No Stylist He!

Poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

Okay, so he’s no great stylist. You won’t quote his poems at length the way you might quote Keats or Shakespeare. But I guarantee you will get what he has to say because it is written to communicate simply and directly. You can read a book of Bukowski poems the way you read a pulp novel, from end to end, with total comprehension. In my book, that counts.

mugged

finished,
can’t find the handle,
mugged in the backalleys of nowhere,
too many dark days and nights,
too many unkind noons, plus a
steady fixation for
the ladies of death.

I am 
finished, roll me
up, package
me,
toss me 
to the birds of Normandy or the
gulls of Santa Monica, I
no longer
read
I
no longer
breed,
I
talk to old men over quiet
fences.

is this where my suicide complex
un-
complexes?: as
I am asked over the telephone:
did you ever know Kerouac?

I now allow cars to pass me on the freeway.
I haven't been in a fist fight for 15 years.
I have to get up and piss 3 times a night.

and when I see a sexpot on the street I
only see
trouble.

I am
finished, back to square one,
drinking alone and listening to classical
music.

much about dying is getting ready.
the tiger walks through my dreams.

the cigarette in my mouth just exploded.

curious things still do
occur.

no, I never knew Kerouac.

so you see:
my life wasn’t 
useless
after
all.

Not Buk’s Cup of Tea at All

I encountered the following paragraph in Jean-François Duval’s Bukowski and the Beats: A Commentary on the Bet Generation:

It was Jack’[Kerouac’s] matinee idol looks that irritated Hank [Bukowski]. “He was even better looking than Marlon Brando,” Joyce Johnson, one of his girlfriends, said of him. As a good-looking rodeo rider and actor, Jack was too handsome to be “real,” authentic in the Bukowskian perspective (which was ever tinged with humor). Jack was lacking in ugliness that, according to Bukowski, allows a truer contact with the reality of the world more than beauty; ugliness is a safe conduct for hell and, as such, is infinitely closer to the truth. In fact, beauty is not even real to Buk’s eyes, beauty doesn’t make sense at all. As he said to [his friend] Sean Penn, “There is no such thing as beauty … it’s kind of a mirage of generalizations.” In Buk’s opinion, Kerouac seemed like a cheap Roy Rogers whose work gets lost in a swirl of glitter and illusions where the word “wonderful” crops up every three sentences. Jack went wrong in trying to go with “heart’s songs” and the illusions attached: hope of salvation on the road, faith in an idealized America, poetically fantasized, escape into an uncertain mysticism, oscillating between Buddhism and Catholicism. This was not Buk’s cup of tea at all.

Don’t Try.

Poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

Whoever ordered the tombstone for poet and counterpuncher Charles Bukowski knew what he (or she) was about. There is a two-word epitaph: “Don’t Try.” Below it is a silhouette drawing of a boxer with his gloves raised.

The poet’s grave is at Green Hills Memorial Park in San Pedro which I have passed scores of times 0on visits to my friend Peter who lives a couple miles further south. Maybe next town, I’ll stop by and pay my last respects.

On Bukowski.Net, there is an explanation by Bukowski’s wife Linda which sheds some light on he meant:

See those big volumes of books? [Points to bookshelf] They’re called Who’s Who In America. It’s everybody, artists, scientists, whatever. So he was in there and they asked him to do a little thing about the books he’s written and duh, duh, duh. At the very end they say, ‘Is there anything you want to say?’, you know, ‘What is your philosophy of life?’, and some people would write a huge long thing. A dissertation, and some people would just go on and on. And Hank just put, “Don’t try.”

I am reminded of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet, who sees life as a roadside inn where we all have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up:

Night will fall on us all and the coach will pull up. I enjoy the breeze I’m given and the soul I was given to enjoy it with, and I no longer question or seek. If what I write in the book of travellers can, when read by others at some future date, also entertain them on their journey, then fine. If they don’t read it, or are not entertained, that’s fine too.

In the days to come, I plan several more posts about Bukowski and what he means to me.

“Dinosauria, We”

L.A. Poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

Today I watched a DVD about the life and career of Charles Bukowski, the greatest poet to come from Los Angeles (though by way of Andernach, Germany). The more I read Bukowski, the more I think he is the true successor to Walt Whitman. He may not be a great stylist, but his poems cut to the quick. By the way, the film is called Bukowski: Born Into This (2003), and that’s where I got the idea to present that poem here. The name of the poem is “Dinosauria, We”:

Dinosauria, We

Born like this
Into this
As the chalk faces smile
As Mrs. Death laughs
As the elevators break
As political landscapes dissolve
As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
As the oily fish spit out their oily prey
As the sun is masked
We are
Born like this
Into this
Into these carefully mad wars
Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
Born into this
Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
Born into this
Walking and living through this
Dying because of this
Muted because of this
Castrated
Debauched
Disinherited
Because of this
Fooled by this
Used by this
Pissed on by this
Made crazy and sick by this
Made violent
Made inhuman
By this
The heart is blackened
The fingers reach for the throat
The gun
The knife
The bomb
The fingers reach toward an unresponsive god
The fingers reach for the bottle
The pill
The powder
We are born into this sorrowful deadliness
We are born into a government 60 years in debt
That soon will be unable to even pay the interest on that debt
And the banks will burn
Money will be useless
There will be open and unpunished murder in the streets
It will be guns and roving mobs
Land will be useless
Food will become a diminishing return
Nuclear power will be taken over by the many
Explosions will continually shake the earth
Radiated robot men will stalk each other
The rich and the chosen will watch from space platforms
Dante’s Inferno will be made to look like a children’s playground
The sun will not be seen and it will always be night
Trees will die
All vegetation will die
Radiated men will eat the flesh of radiated men
The sea will be poisoned
The lakes and rivers will vanish
Rain will be the new gold
The rotting bodies of men and animals will stink in the dark wind
The last few survivors will be overtaken by new and hideous diseases
And the space platforms will be destroyed by attrition
The petering out of supplies
The natural effect of general decay
And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard
Born out of that.
The sun still hidden there
Awaiting the next chapter.

“The Gods Need Me To Entertain Them”

The Campus at Yale University

Here’s a poem from Charles Bukowski entitled “This Kind of Fire.” It is in his poetry collection entitled The Continual Condition.

sometimes I think the gods
deliberately keep pushing me
into the fire
just to hear me
yelp
a few good
lines.

they just aren’t going to
let me retire
silk scarf about neck
giving lectures at
Yale.

the gods need me to
entertain them.

they must be terribly
bored with all
the others

and I am too.

and now my cigarette lighter
has gone dry.
I sit here
hopelessly
flicking it.

this kind of fire
they can’t give
me.

 

“So You Want To Be a Writer”

Poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

I know he drank a lot and you probably wouldn’t let your sister go out with him, but the man was a real poet and he had something serious going with the muse. This is one of my favorites among his poems. It’s called “So You Want To Be a Writer.” Good stuff.

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.

 

Bukowski: “A Dog Walking Backwards”

Poet Charles Bukowski

The title of this poem is “For the Foxes.” I do not understand why. But that’s okay with poetry. It takes quite a lot of readings sometimes to understand what is going on. Whatever it means—specifically—I like the feel of this poem.

Don’t feel sorry for me.
I am a competent,
satisfied human being.

be sorry for the others
who
fidget
complain

who
constantly
rearrange their
lives
like
furniture.

juggling mates
and
attitudes

their
confusion is
constant

and it will
touch
whoever they
deal with.

beware of them:
one of their
key words is
‘love’

and beware those who
only take
instructions from their
God

for they have
failed completely to live their own
lives.

don’t feel sorry for me
because I am alone

for even
at the most terrible
moments
humor
is my
companion.

I am a dog walking
backwards

I am a broken
banjo

I am a telephone wire
strung up in
Toledo, Ohio

I am a man
eating a meal
this night
in the month of
September.

put your sympathy
aside.
they say
water held up
Christ:
to come
through
you better be
nearly as
lucky.