Charles Bukowski was not nice guy. He’d tell you that himself. He was ugly, drunk, abusive, angry and crude. He was also, in my opinion, the best poet of the Twentieth Century. His direct, painfully honest style ran in the face of extravagant academic poetry and the self-congratulatory “frankness” of the Beats.
Unlike the Beats, Bukowski didn’t celebrate the fact that he was living on the bottom rung of society. He didn’t choose that life. He lived what was given to him and he wrote about it as prolifically as any writer ever has. No matter how broke or drunk he was, or how screwed up his life and relationships were, he took the time to write every day. If he missed a day, he was more miserable about that than anything else that was happening to him.
I am not advocating that you admire Bukowski’s life or try to emulate how he lived. You can’t fake what Bukowski went through and you can’t bring it upon yourself. You might want to embrace his work ethic though, because he kept writing through many, many years of poverty and rejection. Bukowski wasn’t successful in his twenties, his thirties or even his forties, despite having written steadily through all of those years. His true success came as he neared age sixty and was, as he said, too old to enjoy it.
There is a new documentary about his life out on DVD, Bukowski – Born Into This. This is a must-see for any fan of Bukowski’s poetry and anyone interested in his life. Parts of it are hard to watch, especially when he takes a tour through the childhood home where he was beaten by his father with a razor strap every day from the age of six to eleven. There is also a disturbing moment between Bukowski and his wife that makes it clear Bukowski the man was not an admirable person. Still, it is one of the most riveting documentaries I have ever watched.
If you haven’t read his poetry or his novels, you should. You may or may not enjoy his style or content, but you’ll get a clear picture of writing that is stripped of all pretenses. Bukowski’s work is as real and direct as anything you’ll ever read.
- Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame
- Love Is a Dog from Hell
- You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense
- Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit
- The Last Night of the Earth Poems
- Mockingbird Wish Me Luck
- Dangling in the Tournefortia
- War All the Time
- Betting on the Muse