Pure Poetry #24: Charles Bukowski

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/28/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Intern Lily & a 12-year-old boy
#10 – 2/28/2011 – Michelle Tea, by Laneia
#11 – 2/28/2011 – Saul Williams, by Katrina Chicklett Danger
#12 – 3/2/2011 – Maya Angelou, by Laneia
#13 – 3/4/2011 – Jack Spicer, by Riese
#14 – 3/5/2011 – Diane DiPrima, by Sady Doyle
#15 – 3/6/2011 – Pablo Neruda, by Intern Laura
#16 – 3/7/2011 – Vanessa Hidary, by Lindsay
#17 – 3/7/2011 – Adrienne Rich, by Taylor
#18 – 3/8/2011 – Raymond Carver, by Riese
#19 – 3/9/2011 – Rock WILK, by Gabrielle
#20 – 3/9/2011 – Veronica Franco, by Queerie Bradshaw
#22 – 3/12/2011 – William Carlos Williams & Robert Creeley, by Becky
#23 – 3/13/2011 – NSFW Lesbosexy Sunday Knows Sex is Pure Poetry, by Everyone
#24 – 3/13/2011 – Charles Bukowski, by Intern Emily

Charles Bukowski was an old man with a white beard and a pot belly. He drank a lot of beer and stared at girls’ boobs and scratched his butt. Or at least that’s how I picture Charles when I read his most of his poetry.

On the back of my copy of The Pleasures of the Damned, the “definitive volume of Bukowski’s poems” (NYT book review), he is described as a “hard drinking wild man of literature and a stubborn outsider to the poetry world, [who] wrote unflinchingly about booze, work, and women, in raw street-tough poems whose truth has struck a chord with generations of readers”.

The truth is that I’m just writing this because I don’t want to write my essay. I’m actually not really sure if I like Bukowski that much (still deciding), but here are two Bukowski poems that I’m confident that I love a lot.

This is an excerpt from “Verdi”:

then too
I sometimes think of a
less stressful kind of
it can and should be so
like falling asleep
in a chair or
like a church full of

sad enough,
I wish only for that careless love
which is sweet
and which is now
this light
over my head)
there only to serve me
while I
smoke smoke smoke
out of a certain center dressed
in an old brown shirt,

but I am caught under a pile of
poetry is shot in the head
and walks down the alley
pissing on its legs.

friends, stop writing of
in this sky of fire.

This is “when you wait for the dawn to crawl through the screen like a burglar to take your life away” a title which I love a lot:

the snake had crawled the hole,
and she said,
tell me about

I said,
I was beaten down
long ago
in some alley
in another

and she said,
we’re all
like pigs
slapped down some lane,
toward the

you’re an
odd one,
I said.

sat there
in the morning.

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Emily Choo started as an intern with Autostraddle when she was 18 years old. She's now 10 years older and lives in Toronto with her partner and cat. The defining moment of her career was when Riese said this about her: " I think Emily Choo is a very bright, 'poetically inclined' girl who pays attention to everything and knows almost everything (the point of stuff, how to read, how beautiful things feel, how scary things feel, etc.) but doesn't believe/accept/realize yet that she knows almost everything." She still doesn't believe she knows anything, so, thank you, Riese, for that.

Emily has written 100 articles for us.


  1. I also don’t want to write my essay, so here’s a reply, instead. I’m also not sure how I feel about Bukowski. I remember thinking I liked him when I read some of his work in high school, but I also spent too much energy trying to be “one of the boys” with my straight guy friends who seemed to only really get into writing by other mostly-hetero white men with substance abuse issues. My gut feeling is that I wouldn’t enjoy him so much now, and that I maybe didn’t even enjoy his work all that much then.

    I did really love the excerpt from “Verdi,” and will probably try to find the whole poem online when I look for further distraction later today.

  2. I love his absolute naked form.
    My favorite poem by him is “I Met a Genius.”

    I met a genius on the train
    about 6 years old,
    he sat beside me
    and as the train
    ran down along the coast
    we came to the ocean
    and then he looked at me
    and said,
    it’s not pretty.

    it was the first time I’d

  3. I really enjoy Bukowski’s writing style. I don’t know much about him as a person, or care to be honest. I tend to superimpose my own meaning on poems which is what I think everyone does/should do. I would like to share on of his poems:


    I get many phonecalls now.
    They are all alike.
    “are you Charles Bukowski,
    the writer?”
    “yes,” I tell them.
    and they tell me
    that they understand my
    and some of them are writers
    or want to be writers
    and they have dull and
    horrible jobs
    and they can’t face the room
    the apartment
    the walls
    that night —
    they want somebody to talk
    and they can’t believe
    that I can’t help them
    that I don’t know the words.
    they can’t believe
    that often now
    I double up in my room
    grab my gut
    and say
    “Jesus Jesus Jesus, not
    they can’t believe
    that the loveless people
    the streets
    the loneliness
    the walls
    are mine too.
    and when I hang up the phone
    they think I have held back my

    I don’t write out of
    when the phone rings
    I too would like to hear words
    that might ease
    some of this.

    that’s why my number’s

    • i just read that for the first time and it’s interesting how he ends the poem with “there is no other way and there never was”, which kind of contradicts everything he said above it (that thousands of writers are boring and pretentious, etc). because if there is no other way, then how did all of this boring crap get produced?

      i think the poem is ironic, in that he actually means the exact opposite of what he’s saying.

      but i don’t really know.

      • you know, i think I was so ready to dislike him that i didn’t really consider that?

        which isn’t really fair.

        i’d like to think that’s true though. it would make me like him better.
        but it doesn’t really feel ironic, you know? but maybe that’s still me not wanting to like him.

        • i know what you mean. i think i think it’s ironic because i want to like him, because i don’t want him to be the ass-scratching douche he sometimes comes across as.

  4. I’m not quite there yet with his poetry but I love his books and short stories – my favorite. (I could read this a thousand times over)

    and I get into my eleven year old car
    and now I have driven away
    find myself here
    and write you here a little illegal story of love
    beyond myself
    but, perhaps, understandable to you.

    don’t keep more than you
    can swallow: love, heat or hate.

  5. I’ve read some of his novels – and my relationship to Bukowski has been a bit ambivalent. I kinda liked him because I felt a bit sorry for him – something I do a lot… But on the other hand he’s got that ass-scratching, society-hating thing going on… But I really liked some of these poems posted here. Especially the one Sam posted. He really shows his vulnerability, without too much fuzz or cliche. And I think the needle is tipping to the positive side.

  6. charles bukowski’s the only dirty old man that i like. i’m certain i like him a lot because his poems are so great and true and raw.

  7. Maybe because I’m a cynical fuck with the attention span of a mosquito and a taste for whiskey….

    I have a total thing for nasty old men writers so long as they’re self deprecating as well as generally depreciating and full of that genuine cynicism that comes from honest assessment of the bullshit everyone pulls between pretending not to be a fuckwad….

    Also nasty old men are my street cat call demographic exclusively. I don’t know why that’s relevant/ needs an “also” I just find it wildly entertaining.

  8. i like his poems. this is the first i’ve heard of him but i like his style. i don’t see an old disgusting fart with a whiskey bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other, although i’m sure that’s how e spend most evenings. i, more or less see, though it may seem naive, an old writer. his mind not as sharp as it once was due to the life he’s lead. he now sits miserable and lonely. writing honesty until his pencil has no more lead. he’s too stubborn to be a liar, and to proud to let his talent die. i think i find that admirable.

  9. I am intrigued to see an article on Bukowski on AS. Bukowski’s cynical musings on life really attracted me in high school, and I wrote papers on him in college and recited his poetry (Thoughts for You) as theater auditions. Some of his work portrays women (South of No North) and others in such a poor light that I avoid it. At the same time there are some poems (Dinosauria We, The Genius of the Crowd) that I return to frequently because they are so on point. There’s a succession of Bukowski poetry books (Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills, and Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame) that I will never part with, yet other pieces by him can be passed over in my opinion.

    So I have conflicted feelings about the man and his work, but I’m excited to see it all being discussed here. I’d love to hear anyone’s input on Bukowski’s legacy as a cultural / literary figure, especially in the LA area. This also reminds me to re-read his work to see how I’d think about it now.

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