Author photo by artist, Walter Bakowski

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Charles Bukowski and me

The first lines in a Charles Bukowski poem that stayed with me were "people run from rain but sit in bathtubs full of water", from the poem "86'd", read on a park bench in Richmond, Melbourne in the first half of the 1970's. Some years passed, until a tram conductor friend gave me his copy of "Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame". I was struck by the poem "Something For The Touts". I liked the scope of the poem and how it incorporated ordinary people, such as nurses coming off a shift. The influence of that poem is there in a poem I had published in AMBIT magazine, a poem called "Like Talculm Powder In the Rain" and also in a poem, entitled "War And Journey", published in my first poetry collection, "In the Human Night."
I remember one Saturday in the mid-1980's whilst living in a shared house in Fulham, London, reading three of John Fante's novels back to back in 14 hours, having read Charles Bukowski's championing of Fante's works and clear, clean writing style.
Saturdays in London, I would catch the tube to Camden, go to Compedium Books to see if there was a new Charles Bukowski.
One London winter, I flew to Los Angeles, travelled down to Calexico and crossed the border into Mexico, wound up in a hotel room in Merida, Yucatan. In the hotel room I wrote the poem, "One for Charles Bukowski", which later appeared in my first poetry collection, "In the Human Night". I typed up the poem in that hotel room on a manual typewriter I had lugged all around Mexico, and mailed the poem to Charles Bukowski c/o Black Sparrow Press. Several months later back in London,
I received a letter typed by Charles B, the first line of the letter read "That was some poem you wrote, I'm honoured..."
In my next letter to Charles Bukowski, I enclosed a black and white photo of myself leaning against a London factory wall and said that a lot of my late adolescence had been spent playing pool(!)
I wrote my third and last letter to Charles Bukowski on the eve of myself undergoing a major heart operation at the age of 39. I wrote that letter from the cardiac ward of the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, and despite having read numerous Bukowski poems outlining his need to be alone, in the letter I asked whether in 1994 I could come visit and interview him.
His tactful gracious (and generous-minded) reply to me is there published in "Reach For The Sun" -Selected Letters 1978-1994 Volume 3 (Black Sparrow Press 1999).
Here my poem "One For Charles Bukowski" -

One for Charles Bukowski

I've carried your books like bibles
from Bali to Britain to north of Brazil,
past the Hollywood props, the neutered corral
of schoolroom nodding poetry and fiction,
to find again the hermit strength
of your unbartered words
under the reading lamp's halo.

And the bovine public
ever swilling at their trough
will best remember you
for your "dirty" stories,
but for me it will always be
the poems.

Rimbaud said, "So then,
the poet is truly a thief of fire."
Truly then
you are the best thief of all!

I like your poem about
when you were starving in atlanta
and writing your poems in the margins
of old newspapers.
I like your poem
"Have you ever kissed a panther?"
I've fallen in love with some too.
I like your poems
about working in factories and other
shit-kicker jobs.
I've chewed and bled some
against the wire of that life.

I like your poems about
your whores and your heroes:
the fist and earth of them,
their venom and their yearning,
throwing out a last horseshoe
from their hearts.

And I like the way
you've never really liked
giving poetry readings,
how you only did it 'cos
you needed the money.
It's alright, we've all
been whore to something

I like the way
you've ridden your horse:
through Andernach,
through a childhood of thorns,
through the whipped streets
of Los Angeles,
through the little magazines,
through the acres and alley-ways,
droughted of peace,
droughted of love.

It's a story of bravery
and I've always admired bravery.
Still do.

And don't worry about
non-acceptance; American literature
only bestows its laurels
to treaders of water,
inwardly they shudder
at your anvil songs.
On the Continent
they understand you better,
their eyes have long been propped open
by the singular barbs
of Cendrars and Genet.

You've taught me
that where a person's truth begins
is in the dawn realm
of solitude,
harbour of our deepest anchors;
and that
the way to love something or somebody
is by not committing surgery upon them,
to recognize and respect
their trials and graces
in their own arena,
be they
lion, horse, spider, cat
or human.
You've taught me
to be lean in the poem,
to say the thing
the way the hammer
says things
to the nail.

as the world sits on days
as thin and sharp
as the edges of razor blades,
as the world kneels, to docilely accept
the whip of new Pentagons,
know that
your books will pass as revolvers pass
through the hands of desperate men;
the splash of your poems will ripple
to the edges of the world
and there will be
a seed, a plan and a way
for new
thieves of fire.

Old dog, blowfly saint,
you can rest in the sun now
if you want.

You have given us more
than we deserve.
                                                           - from "In The Human Night"


  1. "You haven given us more
    than we deserve." and his gifts have obviously been a deserved haven for you.

    Great work PPB, keep 'em coming.