Writing about Charles Bukowski is never easy, and anyone who reads him (or writes about him) most likely cannot help but be torn between the ideas of Realism vs. blatant psychosis/misogyny. Either way, his writing always strikes some emotion, no matter which direction it aims. This week, I started reading a collection of his poetry entitled Come On In!, and my expectations were not completely met. Poetry is obviously a different medium than the short story, but given Bukowski's style and reputation, I went into the reading of his poetry expecting that difference in form, but with the same messages. I was wrong, and not having my expectations met is a good thing.
In the poems that I've read so far, I've been struck by a vulnerability and emotional range that I haven't found in his stories. Some critics/theorists may be able to see some morality and redemption in his stories, but my belief has always been that his fiction is meant to be taken at face value. His characters are unsympathetic, immoral, and most importantly, do exist in day-to-day life. Normally, if a Bukowski-esque character were to appear in someone else's fiction, it would be to illuminate the idea of bad, especially compared with the generally assumed notion of "good." However, I've felt that Bukowski presents his characters as-is, take them or leave them. His poems can also contain the same shocks and visceral intensity, but there's also an element of regret and understanding that appears at times:
"in the clubhouse"
"he is behind me,
talking to somebody:
'well, I like the 5 horse, he closed well last
time, I like a horse who can close.
but you know, you gotta kinda consider
the 4 and the 12.
the 4 needed his last race and look at
him, he's reading 40-1 now.
the 12's got a chance too.
and look at the 9, he looks really good,
really got a shine to his skin.
then too, you also gotta consider the 7...'
every now and then I consider murdering
somebody, it just flashes in my mind for a
moment, then I dismiss it and rightfully
I considered murdering the man who
belonged to the voice I heard,
then I worked on dismissing the thought.
and to make sure, I changed my seat,
I moved far down to my left,
I found a seat between a woman wearing a
sun shade and a young man violently
chewing on a mouthful of
then I felt
better (Bukowski 34)."
This is probably the first Bukowski piece that I've read in which a character weighs the outcome of his/her choice and decides not to act impulsively. Granted, the fact that the character has to talk himself out of murder implies serious mental inefficiencies, but given some of the actions that have taken place in Bukowski's work, this almost reads as more or less heartwarming. Given that some of his characters do not think twice about debauchery, extreme alcohol consumption, and sexual assault, a resolution such as this seems encouraging. Bukowski is one of many writers whom readers can fatally interchange the works as well as the author's private life. While it's well-known that Bukowski engaged in some pretty intense behavior during his life, another poem ("Paris in the spring") attempts to clarify these assumptions. Again, assuming that what happens on the page is what happens in the author's life can be wrong, one can't help but wonder if this quote is at least partly autobiographical:
"I only photograph life, said the writer. I might write about a murderer but this doesn't mean that I am one or would enjoy being one (160)."
Bukowski, Charles. Come On In! Copyright 2006 by Linda Lee Bukowski.