On this day, March 9, back in 1994, writer and poet Charles Bukowski died of leukemia, at age 73.
Bukowski, a prolific writer, published 60 books over his long writing career, leaving us with hundreds of pages of poems, short stories, and six novels.
There’s no easy way to describe his works, other than to say they depict the lives of of the poor, downtrodden, lowlifes of the Los Angeles he spent most of his life in. Bukowski wrote what he knew, what he lived, and, often, it seems tough to tell the fictional from the truthful. There’s probably not too much difference between the two in Bukowski’s world. His characters are drawn from real life: women with whom he had brief sexual trysts with, abusive men, alcoholics. His characters are often not very nice, but, Bukowski excels at making them recognizable. When you’re reading his fiction, you know the characters: they’re members of your family, friends you once had, maybe they’re even you, the part of you we all try to pretend isn’t there.
Bukowski was never popular among the high literary critics, who thought his works too base, too raw. You either love him, or hate him. Maybe it takes an alcoholic to understand his brilliance. which could be why I think he’s genius.
I’ve mentioned before that I struggled with poetry, with somehow feeling inadequate because I didn’t get it, though I tried and tried, revisiting poems and poets again, and again, in the hope that one day the light would go on. Over the years, there were poets that I did get, that I could understand, whose works inspired me to keep trying to explore poetry, poets like Alice Walker, Mary Oliver, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Pablo Neruda, and Bukowski. Their styles are all different, yet they write poems that are open, accessible, welcoming the reader in, sharing the beauty of the words, language, and images of their poetry with open arms, rather than trying to hide it all beneath layers of ambiguous images and grandiose verbiage.
Over the past few years I have learned that there seems to be two schools of thought about poetry: those that think that a poem’s meaning should require the peeling back of layers of words and images in order to pierce the meaning; then, there are those that believe good poetry can make it’s meaning perfectly plain and clear. I suspect it’s an argument that won’t ever be settled, just as every other art form has its various sides that believe their way is The Only Way.
I’ve decided, perhaps in a very plebeian manner, that it’s quite acceptable for me to not spend time on poets and poems that are so obscure that only the writer really knows what it means. Poetry, like music, like other writing, is going to have factions, is going to have people that swear that only certain kinds of poetry/music/writing are acceptable. There are those who’ll believe to their last breath that Mozart and other classical musicians are the only worthy musicians, and who’ll die believing that Rap has no musical value. So it is with art, with literature, with poetry. I think, instead, of arguing about what is, and what isn’t an acceptable, valid art form, we should agree that in a world with seven billion inhabitants, we could never reach a unanimous decision on what art is. We should simply agree that if someone creates art, and the art develops a following, then that should be enough. Bad art dies off on it’s own. If Buskowski were so awful, why would he still be selling books and inspiring writers and poets almost twenty years after his death?
So, for those who despise Bukowski, I say “You’re entitled to dislike him, but, your dislike does not invalidate the fact that I like him very much.” I find that I’m adapting that sentiment more and more in my wanderings through the world of poetry — my dislike does not invalidate your like. Your like, and my like are not required to be the same. Love of Shakespeare neither enhances, or diminishes, one’s intelligence or worth. It just means we’re different.
Different is good.
And, while this particular poem is not really different, I’d encourage you to explore Bukowski, who truly is different, and who reveled in differences.
I thought this poem seemed a rather fitting one to read today, the anniversary of his death. It’s not about death — it’s about moving on, about change, and appreciating those who’ve helped us along the way.
Here’s my reading — I’m still working on the breathing appropriately when recording, so, forgive the breaths.
Trollius And trellises
of course, I may die in the next ten minutes
and I’m ready for that
but what I’m really worried about is
that my editor-publisher might retire
even though he is ten years younger than
it was just 25 years ago (I was at that ripe
old age of 45)
when we began our unholy alliance to
test the literary waters,
neither of us being much
I think we had some luck and still have some
the odds are pretty fair
that he will opt for warm and pleasant
in the garden
long before I.
writing is its own intoxication
while publishing and editing,
attempting to collect bills
carries its own
which also includes dealing with the
petty bitchings and demands
so-called genius darlings who are
I won’t blame him for getting
and hope he sends me photos of his
Rose Lane, his
will I have to seek other
that fellow in the Russian
or that beast in the East
with all that hair
in his ears, with those wet and
or will my editor-publisher
upon exiting for that world of Trollius and
hand over the
of his former trade to a
some Poundian from Big
or will he just pass the legacy on
who will rise like
one can imagine terrible
“Mr. Chinaski, all your work
must now be submitted in
triple-spaced on rice
and all you
“no, no, Mr. Chinaski:
“hey, man,” I’ll ask,
“haven’t you heard of
“the thirties? what’s
my present editor-publisher
did discuss the thirties,
some of the little tricks it
like how to endure on almost
and move forward
well, John, if it happens enjoy your
cultivate and aerate
bushes, water only in the
early morning, spread
shredding to discourage
as I do in my writing:
use plenty of
and thank you
for locating me there at
5124 DeLongpre Avenue
laid down the gauntlet
and there are takers
even at this late date
still to be
as the fire sings