On Charles Bukowski: Why never going crazy is horrible

Green-covered book titled "Essential Bukowski Poetry," held by someone out of frame.
Charles Bukowski published over 60 books before his death, including novels and poetry. (Photo by author)

Who is Bukowski?

Pen and graphite black and white drawn image of Charles Bukowski's head; an older mostly bald man with a full white beard, and a mysterious but approving smile.
Charles Bukowski depicted in pen and graphite. (Photo courtsey of Flickr)

Over the summer when I was able to spend some free time reading for fun, I was looking into some new poets. It was initially difficult to put down Rupi Kaur’s the sun and her flowers, yet I was also very intrigued by another poet’s unapologetic and straightforward wisdom.  

Heinrich Karl Bukowski, more commonly known as Charles Bukowski, became famous for his poems and short stories. The German-American writer wrote a few novels before the turn of the century. 

In his works, Bukowski shed light on the economic and cultural aspects of life in Los Angeles. His poetry shares ideas and viewpoints on poets, alcoholics, women, work, lower-class Americans, and lovers. 

Before his death in 1994, Bukowski published over 60 books. 

Though Bukowski died in the ‘90s, I think his work should be more widely recognized by students today, because it’s more “next” than “now.” Freedom of expression, regardless of how different, seems to be valued more and more as this generation becomes more politically and socially active. 

Some of my favorite Bukowski works/thoughts:

text of "destroying beauty"
Destroying Beauty by Charles Bukowski; photo by author

Destroying beauty

This poem stood out to me because of how my interpretation of his thoughts on beauty changed. It’s interesting to see how he says it is simply out of his hands to determine what is beautiful and what is not. The language in his piece seems to change throughout, with words that have very positive or very negative connotations attached. Bukowski seems to write to reveal how easily something beautiful can be made disgusting. 



Spring Swan

In this piece about a swan who is dead afloat the water’s surface, Bukowski conveys to his readers feelings of sadness when he sees how people around them simply mock the dead bird. 

with their picnic bags
and laughter,
and I felt guilty
for the swan
as if death
were a thing of shame
like a fool
i walked away

In his poem he expresses in simple terms how we tend to grieve differently when the discomfort is dealt with by another person. 

A poem is a city

In many ways his comparison between a city and the complexities of good poetry is effective. In this piece, he describes how, much like city life, poems are structured with much more happening than the reader or the city-goer might acknowledge, and that no one person can always keep track of all of the interactions and exchanges of information.

a poem is a city filled with streets and sewers
filled with saints, heroes, beggars, madmen
filled with banality and booze
filled with rain and thunder and periods 
of drought, a poem is a city at war
text of "i met a genius"
“i met a genius” by Charles Bukowski; photo by author

i met a genius

Short and sweet, as well as thought-provoking, i met a genius causes the reader to question the idea that with age we become wiser, for sometimes kids come up with the most eye-opening lessons and questions. Bukowski communicates this situation beautifully. 

The shower

Despite how vulgar and dirty this poem may appear to other readers, I find it quite beautiful how fearless Bukowski is in describing what love feels like to him. He does his best not to exclude any detail. His depiction of what loving a woman is like comes across as so natural. He just writes how it is.

and getting dressed we talk about what else 
there might be to do, 
but being together solves most of it,
in fact, solves all of it

A few other works you may enjoy:

Clara Gomes is the Long River Review assistant webmaster and a poetry panel reader. She can be reached at clara.gomes-ferres@uconn.edu. 

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