In Praise of Charles Bukowski

The great inspirational pessimist

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Every time I hear or read Charles Bukowski, my mind falls silent in reverence. His chaotic loneliness gave birth to some of the most haunting words I have read about life. His words often evoke the mood of Nighthawk by Edward Hopper in me; seeing the poetic in the plebian passage of time.

Time magazine called Charles Bukowski, “the laureate of American lowlife”. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books.

Here are 4 pieces of his writing that showcase the tenderness of his brutal, free mind

The Bluebird

There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him,

I say, stay in there,

I’m not going to let anybody see you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out

but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke

and the whores and the bartenders and the grocery clerks

never know that he’s in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out.

but I’m too tough for him,

I say,.stay down, do you want to mess.me up?.

you want to screw up the works?

you want to blow my book sales in Europe?

there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out.

but I’m too clever,

I only let him out at night sometimes

when everybody’s asleep.

I say I know that you’re there,.so don’t be sad.

then I put him back,

but he’s singing a little in there,

I haven’t quite let him die

and we sleep together like that

with our secret pact

and it’s nice enough to make a man weep,

but I don’t weep,

do you?

Bukowski lived most of his life in Los Angeles. He worked at menial jobs while writing short stories, the first of which were published in the mid-1940s. After a 10-year period during which he abandoned writing and traveled across the U.S. living the life of a destitute alcoholic drifter, he returned to Los Angeles and began publishing poetry in 1955. He often wrote as Henry Charles “Hank” Chinaski who was his literary alter ego appearing in five of Bukowski’s novels, a number of his short stories and poems, and in the films Barfly and Factotum.

2. On the frustrations of writer’s block and the self-contempt that ensues. His brooding words drip like hot wax on a cold lifeless arm.

“sitting here watching the second hand on the TIMEX go
around and
around…
this will hardly be a night to remember
sitting here searching for blackheads on the back of my neck
as other men enter the sheets with dolls of flame
I look into myself and find perfect emptiness.
I am out of cigarettes and don’t even have a gun to point.
this writer’s block is my only possession.
the second hand on the TIMEX still goes around and around…
I always wanted to be a writer
now I’m one who can’t.

might as well go downstairs and watch late night tv with the wife
she’ll ask me how it went
I’ll wave a hand nonchalantly
settle down next to her
and watch the glass people fail
as I have failed.

I’m going to walk down the stairway now

what a sight:

an empty man being careful not to trip and bang his empty head.”

Charles Bukowski, You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense

3. Here is a classic that orders us to never live a rented life.

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

4. This is another masterpiece of motivation. Because it professes giving up everything for the sake of your passion and purpose. To give up everything for the sake of the joy in your heart.

Go all the way.

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

Otherwise, don’t even start.

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs, and maybe even your mind.

Go all the way

It could mean not eating for three or four days.

It could mean freezing on a park bench.

It could mean jail.

It could mean derision, mockery, isolation.

Isolation is the gift.

All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.

And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds.

And it will be better than anything else you can imagine.

If you’re going to try, go all the way.

There is no other feeling like that.

You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire.

DO IT. DO IT. DO IT. DO IT. All the way

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.

Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, aged 73. His gravestone reads: “Don’t Try”, a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, advising aspiring writers and poets about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explained the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington:

“Somebody at one of these places asked me: ‘What do you do? How do you write, create?’ You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation, or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or, if you like its looks, you make a pet out of it.”

Coda:

Charles Bukowski was a ruthless romantic. He starved for the sake of his art. He treated everyone else, including himself as dispensable. He deserves all the criticism for his human weaknesses, but he never cared for any of that anyway. His legacy that lives on is his lifelong devotion to his craft.

In his own words, “If something burns your soul with purpose and desire it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another boring book in the library of life.”

That is why I pray to Charles Bukowski.

Curious about what makes us tick, tickle and other similar black holes. https://twitter.com/AndyTravis31 ; andytravis@email.com

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