we’re in the same boat as far as Bukowski’s novels. I read Post Office and loved it. I tried both Factotum and Women. But, recs of other authors…I think in terms of brashness and irreverence, Hunter Thompson’s early works (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Rum Diary, some of the longer narrative pieces from The Great Shark Hunt) fit the bill — I actually read Post Office and Fear and Loathing around the same time and found them pretty similar. Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel also come to mind because of their succinct, minimalist treatment of more or less depressing subjects. And then, for more heartbreak, I’d say Richard Yates. Revolutionary Road, Easter Parade, 11 Kinds of Loneliness. Bukowski may well be the king of blue collar heartbreak, but Yates has domain over the white collar, suburban despair. You may have heard of or read all of them, in which case, congratulations.

      • Can’t believe I forgot: Harry Crews, also. He died this year, so maybe some of his books will start coming back into print for a little while.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s