Saturday, February 20, 2010

For the Honesty

Charles Bukowski has for many years been at the heart of my bookshelves. An introduction to his work came via the salty X-rated articles he wrote in 1969 for the underground newspaper, Open City. A little later I bought a copy of his first novel, Post Office and laughed all the way through it. I discovered his poetry next in a collection called, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. By then Bukowski was in my blood. Sixteen years after his death I am still the devoted reader, always looking for that next posthumous collection of poems.


From his earliest work Charles Bukowski was the voice of America’s disaffected common man, a voice of such startling honesty that ‘telling it like it is’ took on new shape and dimension in his hands. In his stories and poems there was from the beginning never a single word or line of type that rang false, pretended at, or posed. Out of this diamond-sharp honesty came stories (his poems are all stories) that stir in the reader’s heart a mix of envy, admiration, laughter, sympathy, and even on occasion revulsion. I doubt that I have ever read a more honest writer than Charles Bukowski.


In 2009, the poet’s wife, Linda Lee Bukowski released through Harper Collins the next posthumous collection, selected from a virtual mountain of poems left in boxes at the time of Bukowski’s death in 1994. The collection is called, The Continual Condition, and includes sixty-three never-before-collected poems edited by the poet’s longtime publisher, John Martin.


The interesting thing about this poet’s work is that no matter what book or collection, or single poem you choose to look at, without textual hints you will find it difficult to date the writing. Bukowski was not a writer that academics could analyze and date according to style development, maturity, or any of the other measures used by literary critics. There is no doubt that Bukowski learned over his many years of disciplined writing how to use his words more effectively, how to always and always strip away the false word, or bloated line. The fact is, he wrote powerful and effective poetry from the very beginning, without the long and painful growing pains many writers require. (Bukowski’s growing pains were elsewhere.) In this sense, the new collection, The Continual Condition offers no startling new insights or revelations about the writer's body of work. It is simply a new addition to a long line of outstanding work.


Halfway through the book is a poem titled, “down the hatch.”


the god-damned ants have come marching here

and are climbing into my wine.

I drink them down.


the photos of my girlfriend’s god are

everywhere:

in the bathroom

in the front room

his face fills the walls.

he never spoke about or touched money.

he died 7 or 8 years ago.

her god.

today she went to a religious retreat

to worship him.

I went to the racetrack and won

$97.


tonight she went to a concert by

Devo

some kind of rock or punk group

or new wave music.

I sit here drinking wine and ants.

and I keep thinking, shit, all the women

I meet are simply crazy

one after the other

they are simple and crazy:

legs, mouths, brains, buttocks,

ears, feet

all wasted

on them.


even the ants know more.

I drink them and with

them.


this is what is called a

confessional poem.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America