When I first encountered Bukowski, it was in a small Lewisburg bookstore a little over five years ago. I had gone in looking for some other Beat authors (other than Kerouac and Ginsberg) and figured I might find something. What I found just above the “Beat” section was a posthumously published collection of poems by Charles Bukowski. I took the book off the shelf, read a few poems, and bought it. Though I initially enjoyed Bukowski, I was completely intrigued as to why he wasn’t in the Beat section, and also not typically referred to as a “beat” writer. This, along with his sharp negativity and non-pretentious language, has allowed me to continuely enjoy Bukowski from time to time over the years.
Of course, Bukowski, gets a bad wrap from a lot of angles, for a number of different reasons. Critics love to attack his ‘lack of craft’, alcholism, reclusion, and misery. The irony is, if you don’t enjoy Bukowski, or his lifestyle, aren’t you giving his work press space [or in this case, super-embedded-high-bandwidth-blogosphere space], thus empowering it?
The hilarious aspect of the David Ulin, LAT review I hyperlinked, is that Ulin is looking for something more than “a disconnected litany” of “uninspired details”. Doesn’t he realize he’s reading Bukowski?
Ulin cites “Like a Flower in the Rain” to begin his attack on Bukowski:
later we joked about the lotionand the cigarette and the apple.
then I went out and got some chicken and shrimp and french fries and bunsand mashed potatoes and gravy and
cole slaw, and we ate. She told me
how good she felt and I told her
how good I felt and we ate
the chicken and the shrimp and the
french fries and the buns and the
mashed potatoes and the gravy and
the cole slaw too.
For Ulin, this is absolute garbage. Ulin attempts to explain Bukowski’s authorial intention “Here, Bukowski means to tell us about the solace of simple pleasures — sex, food, companionship “. Essentially, for Dave Ulin, Bukowski achieves nothing. Maybe Ulin lives in an isolated small overhead lit room, and enjoys poems that enable him to live vicariously through them. Bukowski doesn’t allow for this. And why should he? Bukowski’s poems are his thoughts, and his thoughts, his poems. What we get with Bukowski is another Whitmanian descendant from the 1950’s.
Pure, bare bones, uncovering in the plainest manner what is so obviously before us; subjects our lives depend on ignoring in order not to feel so consciously disgusted, shameful, and depressed about our individual and collective human existence. For example, the excerpted poem above isn’t about the “small pleasures” of life, it’s about the hollowness of these pleasures. For the characters, after fulfilling the desire for sex, the desire for food comes after. There is no dressing-up of events. In fact, the poem ignores the events that Ulin is so desperately reaching for. There is no large conversation between the two characters, no romanticization or picturesque sugary details. As with Bukowski’s poems, there is no experience or thought not individually exclusive no matter how ordinary, mundane, or vulgar. Merely evidence of a ravenous hunger attempting to be subdued.