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
*A version of this first appeared on Spokanefavs.com