Monday, March 11, 2013

Charles Bukowski, Poet of the Loveless

His name materialized out of the breath of a Christian who I respect and love. It caught me by surprise, as I had not heard this poet's name in a long time. Charles Bukowski, what a strange name to come from such a committed Christian. My friend, a bother in Christ, said someone mentioned Bukowski to him and he had never heard of the poet. He knew I was a poet, and asked if I knew him.

Bukowski, mailman, poet, short story writer, novelist, self-proclaimed unrecognized genius, chronicler of the underside of American life and reprobate; what writer coming of age in the 1980s did not know Bukowski? None of our teachers taught him, rather he was the dark secret that we striving poets and writers passed around. A writer who also shared how he got free pizza introduced me to that darkness. It seems that if you go to Pizza Hut after the lunch rush, people leave left over pieces on their plates and the staff is too busy cleaning up to notice you chowing down; A perfect gross starving artist story, even this friend could afford to buy the pizza. Was it the titillation of doing the forbidden and getting meat lovers pizza to boot? I never asked and I did not take the writer’s pizza advice, but I did read Bukowski.

Bukowski is an effective writer. You don’t get to have Mickey Rourke play you in a Hollywood movie, Barfly, without moving people. When I read him, his elicit scenes were honey to the lost soul I was. He feed in me the feeling that the world did not understand. My feeling that I was unrecognized genius and his frankness about his own physical ugliness appealed to my vanity. I was blind in one eye and permanently crossed eyed, ugly to the world.  But then the overall mode of his writing started to appear and harden. When it did, all appeal of his writing vaporized and was replace by a deep sadness. His writing documents the despair that a loveless life can bring. Eric Jong, Michel Houellebecq, Henry Miller and so many others follow this road to this truth: a life led through titillation will eventually dry out the spirit into the cracked ground of a long dead river.

Between the curses, booze and the crazy adventures, imagined or real, Bukowski never found a home. He remained lost. When the alcohol wore off, the sunlight only brought pain to his eyes and the dust of room couldn’t cover the stench on his loveless existence. His writing moved more and more into a curse at life with each new hangover. While I never bowed to the Goddess of Booze like Charles, I went looking something to fill my emptiness.

When Jesus found me in my desperation a decade later after another failed romantic love, all I could feel for Bukowski is a sense of deep sadness and compassion. There is love in the world. It had found me. He chronicled how life had become Hell for him without love, but I was found and never looked back for fear of the pillar of salt I once was. My only regret was not being better at pointing out where to find this living water.

*A version of this first appeared on