Friday, June 21, 2013

The People Look Like Flowers at Last (Charles Bukowski)

The People Look Like Flowers at Last, Charles Bukowski
Read: 26 December to 31 December 2012
4 / 5 stars

Charles Bukowski is my spirit animal.

When I dug into The Last Night of the Earth Poems so many years ago, I had no idea that I was on the brink of discovering my all-time favorite writer. I didn't know that there was someone out there, once, who knew that life is ugly but its breathtaking essential elements are what make the trip worth the hassle. Who knew how to play elegance and simplicity against crass observation. Who voiced so perfectly the deep, driving ache that compels one to just write because your only other prodigal skill is drinking yourself to belligerent oblivion, which isn't usually a bankable talent (though if there's a secret that no one's telling me, I want in on it now).

I love his novels and I enjoy his shorter tales but it is Buk's poetry that embodies what he is to me. He doesn't dress up any of it, either: He doesn't have to. He's just pointing out what no one else bothers to piece together. His brutal honesty is all the presentation he needs. This is a man who gives himself so completely to his art that there's not a whole lot left for anyone else, which, sure, it does make him seem like kind of dick, though I maintain he would have been an even bigger ass had he kept his words to himself.

There isn’t much unread Bukowski-wrought poetry left on my shelf these days, though, blessedly, there’s still plenty more to obtain. I’ve taken to capping off my year with some delicious, delicious Buk, which always ensures that I’ll end another year of fierce bookworming on the best note possible. I’m not really sure why The People Look Like Flowers at Last wound up being one of the last collections I’ve tackled of my currently owned bunch but I’m glad I finally got around to it, and not just because it gave me the context for one of my most favorite quotes from Literature’s Dirtiest Old Man, demonstrating that ol’ Chuck here harbors no illusions about himself and what he’s meant to do:

great writers are indecent people
they live unfairly
saving the best part for paper.

good human beings save the world
so that bastards like me can keep creating art,
becoming immortal.
if you read this after I am long dead
it means I made it.

And, well, fuck, I found out that Chuck liked The Stranger just as much as I did, and for not entirely dissimilar reasons:

all along The Stranger had been my hero
because I thought he'd seen beyond trying
or caring
because it was such a bore
so senseless--
life a big hole in the ground looking up--
and I was wrong again:
hell, I was
The Stranger and the book simply hadn't come out the way
it was meant to

And then there were a few more poet-as-the-poem pieces, like the fabulously rambling “Rimbaud be damned” (which is just as insane as the title suggests), beginning with a woman and meandering into self-aware proclamation, which ought to resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like their rich inner world is hopelessly obscured by a pale and misunderstood outer self:

I was as yellow as the sun perhaps
but also as warm and as true as the sun
somewhere there inside me
but nobody would ever find it.

And then, of course, some emotional sledgehammers, like “Jane’s Shoes,” found their way into the mix:

how those strong nights
lied to us,
how those nights became quiet
my shoes alone in the closet now

He still talks about gambling but as more of an observer, watching without judgment as the foolhardy and hopeless squander away their last dollars. He still talks about drinking and fighting, but in the past tense. He still ogles the ladies and appreciates a fine pair of legs but there's a personal and slightly melancholic undercurrent there. And, like so many of his posthumously published poetry collections, there are the obligatory odes to life’s end zone and all the introspection that comes with nearing it:

no one is sorry I am leaving,
not even I;
but there should be a minstrel
or at least a glass of wine

it bothers the young most, I think:
an unviolent slow death....

will we miss
the love of a woman or music or food
or the gambol of the great mad muscled
horse, kicking clods and destinies
high and away
in just one moment of the sun coming down?

but now it's my turn
and there's no majesty in it
because there was no majesty
before it

But it’s getting harder and harder to explain just what Bukowski does to me. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m repeating myself and don’t want to do him that bland injustice. Maybe it's because most women I know abhor him and I’ve always felt a little like I’m betraying the sisterhood (not like that’s ever been a deterrent) by worshiping at Chuck’s beer-soaked altar. Mostly, though, I think my adoration and admiration of Bukowski has become something I don't really want to discuss unless I know I'm among those who can truly appreciate him. No one gets me like he does, and I take that shit personally.

and I am sick with caring: go away, everything,
and send fire.

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