Long Live Bukowski

Posted: January 20, 2008 in Poetry Endorsements
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Charles Bukowski
“Pleasures of the Damned”
(buy)

I was introduced to Charles Bukowski at a point in time when I was romantically hopeful and otherwise Romantically involved. Fresh out of high school and discovering my love for how beautiful words could express beautiful things (beauty, Romantically, includes every possible subject), I was studying the classics and being told that these ways were, and would remain, the utmost representation of wordsmithing. So proud I was to be intoxicated by something literary, I went to share whatever poem it was that had affected me so one night with my literary older brother.

“Oh yeah,” he remarked after reading it, “wanna hear some real poetry?”

cockroach
the cockroach crouched
against the tile
while I was pissing and as
I turned my head
he hauled his butt
into a crack.
I got the can and sprayed
and sprayed and sprayed
and finally the roach came out
and gave me a very dirty look.
then he fell down into
the bathtub and I watched
him dying
with a subtle pleasure
because I paid the rent
and he didn’t.
I picked him up with
some greenblue toilet
paper and flushed him
away. that’s all there
was to that, except
around Hollywood and
Western we have to
keep doing it.
some day that
tribe is going to
inherit the earth
but we’re going to
make them wait a
few months.

Of course upon hearing it I thought it was shit. But a few years later, with a lot more experience under my proverbial belt, I re-read him and ended up becoming a stalker of his available volumes of ruminations. So much has been written on Bukowski that I shouldn’t feel any need to contribute anything more to the throng. But that’s what love is, giving just ’cause you have to.

Bukowski’s language and writing is guttural, forthright, and real. And, unfortunately, real language does not a chart-topping-hit make. This was fine to Bukowski, as he constantly wrote about avoiding limelights of any kind in favour of dimly lit bars or the shallows in a place of his own. His writing, unlike the Romantics, who each touted identifiable hit/hits, made a legacy for itself with the proliferations of matter-of-fact real life depiction and repulsion for how people pretend to really live. In short, the volumes of work he left behind that maintain popular appeal without offering any stand-out examples are his legacy.

Don’t get me wrong. Reading Bukowski is awe-inspiring at best and worth a chuckle at its worst (a chuckle being highly underrated when poetry is concerned). So while classrooms of the future will not likely be made to remember and recite Bukowski poems, the way that his work contributed to the course of poetry history is his legacy, much like musicians who never quite break through but inspire the like-minded artists of tomorrow who bring more public appeal and thus exposure to the movement.

What “Pleasures of the Damned” does is representative of this whole post. It’s an anthology of Bukowski’s poetry that covers his entire poetry career (including posthumous collections). This aggregation, over the course of near 550 pages, shows a slight evolution of writing style, perhaps a bit more careful word choice and editing, but, largely, it shows consistency. This book is all about showing how steadfast the author was in his momentum (or lack thereof), what he told the publishers he wanted to leave behind him, and the fact that, due to popular appeal, they had no choice but to oblige. Bukowski’s unchanging voice across these pages is his legacy.

I would recommend buying this one collection as opposed to buying all his older books for 3 reasons:

a) it sums up nicely his style and effect as easily as does the 45-someodd other books;

b) the independent publisher that used to handle Bukowski’s work (while he was alive), Black Sparrow Press, shut its doors, and now Ecco Press, an imprint/subsidiary of Harper Collins Publishing, is reaping all the royalties when they outright ignored him when it mattered most. On some level this agreement was ok though. The ex-wife Linda Lee Bukowski gets a share of money, appropriate enough seeing as she did have to put up with Charles for a number of years;

and c) the collection is edited by the Black Sparrow Press publisher, who was also a close friend of Bukowski and the first person to put his books in print.

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