Celebrating National Poetry Month
Charles Bukowski became famous very late in his life and the mainstream academic critics have always been horrified by him. They are still horrified by him, especially those in New York. He defied all conventions and did his own thing. He drank like a fish and lived on skid row. He’s lucky he lived as long as he did. He wrote free-verse poetry prolifically and several pulp-style novels. He didn’t mince words. He said what he felt. Now that he’s been dead a few years the wags in the academic community are coming around and writing thesis papers about him. Leeches. The first of his books that I read was Love is a Dog From Hell. That’s still the best title for a poetry collection I’ve ever seen. And the poems are brilliant. Cynical, funny, blunt, hip and direct, Bukowski’s poems made him an underground favorite long before the mainstream publishers caught on to his genius. One of the poems in Love is a Dog From Hell is called a stethoscope case (no capital letters) where he writes about talking with his doctors standing at the urinal in the mensroom. They talk about a woman and when they are finished the doctor washes his hands but Bukowski doesn’t because “I’m far beyond all that.” And he was. Bukowski was a writer that never seemed to mind having dirty hands. He let all of his blemishes and insecurities show on the page; but so too did he demonstrate an acute understanding and appreciation for people. Thinking of his poems today, and thumbing through books like You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense, I think of him as the literary equivalent of a career boxer. He’s beaten half to death, exhausted and plagued by melancholia, his knuckles arthritic and his belly sloping over his belt, but he’s still got a right cross that can take off your friggin head. Bukowski was courted by the New York publishing industry during the last thirty years of his life, and he benefited from this exposure to the point where he became a celebrity. I think most of his books are still in print. I think Harper Collins has him now. It used to be Black Sparrow Press out of Santa Barbara. Bukowski was born in Germany in 1920 and died in San Pedro, California in 1994. He published over sixty books. There are numerous websites devoted to his work.