Thursday, September 6, 2007


Tony O'Neill thinks we should take another look at Charles Bukowski. And I agree, if only because Bukowski's one of a handful of poets whose best work keeps me coming back. Most of my library's in my attic in Halifax right now and my Bukowski books (Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, Love is a Dog from Hell, The Roominghouse Madrigals and The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills) are among my most-missed possessions. Bukowski's one of those poets who remind you that it ain't all about "craft." Because he has very little of it (tho if you compare these 60s and 70s collections with more recent work, you see he got "plainer" as he aged, and not for the better). He's a poet I shouldn't like, but I can't help it.

Bukowski gets typed as the poet of callow young men, and his books are often shoplifted by them. But it was my good friend Ananda who first introduced me to his poetry and I've met a few women with sense and smarts enough not to dismiss the writing because of the "misogynistic" persona of many poems and stories. That said, a lot--a helluva lot--of the writing deserves to be dismissed. He was damn near indiscriminate (tho the flow of voluminous posthumous works suggests that he held back more than we might have imagined) and missed much more often than he hit. Reading Bukowski, like reading Irving Layton, can be a bit like panning for gold in a muddy creek. But the paydirt makes it worth the trouble. Also, the "Beat" label isn't really apposite. He may have been writing at the same time as the Beats, and been "beat" in his lifestyle, but I don't see much to link his writing to Kerouac or Ginsberg. He's really, as he's jokingly observed himself, more in tune with the spirit of Villon than with Walt Whitman or William Blake.

What's really needed now that the stream of potshumous crap has apparently run dry is a very well-edited selected of about 200 pages--an unassailable canon of Bukowski. A big job for the jack or jill who'd undertake it.

1 comment:

rob taylor said...

agree re: bukowski + layton + dirt panning.

it's a shame there are poets you shouldn't like. glad you are overcoming that ;).