There was a long stretch of time when the only poetry I really loved was Charles Bukowski’s. It was the only stuff that made sense to me in the 1970s. Reflecting back, it seemed exciting in those shiny moments. The majority of the days were mundane. The excitement spewed out of that banal tedium of time moving too fast or slow, like projectile vomit or dry heaves. I was a regular at Sherman's Bookstore in downtown Baltimore, and one day I noticed a black and white book cover photo of a man lighting a cigarette. An unsightly man with a scruffy beard and weathered face that read like a road atlas of life. Above the image his name, Bukowski. To the right of the pic the title, Notes of a Dirty Old Man. I held the book in my hands and looked closer. Abe Sherman yelled from across the store, "You crack that spine, you bought it!"
So I did both.
After that intro to the "Buk," I was hooked. I borrowed or stole every book of poetry and fiction by him I could find. I was strung out and soon realized so was Bukowski. He couldn't stop writing and I couldn't stop reading. No one permanently tattooed me like Charles Bukowski. I devoured all the Beats. l liked Kerouac and Ginsberg from a distance but I loved Burroughs, Corso, Huncke, and Micheline. Ferlinghetti was okay too; if it wasn't for City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco we wouldn’t have known so many of the great poets and writers he published. There was always Henry Miller for a quick fix, and Hunter S. Thompson, but Bukowski is still the king in my cluttered mind. Celine and Sartre were decent although the French couldn't write merde about the American experience like a native son. From the cryptic scribblings of Walt Whitman to the bold meanderings of Mencken and Poe, or the hollow bravado of Hemingway came a new breed of writer, the drunken bum.
On the surface it might appear that it was Bukowski’s main focus but if you scratched the surface and waited for the vermin to scurry, there was a beautiful vision of a braver new world.
As a fledgling poet nothing affected me more intensely than his words. The way of the word is the only true course for a folks like us. I absorbed the twisted, gnarly imagery and cadence of a man alone, surrounded by a world of madness and disdain. Like many greenhorn poets I imitated his style of writing along with his lifestyle choices. I rejected everything and started from scratch with new eyes and a giant chip on my shoulder. I view things differently than most other people. I have no use for politics or religion. No desire to participate in group sports or follow them. I don't care what people think about me. I don’t give a damn what others say.
The academic pompous poetry schools and formal publishers of scholarly verse have no place in my world. The prizes, awards, and accolades are given to those ivory tower poets. A mutual admiration society circle jerk of hoity-toity poets who suffer from diarrhea of the mouth. There’s a special place in poetry hell for them.
Bukowski delivered poetry to the common people. He made it acceptable and accessible to the average everyday masses who never read a poem before. He made it human. He viewed life as a blue plate special. Reducing our foibles and idiosyncrasies, Bukowski bought poetry down to earth. He played it straight with sincerity combining a tremendous sense of irony and humor. He recognized the stranger in the mirror and faced his demons head-on. His work congregates where the disenfranchised and downtrodden dwell. The hero of lost causes. Where the days run away like wild horses over the hills. Writing, as in any creative endeavor, is a solitary act. Visualize the loner holed up in a cold water flat with the shades pulled down, door locked, and telephone ripped out of the wall. A bottle of booze on the table, next to an ashtray of crumpled cigarette butts. The sound of the typewriter click clack tapping away.
There are variations on this theme, but you dig this gist. Is there anything more romantic than the poet passing the jingle-jangle years holed up in a cheap room drinking away the typed pages of life. Trying in vain to say more, meaning less. Dark times and strange days to inspire a fevered frenzy of flowing images. A machine-gun delivery of emotions pointing to where you’re going and how you arrive through the weird years. The cynical grievances of grief, sorrow, terror, mass paranoia, gossip, half-truths, and thoughtless innuendo. The acceptance of being totally wrong about everything.
Journalists have deadlines. Deadline is not a good word for poets. It implies a limitation on time and an ultimatum, and no poet wants dead lines of poetry. Newspapermen make deadlines. Poets need endless time to write poetry. You can make this stuff up or not. Always under the gun or jumping the gun, driven by fear and failure we go on. Happy or sad, the poet lives in us. The facts in our collective fiction. Bukowski lives.