Re-reading Bukowski

22 Feb

As a hardly sober college student who had delusions of being a writer, reading Charles Bukowski was perfect. Post Office and Ham On Rye was everything that I wanted to be rolled up in a nice little package. In hindsight, I had probably the easiest childhood, adolescence, early college, mid-college dropout, and finally dragging myself across the graduation finish line as anyone who’s ever live, but I still wanted to cast my lot with Henry Chinaski. I imagined my life after college as nothing more than a few lucid moments between inebriated episodes. I got a typewriter and drunk myself into debt within three months of graduation. I didn’t sell any pieces of writing, nor did I try, and actually, I didn’t really even write that much. The lucid moments between inebriation were filled with dreams of being a writer or filmmaker or sex artist. The more practical realizations that the coupon of my dreams was only redeemable at the house of hard work, was possibly the farthest thing from my thoughts. . I didn’t really even consider that if the bus ride to the house of hard work was one too many transfers, I could start out in the shanty town any-fucking-work-even-half-assed-work would put me in a better position, but that was too much to ask. I just aspired to become the lesser noble parts of Bukowski’s noble drunk.

Now I wish I could say that I read Pulp and I moved on from my Bukowski-loving ways, but that wasn’t the case. I followed the trail of who to read in his books and moved to Fante and Celine, then I followed their trail until I was slogging my way through William T. Vollmann’s The Royal Family. That was where I thought the Bukowski trail died out. I moved on and would only bring up Bukowski in reference to saving his bungalow or to defend him against claims of of misogyny. I basically forgot his artistic merit and just remembered the author as a character. Then a friend allowed me to go through his book collection before he left town. I grabbed Woman with the sole purpose of reselling it. I remembered how much I liked Bukowski and how few of his books I found used, I thought Women would be right up there in terms of top re-sale value for a paperback with slight water damage on the cover. And then it sat on my shelf waiting for me to have a reason to sell books. At this point, I truly considered myself out of the Bukowski woods, I figured he was just a building block in my Great Wall of taste designed to keep out the mediocrity, the exploitive, the calculated and the cliché.

Then through circumstances beyond my control, I got caught up in a reading cycle of nothing but Young Adult fiction and it seemed that even my “adult” fiction was just an extension of the Young Adult genre, I’m looking in your direction Silver Lining Playbook. It got to the point where I needed some serious amounts of sex, drugs and adult themes in fiction or I was dangerously close to abandoning the whole idea of bettering myself through the written word and seek other paths to enlightenment, like pornography. I looked on the bookshelf and the pinkish-slightly-water-damaged cover of Women was my salvation. I knew Bukowski’s content and it seemed like the perfect answer for my problem. So, I went ahead and started reading an author I hadn’t read since I’ve been considered an employable individual.

While I freely admit that I haven’t read nearly enough poetry to form valid opinions of the genre, during the interim, I began to understand the currency of words and how they were used in poetry. This along with the realization that Bukowski was known for his poetry and not his prose, I went into Women with a different point of view. Not only do I have much more respect of for his actual prose, how he’s able to write in such a casual style, but care huge amounts of emotion with it. It’s a true feat. But the main thing is that Bukowski is writing a G-D poem every fucking second of his life. He’s lost in the wilderness, he stops to write a poem. Every woman in Women is at some point concerned that they are going to interrupt his writing. So without saying it, Bukowski is a gawddamn workaholic. Alcoholic is right there on the surface, but my impression of this book is that he’s written fifteen poems for every drink he takes in the book. Of course this was totally lost on the young version of myself, I just romanticized the drinking and just assumed that the writing was a byproduct of the drinking, instead of the drinking being byproduct of writing so much he need a break from his own head. I have a completely different opinion of the man now. I agree with Modest Mouse, even when I first read Bukowski, “Who would want to be such an asshole?” but I don’t think he was an asshole for drinking, but because he was working too hard, and making it look so easy. Thanks a lot, Chinaski.


One Response to “Re-reading Bukowski”


  1. Drinking in Movies | Stupid Opinions Written Poorly - March 14, 2013

    […] (1987): was penned by Charles Bukowski (previously discussed on Stupid Opinions Written Poorly). The heavy drinking writer kind of wrote his own biopic and is played by Mickey Rourke. He […]

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