Those who know of Charles Bukowski will be no stranger to the criticisms that have and continue to surround him. People paint him as a sexist drunk who had too much time on his hands, but that is a thought that misses the point entirely. The essence of Bukowski was that he was unapologetic in his honesty. He didn’t care for the human race, which is something I can relate to and respect. Therefore public opinion didn’t matter to him. It is futile to place Bukowski in the court of opinion because not only is he long since dead, he would have found it amusing.
Bukowski wrote about the things that people were too afraid to say out loud. As a species, the majority of people value honesty and saying how you feel. There is undoubtedly a nuance to it, but Bukowski was honest with himself and others. This is a tool I use in my writing. There are emotions that I cannot express verbally, so I write them down and turn them into this work of art that people can connect to.
Bukowski is predominantly known for his love poems. He started off writing short stories that he tried to get published. Journals published some of them, but he found it challenging to cultivate a successful career. Eventually, he stopped writing for ten years after growing disillusioned with the publishing process, which I relate to. It was only when he almost died from a bleeding ulcer that he got back to it.
In the 1950s, Bukowski worked at a post office, which would be the inspiration for his famous book by the same name. After years of being a slave to the monotony of having a job, John Martin offered him a $100 per month salary if Bukowski quit his job. A month after this, Post Office was born. Once he started to get recognition, he began to see the fruits of his labour in the form of female companionship. These encounters would live on in his poetry.
“I see you drinking at a fountain with tinyAn Almost Made Up Poem – Charles Bukowski
blue hands, no, your hands are not tiny
they are small, and the fountain is in France
where you wrote me that last letter and
I answered and never heard from you again.
you used to write insane poems about
ANGELS AND GOD, all in upper case, and you
knew famous artists and most of them
were your lovers, and I wrote back, it’ all right,
go ahead, enter their lives, I’ not jealous
because we’ never met. we got close once in
New Orleans, one half block, but never met, never
touched. so you went with the famous and wrote
about the famous, and, of course, what you found out
is that the famous are worried about
their fame –– not the beautiful young girl in bed
with them, who gives them that, and then awakens
in the morning to write upper case poems about
ANGELS AND GOD. we know God is dead, they’ told
us, but listening to you I wasn’ sure. maybe
it was the upper case. you were one of the
best female poets and I told the publishers,
editors, “ her, print her, she’ mad but she’
magic. there’ no lie in her fire.” I loved you
like a man loves a woman he never touches, only
writes to, keeps little photographs of. I would have
loved you more if I had sat in a small room rolling a
cigarette and listened to you piss in the bathroom,
but that didn’ happen. your letters got sadder.
your lovers betrayed you. kid, I wrote back, all
lovers betray. it didn’ help. you said
you had a crying bench and it was by a bridge and
the bridge was over a river and you sat on the crying
bench every night and wept for the lovers who had
hurt and forgotten you. I wrote back but never
heard again. a friend wrote me of your suicide
3 or 4 months after it happened. if I had met you
I would probably have been unfair to you or you
to me. it was best like this.”
Ultimately, Charles Bukowski wrote about a working-class life where you’re surviving paycheck to paycheck. The grit of a menial life is expertly executed in his poetry and novels, which is why the continuous snarky criticisms of him irk me. Not everyone will fully understand his work, and I feel that you shouldn’t comment on something you don’t understand. I certainly wouldn’t.
On a personal note, I have become disillusioned with the fact that everyone is a critic. I will never understand bad book reviews because I don’t waste my time telling people what I dislike. I would rather discuss the things I am passionate about because there is value in that discourse. There is often a sense of self-importance in criticising Bukowski and other writers. When I made my first foray into poetry, Bukowski and Plath were the two that stuck with me because they weren’t afraid to lay it all out on the table. They didn’t encase their black roses in wisteria; they placed them in full view of the ominous sun.
So, let us address the familiar point that if one of your favourite writers consists of Bukowski, then you are someone who we need to run away from. I have seen this type of comment associated with Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and it is downright bizarre. Charles Bukowski was funny, true to himself and an excellent writer. As I am writing this essay, I listen to Bukowski talk about fart bubbles in the water that turn grey and how he is proud of those farts. Who doesn’t find that funny? If loving Bukowski is a red flag, then I will wave mine with great pride. As I mentioned earlier, many critics think they get Bukowski, but unfortunately, they don’t. They see his work at surface level, sinking beneath ever so slightly where they enjoy talking crap about him and his work because it’s cool.
The concept of judging a long since dead author by today’s morals is a dicey one. In my opinion, this entire situation surrounding Bukowski comes down to willful ignorance. Charles Bukowski didn’t tell people how to live. He showed them how he was living. He spent his life drinking a lot, courting women and describing his sexual encounters in gritty detail, which has turned the stomachs of lots of modern-day readers. Hearing about Bukowski wanting to shoot his semen inside a woman will not be to everyone’s tastes, but I am laughing about it as I type. It’s just such a ludicrous description that you can’t help but be amused.
“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”Charles Bukowski