Saturday, October 22, 2011

Walking Over Bridges

Something always brings me back to Charles Bukowski. It’s easy to get lost in a new book, to be caught in the pull of a new or unfamiliar writer, and for a few days lose sight of the familiar standards on the shelves around you, but in my case not too many days will pass before my eye returns to Bukowski. If we were not out of touch, I would thank for the third or fourth time the friend who introduced me to the writing of Charles Bukowski over twenty years ago.

Henry Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was never one for failing to acknowledge the writers who were an influence in his life, either positive or negative. He was as easy with praise as he was with criticism both on the record and off. Among the writers that Bukowski admired were the Norwegian Knut Hamsun, Frenchman Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Americans John Fante and Sherwood Anderson.

Bukowski deeply admired Sherwood Anderson’s work. Writing about him in his journal-like book, The Captain is out to Lunch and the Sailors have Taken Over the Ship, he said, ‘I think Sherwood Anderson was one of the best at playing with words as if they were rocks, or bits of food to be eaten. He painted his words on paper. And they were so simple that you felt rushes of light, doors opening, walls glistening. You could see rugs and shoes and fingers. He had the words. Delightful. Yet, they were like bullets too. They could take you right out. Sherwood Anderson knew something, he had the instinct. Hemingway tried too hard.’ Talking about him near the end of his life Bukowski again praised Anderson, saying, “Sherwood Anderson knew something. He had the instinct.”

The poem below first appeared in Bukowski’s 1981 collection Dangling in the Tournefortia, and later in the posthumous collection, The Pleasures of the Damned, published in 2007.


sometimes I forget about him and his peculiar

innocence, almost idiotic, awkward and mawkish.

he liked walking over bridges and through cornfields.

tonight I think about him, the way the lines were,

one felt space between his lines, air

and he told it so the lines remained

carved there

something like van Gogh.

he took his time

looking about

sometimes running to save something.

then at other times giving it all away

he didn't understand Hemingway’s neon tattoo,

found Faulkner much too clever.

he was a midwestern hick

he took his time.

he was as far away from Fitzgerald as he was

from Paris.

he told stories and left the meaning open

and sometimes he told meaningless stories

because that was the way it was.

he told the same story again and again

and he never wrote a story that was unreadable.

and nobody ever talks about his life or

his death.

Anderson’s death was an unusual one. While eating the olive in his martini, he accidentally swallowed the toothpick on which the olive was speared. Death came as a result of peritonitis caused by a perforated colon.

1 comment:

  1. A writer much overlooked. Anderson, that is. I suppose 'Winesburg, Ohio' is still taught in college--at lease it was in my day. A well-deserved place in literary history--having influenced Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Salinger. And a fitting poem to the giant.


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