Tristan J. Flood
North Pocono School District
This paper explores the life and tragedies of Charles Bukowski, with accordance to his writing. It delves into the relationship between his love for the skid row lifestyle, isolationism, and women; all which become main topics of his poetry. Bukowski also found influences for his writing from his troubled childhood. Living with a an abusive father who did not support his creativity and a grade school experience filled with bullying, Charles Bukowski drove himself near to insanity with his drinking habits, which this paper details. This paper examines said relationships to Bukowski’s writing develop a thesis of Bukowski being a warrior for the poor and defeated.
Keywords: drinking, women, alienation, skid row, Los Angeles
Waking up on the floor because of a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. The stench of alcohol still lingering in the apartment. Only enough money to buy beer. On the street, men dealing illicit drugs, homeless people squandering for food, and prostitutes strutting on the corner. A lot of people around, but nobody to talk to.
Such a lifestyle seems awful to most, but beautiful for Charles Bukowski. Bukowski’s tendency to steer against popular belief derives worship and hate from many. Although a universal accusation consists of Bukowski not being an actually decent poet, Bukowski never cared, writing large volumes of poetry at a time (O’Neil, 2007). Many poets refer to their work as art or craft; Bukowski believes the process of creating poetry entails merely trial and error. He once said that writing a poem, “is like taking a shit, you smell it and then flush it away… Writing is all about leaving behind as much stink as possible” (Kirsch, 2005). At the end of the day, Bukowski had no care for his criticism, but the readers he represents. He does not stand for the happy high school student or the successful businessman; “he stands for the defeated, demented, and the damned” (Elkins, 2003). Bukowski’s poetry contains many semi-autobiographical views of his struggles throughout life. Most of Bukowski's poems, coming from his past, exemplify the skid row lifestyle, representing the people with poverty, alcohol abuse, and problems with the opposite sex. By embodying the idea of representing the poor and afflicted, Bukowski expands this exemplification by his style, tormented background, and repetitive subject.
Disfigured Free Verse
Charles Bukowski’s style has the essence of simplicity and ruggedness which flows naturally in his writing. “Bukowski's free verse is really a series of declarative sentences broken up into a long, narrow column, the shorelines giving an impression of speed and terseness even when the language is sentimental or clichéd” (Young, 2010). Such a style wants to give a feeling of a rugged narrator. The poems feel rushed to give that the impression the narrator lives a disfigured life. In the poem “Bluebird,” Bukowski infers through his writing and style, he has no time for his emotions to be let out:
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
The narrator has a fear that permitting his emotions out will consume him, thus he keeps his “bluebird” hidden. By equipping this poem with free verse, the narrator appears to be very tense or maybe not even sane (Jaeger, 1997).With the simple mode of presentation in the poems, having blank verse also coincides with the informal presentation of his poetry.
The conversational style Bukowski presents gives a sense that the speaker sits down and tells his life story to the reader. “The effect is as though some legendary tough guy, a cross between Phillip Marlowe and Paul Bunyan, took a barstool next to you, and tell his life story” (Young, 2010). Bukowski uses simple everyday speech, despite some tragic