Bukowski: Poetry for the damned

If we turn to the post-Beat scene of writing from the American West Coast we find many noteworthy literary creatures. The poetry of Charles Bukowski stands in contrast to Houellebecq’s nihilism. Bukowski’s dirty realism pulsates with the same themes as Houellebecq albeit with much more in the way of exuberance. He doesn’t so much languish in complacent affluence as live and breathe the filthier side of life. Bukowski remains an essentially American writer in his unabashed individualism, which serves to complement the reservoir of squalor and misanthropy in his prose. He has no coherent social message to convey only defiant exultation in the decline of civilisation.

Take the closing lines of Dinosauria, We “And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard” only to add “Born out of that./The sun still hidden there/Awaiting the next chapter.” Thereby Bukowski turns the Apocalypse into another twisted turn in the anfractuous road of progress. We are to be superseded, along with the transient stage which we have made for ourselves. Perhaps Bukowski and Houellebecq share an appreciation of the flux of this world because they were both poets.

In his reasoning Bukowski derided other writers for starting out with pretentious attempts at setting a captivating scene for the readers. It was dead prose, no longer wriggling with life. Instead Bukowski went for the jugular and opened Post Office (1971) with a real hook “It began as a mistake”. He was a working-class poet, often unemployed, usually drifting and forever inebriated. He found the bottle analogous to a fine symphony – something he knew plenty about in his love of classical music.

His publisher John Martin considered Bukowski the Walt Whitman of the 20th Century in putting pen to paper in the gutter. He conveyed the grittiest of experiences in his own melancholic brand of free verse. Black Sparrow Press marketed Bukowski as the poet who wrote for the average man in contemporary America. Yet Bukowski was much more misanthropic and self-centred in his alcoholism to be concerned with the wants of the masses. Even still the dirty old man chewed up Wagner and Kant only to spit them back out in his portrayals of a life lived in the darkest corners of American society.

About JT White

a writer and journalist living in the UK where he works as Africa editor and researcher for the World Weekly. White is a philosophy graduate, specialising in political thought, and maintained a blog for several years. His main focus is national and international politics having written on subjects as seemingly far apart as US elections, Russian nationalism and the state of modern Britain.
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