The View From Down Here by Raindog
When I first solicited articles for this issue, I was surprised by the weak response -- having targeted forty or so students of Bukowski and having gotten a few, albeit FINE, responses in return. I wanted to focus on the impact of work of the man and not so much the life -- or mythology -- (maybe that was the problem -- wrong focus), so I pointed the respondents in one of two directions: the “process” of the Bukowski Ideal -- “don’t try” and/or the meaning of the so-called “meat poetry” school and how it differs from, say, the Beats.
Now, I admit that this all sounds a bit on the dry side; “Bukowski 101-A”, but I wanted to draw out a different view of the man. I think that this was accomplished, even though my suggestion of topic did “raise some sand” with certain folks. I don’t really mind being taken to task here, since the end result is so good. But, I must confess a certain wonder at the variety of responses that one still gets at the mention of the name Bukowski, even among those who are knowledgeable in his work. Some are very defensive, to the point of being phobic about anything that might “tarnish the Bukowski legend!” Others are ready to move on to the next ‘Lion’. And then, there’s the loyal cadre of writers and poets who are “carrying the torch” forward, no matter what. I’d like to think that I fall into that last group.
Bukowski has been such a strong force in my life. By that I mean the simple truths that are consistently laid out in his writings have served as bulwarks many times during my own life. I recently wrote a poem called “The Poem Will Save You” which paraphrases an idea of his, namely that the poem will save your ass from madness. I believe this to be completely true. The poem will save you; without it, there’s really not much reason to keep going, just as I believe without creativity, a population just shrivels up and dies. Out of all the people who have read/seen/heard it only one person has slammed it (and me) hard, and this because of that person’s utter disgust for anything associated with Bukowski. Hatred is such a crippling thing.
A few years ago, I wrote a poem called “Chinaski”, which began with the following line: “I could never get it up for anyone like I could for Chinaski...” The homophobic reaction that this statement solicited had little to do with the actual content of the piece, but it is another good example of how people can ‘read’ so much into something that’s not there! When you take a look at the actual writing of Bukowski, you begin to grasp (if you can see beyond the myth) the extraordinary effect that the character of Hank Chinaski has had on several generations of readers, writers and poets. Before Chinaski (BC), the characters were either terse and tough, or delicate flowers; hard-boiled, macho men and ballsy women - who were always ready to crack - or effeminate artists and women as pale as gauze. After Chinaski (AC): real men and women living out their real, meaningless (or full) lives; not just the daily drama, but the daily bread and butter, as well.
Chinaski passed through the changing times of post WWII, unchanged. He survived the fifties and sixties, not unscathed, but nearly immune to the advances of technology and the machine age. Chinaski emerged from the wreckage of the post Beat-era, hocked the bongo drums for enough money to buy something to make the days slip by a little easier and got down to it. The “it” being the living and dying that marks this passage that we are on.
As long as we live, Chinaski lives!
This is a special issue of the LUMMOX. This month we celebrate the birth and legacy of Charles Bukowski, whose passing touched each of the lives of the contributors in varied and unique ways. But this is not a gushing tribute or a memorial to a ‘great man’. As you will see, this issue contains an acknowledgment of the power of the writings of one man, who stated his truths simply and simply stated his truth.
Join us, those touched by him, as we celebrate his birthday (August 16th, 1920) at Sacred Grounds on August 15th at 9 pm; as the LUMMOX Journal and I present an evening of free-form poetry and music, featuring some of best poets and musicians that I know. And best of all, it’s free! Get there early! Seating is limited. (See review below).
Charles Bukowski - B. 8/16/20 -- D. 3/9/94 Published in over twenty different languages; over forty books, latest - Bone Palace Ballet (see review in July LUMMOX); last residence - San Pedro, CA
Spoken Word Sandwich #5 (LUMMOX Journal & Raindog - Producers) Sacred Grounds Aug. 15, 1997 San Pedro, CA, USA
In tribute to Charles Bukowski’s birthday (August 16, 1920), Sacred Grounds hosted a rockin’spoken word explosion, featuring a stellar cast of local poetic talent and an eclectic butt-kicking band, featuring Steve Hodges (late of the Lotuseaters) on drums & percussion, Mike Watt (the Minutemen, etc.) on bass, Joe Baiza on guitar and Ralph G., also on bass (both of the Mecolodiacs and newly ressurected Sachryne Trust w/ Jack Brewer) and Raindog (of the CasioTones) on Casio Sax. The mood moved from the quiet introspective poetics of Nelson Gary & Ellyn Maybe to the electrifying auto-jerk Pentecostal acrobatics of S.A. Griffin. Poets and audience members worked the performers into a talking-in-tongues frenzy. Men, women and children alike surged to the stage to be imbued with the aura of these gifted and maniacal performers. Legendary musicians like Doors drummer John Densmore looked on from the wings. Harry Dean Stanton blathered on aimlessly, but nobody cared. After his performance, a fifteen year old blonde prostitute fed him Gerber’s babyfood at a reserved table in back. He’s currently having new dentures made. Don Preston, formerly with the Mothers of Invention, hooked his synthesizer to the tail of Hale Bopp and made a universal fly-by, and the show wrapped with a hillbilly chant to unfaithful whisky headed women from Mike Meloan, and a remembrance of Bukowski's first wine buzz from Ham on Rye skillfully read by Phil Ginder. As always, Raindog was producer, M.C., Casio Sax player and poet reader. What mo’ can I say. ..MM (Mike Meloan)
An Impression by Scott Wannberg
I come back to Bukowski, I go to that room, knowing the stories there are always the kind I can run along with. The language he wielded, or welded, was never obtuse or so archly lofty that I would get buried in it. I can’t even tell you if I rate as a poet or not. I seemingly am unable at composing pristine tiny jewels of enriching language. I can sort of put something together out of prose noises, I guess, and somebody once accused me of writing prose and not poetry, and I said I guess you might be right, maybe they are short short stories passing as poetry, but then again they just might be poems. There is a difference between poems and poetry. Poetry is John Keats or William Shakespeare. Phrases that you can memorize and throw out at parties and dazzle the body politic with. Poems, on the other hand, are energy bursts in stanzaic form (and the stanzas do find their own life) you might not be able to memorize and throw out at people at the tip of a hat, but are things you come back to in your own time and rhythm. Bukowski opened the skylight for me and let the air in. He showed me you could write in the syntax you saw and heard in. You didn’t need to elaborate and hang the special ornament at the top of the tree. Tinsel would get you home, even tinsel that had been kind of dog-eared in the box from lack of use. In Taylor Hackford’s documentary about Bukowski, the man pointed to his typewriter (it was before the computer--he got one of those later) and said, this is where the work is. You might be lucky enough to be asked to a series of parties but if you’re going to too many of those, you’re not where you’re needed, at the work table, at the typewriter, as it were. Fiction writers in order to meet their discipline write a minimum of words per day. I suppose some of the poets do as well. I don’t. There are moments when I don’t want to get near the writing process. I hope to hell something is distilling in me at those times for future hootenanny guest spots. It’s a nebulous crapshoot, this process. Bukowski might not be spoken of by them who supposedly know in the same cadences as maybe Dante, or Chaucer. They were poet poets. But Dante liberated his readers because instead of shooting his metaphors at them in Latin, which was the current craze, he did it in Tuscan, his local ground dialect which became Italian as we know it. Chaucer, likewise, dealt his public a garrulous enough deck of Middle English, as opposed to French, which the upwardly mobile poets of his time sung and marched to. He gave his public, well, those of them who might not have known French well enough to play the poet / reader game, something to cheer about. Bukowski, as Woody Guthrie did, wrote about everything in his day by day twirl. Not all of your subjects can be the Subject of Poetry for All Time to Come. Don’t hold back. Write about anything and everything and the good dance will wobble through. He’d simply juggle the laughing / crying yin yang clown prince dancefloor. Years ago in San Francisco, when I was cutting my Masters molar, I saw him do a read downtown. There was a cactus on stage. Some obstreperous wag kept haranguing Bukowski. At one point he asked, “Bukowski, what does the cactus represent?” Bukowski said, “Give me a few moments to think about it.” Later on some other waif called out, “What’s Jesus Christ?” “The cactus,” said Bukowski, “he’ll stick you every time.” He flicked an ash onto the cactus. Some overwrought, educated fool wrote a review of that reading. The fool fell into the doomed drinking poet myth. Claimed the Bukowski I saw on stage was a doomed poet. Shucks. I knew better and different. Jesus might stick you every time, but you learn from such sticking that your foot nerves are alive and in the game. A few days ago I saw a vintage TV show featuring the Rat Pack from 1965. You know those guys. Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr. They ran an unnecessary disclaimer on it, saying how some of the stuff said and mentioned may not be appreciated in this holy year of hey now 1997 (we’ve come a long way I guess) but it was a signature of the times, blah absurdum. The main thing was the Rat Pack, politically correct or not (whatever that is--Christ, these folks were entertainers, if I remember, and not politicians) were Having Fun. Between themselves and with the audience. Bukowski was having fun at that reading. No doomed poet there. All in the mind of that overeducated cerebral twit who wanted to see a doomed poet when he or she penned that review. Bukowski could laugh with himself, not at himself. Poetry, to survive, as any art, needs to be able to step outside of its holier than whatever cathedral, and lower its pants and now and then say, “Told you so, yuck, yuck, yuck.” The war you see is ongoing. In order to fight it, you have to be much larger than politically correct. Was Bukowski an empathetic daddy who felt? Try Last Days of the Suicide Kid or Death of an Idiot. As S.A. Griffin, the Zen caddy master says, “You write for yourself, not the unknown demographic audience.” They won’t be taking our poems to some sneak reading in Encino and then have the customers fill out lobby cards. “Could you change those last six lines, please?” Pick up the world, roll it around in the history of your hands. It feels good. It burns. It laughs. It bleeds. Tell me about it. How the weather calls on your skin. What words it uses. Bukowski painted pictures and he lived in Los Angeles. My hotel. He sang sweet love songs, my friend. He played the blues and knocked cans over at night to the tune of I am a Writer living in the deep blue language. I sit here, about to back out of this piece. I will do it quietly. There is a music in the bedrock. It keeps us afloat. Bukowski played his sax. A wind began to grin. Darling, don’t hate me too much, because I love you so long I’ll still be singing your name when the handcuffs come down from Mount Olympus. Keep singing.
(Ed. note: there's not much that I can say about Scott, except that he's a fine poet and one-helluva beef-cake, so any of you ladies who are interested, take note.)
Charles Bukowski: The Art of the Ordinary by Gerald Locklin
What first struck me about the poetry of Charles Bukowski was his exploration of what I’ve come to call the Art of the Ordinary. Most writers start out assuming that poetry must be about the “poetic” and “dramatic”: the peaks and valleys of life. Hank may have started out there too-- there’s a melodramatic quality to some of his early verse that does not entirely disappear from less successful poems throughout his career. But, like Frost and William Carlos Williams, he had sensed by the time I was first encountering his works in The Wormwood Review in the late sixties that most of life is lived on the plateau of daily existence, not in the intensities of romantic love, heroic deeds, tragic death. He had begun to find the materials of poetry in just getting up in the morning, in beating an egg, bringing in the newspaper, checking out the mail, opening or postponing the first beer of the day, surviving an uninspiring job. Not just winning or losing on the races, but in the drive to and from the track. Not only in the ecstasies and agonies of relationships, but in the lesser conflicts, pleasures, and annoyances. Putting the humiliations out of mind. Enjoying music, or a basic meal. Frost invested the ordinary with deeper meanings, the many layers of symbolism. Bukowski often simply delineated the ordinariness, the universality, of the ordinary. That ultimately most things were simply themselves. That’s life--nothing special--no big deal--take it or leave it. He’s left it now, without any fanfare on his part, and while he was here he played the cards he was dealt. And won. As an illustration of this I recently read to a group of young people who were not familiar with his work, the poem “Beans With Garlic”. I think he may have meant various things by his gravestone epitaph “Don’t Try.” Probably “Don’t put undue pressure on yourself--it’s counterproductive” and “Don’t even think about desecrating my grave.” But I suspect he also meant, “Enjoy the beans and garlic of life--and feel free to write about these ordinary things.”
(Gerald Locklin teaches at Cal State, Long Beach, and is the author of Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet --Water Row Books-- and The Last Round-Up --Wormwood Review Books. He is a regular contributor to the LUMMOX Journal.)
Joan Jobe Smith
Poetry and my life of poetry began in 1973 when I read Charles Bukowski’s THE DAYS RUN AWAY LIKE WILD HORSES OVER THE HILLS. I’d just quit working, after 7 long, long years as a go-go girl, in some of the sleaziest beerbars and nightclubs in Southern California to go back to college. My associates during those years had been drunks, pool hustlers, dope dealers, pimps, and assorted “floozies” modern society (mostly male) called sluts and bimbos. One of my best girlfriends was a hooker, another an abortionist, another the most gorgeous topless dancer around. At CSULB, among the younger students, PHD profs, and the white intellectual poets we were reading like Plath, Sexton, and Dickinson, I felt truly like a nasty weed in a posey patch, until: I read Bukowski. My kinsman. My been there--done that pal. I loved his words, his heart, guts, and wit. I will always consider it one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me that I got to meet him and became a sort of peripheral friend. Off and on for nearly a decade we wrote letters and talked on the phone. He was magic. He was a genius. He was my main muse. He will always be my favorite poet. And I will always miss him like a front tooth.
(Joan Jobe Smith has written fourteen books of poetry since 1977. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines. She is a co-founder and editor of Pearl, a widely respected poetry magazine that comes out every so often. Some of her work will appear in DUFUS! --due in June, 1998 from LUMMOX Press.)
CHARLES BUKOWSKI LIVES by S. A. Griffin
I have been given a peculiar assignment to separate Charles Bukowski the poet from Charles Bukowski the writer of words. His impact on Lit. and his place as a so called man of Meat or Beat. For myself, there is no difference, they are all one in the same, and this is what I have learned.
I first came upon Bukowski at about the same time I fell into Leonard Cohen the poet, Ferlinghetti starting from S.F., and Kerouac’s road scriptures holy. They all had the same thread of truth, driven by the same spirit and energy of heart, and the same steel soul to frame their towering works. To say that Bukowski is this or that is completely irrelevant because all that matters is the work itself, and if he were alive he might throw his head back, laugh, tell you the same and to fuck yourself for asking such a stupid question. It is written in stone on the hillside that holds him now: "Don’t try." This is it baby, there is nothing else. He certainly was alive to see the Beat figures play and had the occasion to wade in that same river but was ultimately only unto himself, he, being the central character in his play and in the long and short belonging nowhere and to everyone, exclusive it seems to his words and to the familiar of his booze. The mathematics of luck and how to make your own. He showed me how to talk out loud with the typewriter, to play the character keyboard like a piano drunk and to begin at the beginning and tell your story whether it be poem or prose it is all the same. He wrote of asshole beauty and skid row sense, the patient logic of simply waiting for your cards, helping me understand that it is again, all the same, that the disparity of class is only that, that the magic of all things human brings it home. He was Meat maybe because like anything that shits and fucks and takes breath, you must tear thru the meat, expose the bone, breakthru to the sweet sticky marrow of the matter, the deep ambrosia, to get at the thing that makes the blood and sends the message to the messenger and then laughs you all the way to the bank. He was Beat maybe because he pissed on the establishment and seemed to answer to no one. "FUCK HATE" was the meaty headline in the one and only edition of Earth Rose Press which incorporated the following sentiment: "Whereby, on this day we able minded creators do hereby tell you the establishment: FUCK YOU IN THE MOUTH, WE’VE HEARD ENOUGH OF YOUR BULLSHIT", signed simply: beings of beauty. Published by Bukowski and fellow madwriter Steve Richmond, they were later judged obscene by the courts and ordered to cease printing. If exposing the truth of things is or was Beat/Meat, I guess that he certainly qualified then as both. If his religion was beer, wine, honest violence, the struggle to love in a world gone quite mad with itself, a beedie, or the medicinal effect of classical music; then his temple was the track. His pulpit a set of typewriter or computer keys waiting for the assault. Thrown off French t.v. for being shitfaced and obnoxious on the air, he was an instant star in Europe; the man called it the way it came. No spit on the ball, he threw it right over the plate and caught them looking every time. Maybe he was Beat because he was uniquely a man of his own time unlike any other. He just fucking didn’t seem to care, but when going thru his words you find nothing but heart, heart, and more heart. Meat. However, to write or talk about it like I do now is absurd because he spent his life telling you in his own words universal, and they speak for themselves.
Charles Bukowski sang to me about the world that asks you to the dance and I know that others have heard the same exploding notes because of the way they too move across the page. Bukowski, a billboard on the Sunset Strip, a man sitting at the bar, a man of style: A man. He adjusted the light so that you could see the words just a little bit better, enough to bring some sense to the room, and in his own words from The Laughing Heart: there is light somewhere./it may not be much light but/it beats the darkness.
I cannot tell you if he was Meat or Beat, nor really, does it matter. I cannot speak of the difference in his words but only of the beauty in the execution of a common language. I can only tell you that he was Charles Bukowski and that in the end he had a home in San Pedro, a BMW in the driveway, a wife named Linda for whom he painted Valentines, he had cats, that there were raccoons in the backyard and poppies, yellow poppies, and that he was here then and because you are reading this now, he is still here, and will be long after this falls away or that comes into the play. Please don’t ask me to dissect Charles Bukowski because first he must be dead, and for me and many others, Charles Bukowksi lives.
(Ed. note: Few poets in the Los Angeles poetry and Spoken Word scene are as consistently articulate as S.A. Griffin. Apart from pursuing a career in acting, he has been extremely supportive of The LUMMOX Journal and continues to encourage quality poetry and poets throughout the country. His Rose of Sharon Press has published several books and he also publishes SIC, an every-so-often poetry broadside.)
Gentle At The End of It (Homage to Charles Bukowski) by Marshall Werner There was the time TERMITES OF THE PAGE ate through, and the time THEY DON'T EAT LIKE US caught me by my last knuckle, and so many other ones because I’ve had so many more lives to get through too. At the Memorial most tried to imitate you and failed miserably because they don’t understand how you failed miserably before you made it to their it. I brought two big bunches of yeelow daisies because you wrote that yellow was your favorite color and daisies seemed common enough for a King to appreciate. One subject read a letter in which you said it would be worth it if you knew it meant something to someone worth it Then more imitators lined up to read their stuff, as predictable as morse code S.O.S’s and I couldn’t breathe because I had dressed up (this is my last respect ritual) and their dressed down blakness had options evaporating from it like stink waves from shit. (It’s not their fault but I still hate them for it.) I went outside and gave a drunk my last two bucks. I wanted to stop at each Tenderloin corner and throw out big money: “Hank sent me!” But what little I had was now oozing green snot from the stems. I went back in again. The line was even bigger. This was no place for these flowers. So I gave half to a ninety-two-year-old shut-in who never indulges in rootless flowers; the other bunch I took home though I don’t like the pissy smell of daisies. It made me laugh to wake up to their asterisk shadows and that damn smell. It just seemed right since there wouldn’t be any new words. As I write this in L.A., not far from where you were “discovered”, I hear a cop horse clip-clop on the street below. I look down, there is no horse. An ordinary man walks by with an extraordinary bouquet of huge yellow flowers that I can’t identify - and I’ve seen thousands - they bounce over his shoulder, exploding from the relentless smog like portable fireworks. And this is exactly IT that I miss about you. (Ed. note: Marshall currently lives in Northern CA and is searching for a publisher for her latest poetry manuscript "A different Kind of Normal".) ELEGY FOR A GIANT by Fred Voss First, I discovered Bukowski in the University Library, and it was magic-- nights up smoking cheap cigars and drinking cheap booze getting gloriously drunk and enlightened with Bukowski all night, reading everything, the Erections, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness, the Crucifix in a Deathhand, all the poetry and prose and that picture of him hanging onto that boxcar ladder... It was magic and it changed me and I was never the same and though I went to graduate school for a year I quickly dropped out and found myself filling up a boardinghouse room and then a dive apartment in Long Beach with the smell of chain smoking and beer drinking and on-the-edge-of- suicide survival working as a busboy and factory jobs and knowing it was worth it, knowing it was right as I read Burning in Water Drowning in Flame and The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills, and something he’d given me made me burn inside as I suffered and made it on not even knowing that I would be a writer, just that I was doing what I had to do and that it was right, days and nights of steel dust and furnaces and a burned-up mattress and tears in my beer listening to Hank Williams and no woman for years like Bukowski at the start of Women still I held on with nothing but his poems and some kind of crazy stubborn will to go on and I did go on Bukowski leading me through suicide madness and bikers and women who threw me down into the hard asphalt of their rejection without my own poem, without my own voice, I had Bukowski somehow leading me out of the darkness and toward the light of finally finding my own voice and my own poetry which I owe to him as much as maybe my life and much more and so you see that for me a great great light has gone out of this world Yet I look at my bookshelf 30 Bukowski books wide and realize that that light can only really get brighter and brighter and that I will have it always. (Ed. note: Fred Voss has been writing for many years. He has been published in numerous magazines and has fifteen books to his credit. This poem appears in “Love Birds” (co-written with Joan Jobe Smith and published by Chiron Press) and originally appeared in “Das Ist Alles” published by Pearl Editions.)
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