Bukowski

by Kristine Nodalo | 

Charles Bukowski is one of the most prolific and vulgar writers out there. He stood at five feet eleven, often wearing a collared button-down shirt, with a chest pocket consisting of a few pens peeking out of it, covering a beer belly that hung over his waistline–a reminder of his romance with alcohol. His large, bulbous nose shadowed over stained nicotine yellow teeth. His ravaged face was marked with scars and blemishes, resembling the hard life he lived. He sauntered his way to each of the bars he made his second home and wrote at his first when he wasn’t. Nobody would have expected the success he had by just looking at him and his lifestyle, for Bukowski’s prose and poetry has been translated into twenty-one languages, sales for his books rise every year, and a great amount of avid Bukowski readers live all over the world. Charles Bukowski’s unique life experiences made him a successful writer, as they enabled him to color his writing with the kind of simplicity, tough, vicious honesty, and straight forwardness it bears that makes it different from others, revolutionizing literature and poetry, also providing consolation and representation, specifically for the underdogs of society—blue collared workers, prostitutes, and drunks—at the same time.

I’ve read several of his books and there is a trend for his main protagonists to be tough and macho, paralleling his own perceivable personality. However, through his writing, he conveys his more sensitive persona, like in one of my favorite poems by him, entitled ‘bluebird’:

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him,

I say, stay in there, I’m not going

to let anybody see

you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I pour whiskey on him and inhale

cigarette smoke

and the whores and the bartenders

and the grocery clerks

never know that

he’s

in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him,

I say,

stay down, do you want to mess

me up?

you want to screw up the

works?

you want to blow my book sales in

Europe?

there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too clever, I only let him out

at night sometimes

when everybody’s asleep.

I say, I know that you’re there,

so don’t be

sad.

then I put him back,

but he’s singing a little

in there, I haven’t quite let him

die

and we sleep together like

that

with our

secret pact

and it’s nice enough to

make a man

weep, but I don’t

weep, do

you?

Because Bukowski’s writing, specifically his poetry, is so easy to understand with its use of everyday language, critics find his writing to be amateurish. “It [is] not that Bukowski isn’t a good poet, but that his work is barely even poetry at all,” quoted author Tony O’Neill in an article in the UK’s Guardian of anti-Bukowski critiques. People treat his writing in the same way as they treat paintings that resemble a child’s finger painting, because people think they understand it quickly and thus, they think that there isn’t much to it. However, his brevity is what makes him the genius that he is. In fewer words, he can draw a reader in without having to romanticize and allure them with pretty adjectives or more drama than  necessary. With simplistic language, in the following poem entitled ‘the aliens’, Bukowski depicts the great distance between the rich and the poor:

you may not believe it

but there are people

who go through life with

very little

friction of distress

they dress well, sleep well.

they are contented with their family

life.

they are undisturbed

and often feel

very good.

and when they die

it is an easy death, usually in their

sleep.

you may not believe

but such people do

exist

but I am not one of

them.

oh no, I am not one of them,

i am not even near

to being one of them.

but they are there

and I am

here.

He wrote about everyday life, everyday truths that surrounded the lives of men and women that worked 8-5 jobs, lived in apartments with peeling wallpaper—those who saw money as only means for survival, and nothing else. He provided a looking glass into the world of the drunkards and prostitutes—the world of the less privileged—and gave them a voice and a place in literature at the same time. Being without university credentials, he is an example of an ordinary man that made it into literature. Although some may think that he is cynical of the world, he may have, instead, a realistic perspective and saw things for the way they were. His brutal honesty will always create a separate audience, for there are always going to be people who will feel offended by his writing, but this pulsating controversy will immortalize his words and keep him from being forgotten.

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