BEIRUT: Henry Charles Bukowski would have been 99 last Friday, and perhaps he might have become an elderly sage, but in reality, he was just as much a younger sage, who narrated his heavy-drinking, chain-smoking, barstool, brawling, dysfunctional yet romantic love life, in innovative, groundbreaking poems.
He was a German-American poet, novelist, and short-story writer, whose works were influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambiance of his home city of Los Angeles.
“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us."
Among his poems, there is often a search for “the one;” a woman of the type who can transport him toward some sort of transcendence to exist above the crass mortal condition.
“There is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
and even during the
the greatest times
times we will know it
we will know it
there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
we will wait
in that space."
It has been noted by more than a few contemporaries that alcohol was both the fuel, and often the subject, of Bukowski's prolific poetic output: “I don’t think I have written a poem when I was completely sober,” he told one interviewer.
Having given up for over a decade his attempts at fiction and narrative writing, a nearly fatal illness and hospitalization inspired him to take up the typewriter again. Instead of writing short stories, he composed short narrative style poetry, but much like a boxer in the ring, each line was a short jab, uppercut or a roundhouse.
He introduced a new style of poetry, replete with skid row characters, end of the road bars, women like “distressed angels” and a veritable river of booze. This provided him with endless raw material.
His success began with his partnership with John Martin of New Sparrow Press, which accepted all the poet's chaotic output for a monthly stipend, and organized the most readable poetry into publication. That was in 1970.
Behind him was a little over a decade of cult–albeit slight, popularity–with his remuneration from poetry writing, so small that he maintained his job as a postal clerk. Before that, the 1940s period was essentially a lost decade of drifting. But with the new partnership fame and money came, neither of which he eschewed after such a hardscrabble life, but he kept his essential credibility even through hanging out with actor Sean Penn, singer Madonna, and writer Norman Mailer and trading in public transportation for a BMW.
For him, this change from dead-end jobs and failure through the popularity of what was very passionate and personal writing was akin to a storybook.
“I laid down my guts, and the gods finally answered,” he once said in an interview.
A New Yorker article noted that, as a poet, Bukowski had made a singular accomplishment as a literary figure: “He produced a large, completely distinctive, widely beloved body of work, something that few poets today even dream of.”
Bukowski’s childhood was scarred with both physical and psychological parental abuse, a tragedy that can be traced in the corners of his works, mostly the autobiographical ones.
Among the multitude of allegations that continue to be thrown at the poet, Bukowski was perceived as a misogynist who objectified women and scaled their value as human beings based merely on their appearance and sexual performance.
Within Bukowski’s literary works, there seems to always be the presence of wild and unapologetic women who, despite causing trouble in the male characters’ lives, can’t but be lusted after by those very men.
Female presence is undoubtedly evident in all of Bukowski’s pieces. However, it’s the depiction of this presence that has sparked controversy within his readers and critics.
Many have found the allegedly misogynistic trait of his is most transparent within his novels Post Office, Factotum, Women, and Ham on Rye, in which they found Bukowski employing condescending language to create and describe his female characters.
Nevertheless, with a background like that of Bukowski’s, there seems to be a slippery slope between calling him a misogynist or a misanthropist. Alternatively, he could have been just another loner looking for love.
“I will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of
me, and I will remember your small room
the feel of you
the light in the window
our morning coffee
our noons our nights
our bodies spilled together
sleeping the tiny flowing currents
immediate and forever
your leg my leg
your arm my arm
your smile and the warmth
who made me laugh again."
Bukowski’s past was filled with numerous lovers and partners each one rather rocky. With the above poem, a more raw and lyricist side of Bukowski appears.
When Bukowski was asked by the media in one of his most famous interviews in 1983 San Pedro-California about his definition of love, he simply lit up his cigarette and said: “Love is kind of like when you see a fog in the morning when you wake up before the sun comes out. It is just a little while, and then it burns away… Love is a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality.”
Only one thing compared and even overtopped the thrill of alcohol for Bukowski, it was writing. Going on endless alcohol binges and marathons of cigarette box carts to finish his books and papers in record time, in his poem “Writing,” Bukowski gives literature priority in his life.
“often it is the only
between you and
no woman's love,
He went on to inspire a generation of writers, poets, and thinkers. Although he was often aggressive and a little too dogmatic with his comments and criticisms, he only expressed such adamant sentiments because of the importance of writing and composing with a passion he thought necessary to produce a credible work.
For Ahmad Aboud, a literature lover and English teacher, “Bukowski, like no other, is the poet of the proletariat. There is no concealment. He is angry, fervent, and disgusted in a world he could never be amicable with. He made sure you knew it and felt it within you.”
Another one of the poet’s dedicated fans, Marie-Lou Nehme, told Annahar: “I read Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye three times. The first time was when I was 17. It left me disgusted. The second time was when I read it as a college assignment. I was disgusted with myself for not having liked it the first time. The third time was when I was 25, only to reinforce my ongoing preference of Bukowski as the most genuine writer to have lived.”
“unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was,"
-- Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)
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