Friday, December 16, 2011

Off the Rack - Charles Bukowski

"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."

 For years I have been a fan of Charles Bukowski's poetry. His raw, unashamed prose and simple use of language to just say something. Sometimes it is incredibly deep, other times it isn't. It wasn't until recently that I had the time to take on the novels of Bukowski. And from the moment I opened them I fell in love. Bukowski can be see as grumpy, hollow, unapologetic and perhaps just a big jerk. But maybe that is what I love about his writing.
His novels take on this no holds barred, semi-autobiographical gray area where he is just able to write. And write whatever he feels. He never attempts to explain his intentions or his feelings. In fact in Post Office he even remarks on how another author spends too much time trying to figure out the "why". His novels become these horrible vignettes of life. Not good life, where everyone learns a lesson after going through hardships. Just life. Bukowski's characters aren't so much likeable as they are just real people. People going through their lives. Even if they are deplorable people, living out deplorable lives and making all the wrong decisions in the mean time. And yet you don't feel entirely apathetic about them either. When bad things happen to them, you still care. You get frustrated as Hank grows up and deals with bullies and a lackluster love life. You get mad that the world isn't fair, even in a fictional world.
To me, it is Charles Bukowski's often quotable words that resonate. Whether he is talking about life, love, or even the nauseating pain of a three day hangover, his words mean something. They aren't the lofty artist lyrics of many literary authors, in fact he probably has more offensive things to say than any of those other authors had a chance to mutter. These are the words of the everyday man. Crude, simple and to the point. And yet they have the power and presence of any great writer.
After devouring every Bukowski novel I could get my hands on over a couple weeks, one of my favorite contemporary poets has become one of my favorite authors. And though his passing in 1994 means there won't be more novels or poems to read. Charles Bukowski has written an impressive body of work that is well worth revisiting at different times in life. I am sure every visit will be surprisingly new and applicable.

Recommended reading:
Ham on Rye
Post Office
Love Is A Dog From Hell

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