Wednesday, August 27, 2003
like-"If you were doing a drag poetry reading, which poet would you like to be
for a night?" I'm intrigued by the answer given by Deborah Richards & hassen.
Both answered Charles Bukowski, with little hesitation. I never got to discuss
their drag-poet selection after the event, but remain curious. I never spent
more than 30 seconds wanting to be Bukowski. I'd largely written him off years
ago as a boozy antecdotalist with a misogynistic strain. So why would two
younger women poets want to be Charles Bukowski, if even for a night?
My search for an answer begins by facing my own Buk baggage. Bar slugs all over
the city who don't read much poetry, but call themselves poets- love Charles
Bukowski. He is the excuse for barfly white guys to be ignorant assholes,
& "cool" while referencing their hero ad nauseum. I need to cut off the writer
from my negative associations with his worshippers. I'm always working on this.
I'm a Bob Dylan fan, but I never saw him live because I just can"t be in a room
full of Bob Dylan fans.
Admittedly, there"s something to be said for Buk's work ethic. Anyone who can
drink so much & be so prolific, I find remarkable. I am NOT one of those
people. Few are. Guy Debord was once accused of drinking more than most
writers. He replied, "I write more than most drinkers." The same is certainly
true of Bukowski.
I went back to some CB I had around the house this week. I've always thought
his fiction to be much better than the poems. My memory of the Bukowski poem
was sort of a "bitch, bitch, haha punchline" formula. But the case was re-opened
(thanks to hassen & Deborah)& I went back to the files.
There is a quick but thorough bio I picked up- CHARLES BUKOWSKI: LOCKED IN THE
ARMS OF A CRAZY LIFE by Howard Sounes(Grove). The bio gives me a more realistic
grasp of the poet/novelist- who was frightened to death of the public &
fighting an uphill battle with bitterness(on the advice of a legless John
Fante). He imagined he'd never find acceptance, so he shunned it with gusto.
I also read DRINKING WITH BUKOWSKI: RECOLLECTIONS OF THE POET LAUREATE OF SKID
ROW- edited by Daniel Weizmann(Thunder's Mouth). This is more of a homage to
the myth of CB, with selections by Wanda Coleman, Sean Penn, Karen Finley &
Raymond Carver among others. I find this to be a little tedious, & I'm soon
bored with all the "Crazy Hank" tales.
Some of Bukowski's poems, particularly the work in LAST NIGHT OF THE EARTH
POEMS take me by surprise. They are more humane & carry a less schticky residue
then I'd remembered them. AN ANSWER is a poem he wrote late in his game,
leaning more to the human than the humane:
There is the macabre "I'm alive & you're not" quality that I find irresistible.
I may even recite this in my later years, if I get the chance. Is the "you"
physically dead, or just dead inside? The quick line & mostly monosyllabic
stanza insures that there are no flowers at this funeral- just a tight, coiled
concision that might make Cid Corman grin.
As much as I find more in Bukowski's work than I had given him credit for, I
still see most of his poetry as technically lazy & formulaic. But then, he
never pretended to make his work fancy. This is his Truth, & he's sticking to
it. There is a "me against the world" quality to his work that seems heroic,
although the stands he makes are at times pointless or even wrong. He portrays
women negatively, but he doesn't exactly exalt the men in his work either- they
are liars, losers, weak & sometimes impotent.
Who would want to be this guy? He gave the world the middle finger. He got rich
doing it. He was the toast of Hollywood. He was huge in Europe. He lived long &
never kissed ass. Alright, Deborah. Okay, hassen. I think I get it- why not
Charles Bukowski, just for one night? Come back before the morning, before the