Saturday, 22 December 2012

Bukowski - being a prolific writer.

Charles Bukowski may come across as the ‘laureate of American low-life’ (Time magazine); drunken, crass; open disdain for most everybody in the literary world, ignorant, un-educated; but there are two things about his work that I aspire to – one, he was a “prolific” writer.  Something inspired him to write and nothing got in the way of that; every day, every night, write, laying down lines on paper.  OK, in the pure poetic art world a lot of it may be dismissed as no craft.  But being productive is a measure of a writer’s worth – there, I’ve introduced a third indicator to quality work, there’s the content of the poetry; the crafting of the poetry, and now, the productivity of the poet.  Bukowski was productive and I’m aware of that quality when I push myself along – how many poems will I complete this month, this year? what am I working on? when is my writing time and how will I insist on it (or how can I work it in with all the other stuff I’ve got going on?).  Most of us work at ordinary jobs and we have family commitments that by necessity take priority over anything as selfish as writing poetry – “what good’s that gonna do for us”, I hear her say, “you’d be far better off spending your time helping me with the washing or you could fix that balcony rail like I’ve been asking you to do a million times, do I have to do it myself or get someone in, is that what you want …………..”  OK, OK, the writing can wait!  Another quality of the writer is to know that you have forsaken your art for the greater good of the family unit (no you haven’t; you’re just basically afraid!).  Hank didn’t seem to let that shit get in his way.  Another aid to productivity is to not spend too much time going back over your work.  Don’t try to polish it, what is written, is written, and move on.  Bukowski seemed to work this way.  It’s sort of a belief that the work comes from pure inspiration, from a ‘muse’ who inspires the words to be written and it’s only when the morning comes that I will look and see what it really was that I wrote.  Fair enough.

The second thing about Bukowski that inspires me is, despite his lack of education and formal training in the art, he appears to have read widely and was familiar with the work of recognized poets (some whom he admired) – Hemingway, e.e. cummings, Esra Pound, Nietzsche, Celine, D.H. Lawrence, A. Huxley, Hamsun, J.D. Salinger.  In his poetry, Hank often pays tribute to the names of great writers – almost like an academic snob educated name-dropping, like he does with his self-taught knowledge of classical music.  OK, putting aside the lack of humility (though he would not have become so published if he’d been humble), it shows the importance for a non established writer to read and read and read the work of those who have already been recognized.  In this, Bukowski was quite educated.
Charles Bukowski (1921 – 1994)
sometimes I am hit
for change
3 or 4 times
in twenty minutes
and nine times out of
ten I’ll
the time or two
that I don’t
I have an instinctive
not to
and I
but mostly I
dig and
but each time
I can’t help but
the many times
my skin tight to the
ribs my mind airy and
I never asked
for anything
and it wasn’t
it was simply because
I didn’t respect
didn’t regard them
as worthy human
they were the
and they still are
as I dig
‘hand-outs’ is fairly typical of Bukowski – autobiographical; mundane content, considered line breaks that pick up a conversational flow that helps in reading.  I include this poem from Bukowski (The Last Night of the Earth Poems, Ecco) because I wrote a poem with similar content – not inspired by ‘hand-outs’ but the crafting is certainly with Bukowski in mind:

2005.  I remember saying once that Melbourne was my conscience. 
I lit five candles,
one for each of us,
and stood them in the sand tray
at the feet of the statue of Mary
in St Augustines,
down the Spencer Street Station end of Little Collins.
Outside in the afternoon sun,
I knew from the act
that I was now good
for being hit upon
by any bum
dead beat
derro, or
street dweller
enterprising enough
to give it a go,
the word must have got out
because up ahead
I could see the beggars
pushing off building pedestals
and going into their routine,
brushing down
baggy brown clothing,
drawing last minute inspiration
from cigarette butts
and then flicking the distractions
away to the foot-path.
I let one go,
maybe two,
prepared to be generous
to a red haired young bloke
reminded me something of Matthew,
he worked his spiel,
and I obliged
with a number of suggestions
that could hook him up
with welfare agencies,
and he beat me with reasons
why they didn’t always work,
and all the time
I’m pulling my wallet
from out of my back pocket
knowing that the talk
about agencies
and the advice
and concern to identify the problem
is all bullshit,
for me
and for him.
I’m so imbued
I’m going for a note
but only a five,
too cautious
to push the charity, dependency, generosity
too far,
the wallet becomes like a lure
as I hold it out
opening it’s slit mouth a tiny fraction,
and the bum
hovers his fingers above mine
willing to settle
the transaction
here and now,
though he knows there’s
gotta be
throw away lines
of deep appreciation
and thank you sirs.
We’re both
at opposite ends
of the note,
I mumble something stupid, like
don’t spend this on grog,
when the bum reels back
as if burnt with brimstone,
reefs both sleeves
back from fore-arms
turned outwards for inspection, and
equally stupid,
protests that he’s clean.
.......... we both leave it at that.
                                                                                                           J. O. White


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Charles Bukowski - genius or 'low life'?

I’m going to spend some more time with Charles Bukowski and then I’m going to get off him.  I’m going to get off him because I’m unsure of Bukowski the person, whether he was a character I would choose to admire or not.  Nor am I sure if he is the type of poet I want to aspire to.  Like, I’ve read the biography, Charles Bukowski (by Barry Miles, Virgin Books), and I think I understand the shaping of his world view because of his up-bringing and what life dealt him, but that doesn’t quite excuse the level of contempt and disdain for other people that he appears to hold and that comes through sometimes in his writing.  This view of mine was reinforced only recently when I looked at some you-tube clips of Bukowski interviews and readings.  There’s one where he and Linda (fiancĂ©e, then), are sitting on a couch, engaged in reality recorded conversation; Hank’s drinking and doing the typical movements of a smoker lighting up and talking around a thin, rolled cigarette.  He’s OK, calm, talking about how he believes he’s often taken advantage of because he reckons he’s too nice a guy, etc.  Linda hears what he says and supports his ego, “…… why do you let these people do this to you?”  There’s some to and fro conversation and Hank goes down a line of wanting to get rid of Linda because she’s been out late some nights, blah, blah, and she in turn tries to defend herself, when, out of nowhere, Bukowski turns extremely nasty – he lashes out with his feet to seriously kick Linda and he swears at her, threatens and calls her vile names – an ugly scene.  The change in mood is so sudden it’s like eruption from a tormented chimpanzee.  Why does he behave this way?  It’s too easy to look at the clip and just wipe the guy off as a prick!  But that would be wrong.  I think the key is in the fact that Linda and Hank went on and got married and she was his mate to the end.  Bukowski must have loved this woman (emotionally) more than he had felt about a lot of others.  I’m not a psychologist but I believe people can hate, or appear to hate, only because they do not know how to love (from a frustration of not knowing how to love) and having been given extreme low self esteem in their childhood development.  I think this is the case with Bukowski.  He was not nurtured and shown how to love within his family, so as an adult, his frustrated reaction in a situation where he feels love, is to turn it completely around and perform self hurt and denial – ‘fuck you!’ means, ‘you’re too good a person for a bastard like me (ergo: I love you)’.
I feel one has to be careful of this bitterness and contempt Bukowski shows for his fellow human being when one tries to copy his writing style.  It may be your natural propensity to pay out on society, but what contribution does it make to art, to get around belly-aching personal prejudices?  Sometimes I’ve got to do the reality check and ask myself, ‘am I writing something of substance here, or is this just belly-ache grumbling in notes from my personal diary?’  I include Bukowski’s poem, ‘a killer gets ready’, because I believe it passes the reality check.  Hank does seem to hold a bitter contempt for the man in uniform – a personal dislike.  But I think he says something more than, “there was this marine on the train and didn’t he think he was something!”  To me, this is an anti-war poem.  The world can always have war because the vanities of any number of young men are available to make it so bloody easy.

a killer gets ready

Charles Bukowski (1921 – 1994)


He was a good one
say 18, 19,
a marine
and everytime
a woman came down the train aisle
he seemed to stand up
so I couldn’t see
and the woman smiled at him
but I didn’t smile
at him
he kept looking at himself in the
train window
and standing up and taking off his
coat and then standing up
and putting it back
he polished his belt buckle with a
delighted vigor
and his neck was red and
his face was red and is eyes were a
pretty blue
but I didn’t like
and everytime I went to the can
he was either in one of the cans
or he was in front of one of the mirrors
combing his hair or
and he was always walking up and down the
or drinking water
I watched his Adam’s apple juggle the water
he was always in my
but we never spoke
and I remembered all the other trains
all the other buses
all the other wars
he got off at Pasadena
vainer than any woman
he got off at Pasadena
proud and dead
the rest of the trainride –
8 or 10 miles –
was perfect.
Something else I note in Bukowski’s, ‘a killer gets ready’ – is how Hank was a good observer of people; he studies this marine quite closely without engaging or giving himself away, and he matches what he observes to how he feels about it.  Bukowski’s ‘laureate of low-life’ (Time magazine) and autobiographical style has influenced me to write my own protests against what I’ve observed as thick-headed male behaviour.  This one I called, ‘Oil Men’:
2008. The Arab world may be alcohol free and the Moslem belief may keep women covered up, but drinking and womanising is OK for the arrogant western white man working in the middle east - the scene inside a Dubai ex-pat night club bar.

Oil Men

They were all big buggers,
solid blocks of beef,
with bulging biceps and barrel chests
that threatened to bust open stitching
on their Well Cat polo shirts
and stone-washed denims.
Moving like a pack of bull-dogs
they oafed straight into the bar
brandishing beer flushed faces
and dangerous egos.
It’s four o’clock in the afternoon,
but they’ve got to a state
where they’re all men,
standing in a circle with their legs planted,
like they’re pissing into a urinal,
holding onto themselves firmly
with hands thrust into the left pocket,
or feeding it into some whore’s mouth
while there’s loud back-slapping cheers,
and glasses get dropped
and break on the parquetry dance floor.
These ones don’t look as though there’s family,
or compassion,
the slim, oriental good time girls
…….hide back in the shadows.
                                                     J.O. White

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Charles (Hank) Bukowski - so you want to be a writer.

I got more books in my poetry collection by Charles Bukowski than any other poet there is.  Why is that?  Am I such a big fan?  I don’t know.  I think it’s because Bukowski was such a prolific writer (that there are so many books).  Of course I’m a fan – the poet most people try to copy.  I try to copy because Bukowski writes at a social level that I (and I guess, the masses) can relate to.  It’s telling it as it is; no bull-shit.  But Bukowski, more than a lot of others, knew what it was to live and be a writer.  And that’s something I like about him.  He sums it up in his poem, ‘so you want to be a writer’.  I keep this poem pinned above my desk like one of those motivational reminders, ‘every artist was first an amateur’, or ‘you cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind’.  You have got to just love to write no matter where it may not lead or how it may not serve any purpose.  But with Bukowski, is there justification for a writer’s creativity being formed from an alcohol or drug induced state?  I do know that I’m relaxed and free roaming the times at the keyboard when I’ve got a glass of port or a stone’s green ginger wine and the weather outside whips at my window – love it.

so you want to be a writer
                        Charles Bukowski (1921 – 1994)
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.
Bukowski was a ‘beat’ poet, and from this style I am encouraged to lay lines down as I would in a diary – spontaneous, no construction, no revision, conversational, pure ………..  One of my favourite Bukowski poems where I can hear the voice as I read it is, ‘back to the machine gun’.  This has a mundane tone like a dude who knows being hung over.  The tone is created by the line breaks that capture Hank’s voice and delivery in telling the story.  It’s a mundane story; one that any dumb-arse could tell, but there’s a nice ‘hook’ at the end.  That’s something I get from Bukowski – it’s OK to free wheel and write about nothing, but you have to leave the reader with a punch line, something to wrap it up and send them back over the lines to summarise why you were rambling on about nothing
                                                         back to the machine gun
                                                           (Charles Bukowski, 1921 - 1994)
I awaken about noon and go out to get the mail
in my old torn bathrobe.
I'm hung over
hair down in my eyes
gingerly walking on the small sharp rocks
in my path
still afraid of pain behind my four-day beard.

the young housewife next door shakes a rug
out of her window and sees me:
"hello, Hank!"

god damn! it's almost like being shot in the ass
with a .22

"hello," I say
gathering up my Visa card bill, my Pennysaver coupons,
a Dept. of Water and Power past-due notice,
a letter from the mortgage people
plus a demand from the Weed Abatement Department
giving me 30 days to clean up my act.

I mince back again over the small sharp rocks
thinking, maybe I'd better write something tonight,
they all seem
to be closing in.

there's only one way to handle those motherfuckers.

the night harness races will have to wait.
‘back to the machine gun’ acted as an influence when I wrote my poem, ‘Must Be at My Best’.  I tried to capture my own mundane tone (not hung over but similar).  I borrow the dishevelled appearance and clothing of somebody in a fever state, and I put a punch line at the end.
2011.  This was another year sucked quietly from the blood (Kenneth Slessor).  We went to Malaysia for a holiday and then I stumble from one disaster to another.  I come down with some fever-chill virus (Chicka Wu Wu virus for the want of a professional term).  I abandon myself to that relaxed realm where I don’t give a damn.
                                                                        Must Be at My Best.
In the Priceline chemist
the old bird behind the cash counter
has her eyes follow me in,
she stays with me a tad too long,
either suspicious, or
she fancies me,
I’m fighting off the fever chills,
dressed in my old black corduroys,
a black T-shirt beneath the V
of a black sweat top
that I slept in recently.
I think maybe she’s watching me,
but then I’m sitting in a chair
at the prescription counter, and
she comes out from behind the cash counter
through a swinging door, and
talks to the prescription guys
about going to lunch
and could they man the counter
and all the time, I’m sure
she’s taking peek glances at me,
I’m slouched back as much as I can
in the plastic chair
with my corduroy legs stuck straight out
above my brown suede slip-ons.
She disappears out the back to lunch.
The prescription guy takes my money
at the cash counter,
and as I go through the automatic sliding doors
I’m thinking about other missed opportunities.
                                                                                 J.O. White

Friday, 7 December 2012

Bruce Dawe - anti war poems.

I want to continue with Bruce Dawe and poems showing his familiarity with the military.  This one is called, ‘weapons training’.  When you read it you are left in no doubt that Bruce has been part of a squad (all male) receiving instruction from a tough drill sergeant or quarter master gunner with a touch of mongrel in him, like how they used to be.  From the poem you would think maybe this is Bruce taking the ‘mickey’ out of the military system and military instruction.  But I don’t think it is.  I don’t think it’s as much the satire as it first appears.  It certainly comes across as mockingly humorous with impossible personal insults, racial slurs, low level language and cheap gags.  But Bruce hasn’t made anything up here, he has not created a pretend character with pretend lines.  Nor has he created the sequence of the training session.  This is reality.  Every word, every sentence in 'weapons training' is exactly as a drill instructor (from the 1960’s, 1970’s) would have said it.  I find it’s another example of the poet listening carefully to conversation, finding the language colourful and entertaining, and then crafting it into a great poem.  The other reality thread that runs through the poem is the style and sequence of instruction.  Trainers know that there are set steps in a lesson plan – gain attention; state the objectives; link to previous learning, etc, etc.  'weapons training' is a true example of how a military instructor might have delivered a training session given the circumstances and the audience for which it was delivered back in those times.  The reason for training in weapons training, if not in preparation for deployment to Vietnam, is certainly structured with the Vietnam experience in mind (Charlies are coming ..; cockpit drill when you go down ..; mob of the little yellows ..).  In that sense, the consequence of poor performance is extreme, this is life and death stuff (dead dead dead).  The instructor knows this (may even have done his tour).  In terms of his Situational Leadership model (used by the military) he’s got a group at ‘task readiness’ level 1.  That means he’s the one who will do the talking and the others will shut up and listen.  It takes the first eight and a half lines for the instructor to establish his leadership position by singling out likely troublemakers and belittling them so everybody knows their position (no time for political correctness or hurt feelings when it could be you or your mates who get killed, while you thought it would be fun to dick around).  Then the lesson can start, ‘remember first ….’  The instructor’s tone becomes a little friendlier.  He’s set the boundaries.  Now he needs to inject a bit of humour to soften the reality of what these people may face in the field.  The final lines of the poem deal with practice and feedback where the skill is not yet mastered and the trainer paints the mental picture of the consequences of failure – too slow! too slow! dead dead dead.
Interpretation of 'weapons training' is one thing, but what I find more interesting is how it is constructed.  Bruce Dawe seems to have rendered a whole bunch of drill instructor sayings and one liner’s into a single, natural presentation that still manages great rhythm and ryhme.  The things I notice immediately in the poem are, only one capital letter; no commas, no full stops, extra word spacing used to indicate a pause mid-line, and the rhyming is there but so not obvious – ends up as a number of quatrains joined together.  On the syllable count it appears to follow five beats to the line (pentameter, classic) (iambic? maybe).
weapons training
(Bruce Dawe, 1930 - )

And when / I say / eyes right / I want  / to hear
those eyeballs click and the gentle pitter-patter
of falling dandruff    you there what’s the matter
why are you looking at me   are you a queer?
look to your front    if you had one more brain
it’d be lonely    what are you laughing at
you in the back row with the unsightly fat
between your elephant ears    open that drain
you call a mind and listen    remember first
the cockpit drill when you go down    be sure
the old crown jewels are safely tucked away   what could be more
distressing than to hold off with a burst
from your trusty weapon a mob of the little yellows
only to find back home because of your position
your chances of turning the key in the ignition
considerably reduced?    allright now suppose
for the sake of argument you’ve got
a number-one blockage and a brand-new pack
of Charlies are coming at you   you can smell their rotten
         fish-sauce breath hot on the back
of your stupid neck allright now what
are you going to do about it?   that’s right grab and check
the magazine man it’s not a woman’s tit
worse luck or you’d be set    too late you nit
they’re on you and your tripes are round your neck
you’ve copped the bloody lot just like I said
and you know what you are?   you’re dead dead dead
For my poem and its’ link to the poet, I’m posting two that are more inspired by ‘homecoming’ than by ‘weapons training’.  I wish I’d listened more to what the drill instructors were saying.  These two poems belong together.  They are not anti-war poems, rather an expression of the senselessness of a person getting killed in these non-war conflicts and a protest against the way the deaths are reported in a statistical manner.  I don’t know why, but I find I’m developing a dislike of stats – cold, hard figures that de-humanise, but broach no argument because they are the facts and everything has to be measured, somehow.
2004.  The evening news carries an item informing us that today the one thousandth American soldier was killed in Iraq.  This milestone was reached in less than twelve months since the invasion.
                                              The 1 Thousandth
Three soldiers were killed in the latest incident
Involving an ambush or suicide bomb or fire fight
Fought along a rubble littered street in Baghdad
But he was singled out as the 1 thousandth.
One thousand blood-smeared, sagging body bags
Lifted at the corners by four thousand buddies
Who remember from boot camp
One thousand NCO’s of the platoon,
Two thousand parents,
Four thousand grand parents
Three thousand brothers and sisters, give or take
The three thousand uncles and aunts,
Six thousand cousins
A thousand wives, sweethearts, girlfriends or lovers
Hug the 4 hundredth child
To have his daddy taken away
In one thousand caskets draped with one thousand flags.
2012.  I’m watching TV as I do every night; walk in from work, get a glass of wine, put on ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ or ‘Deal or No Deal’. Then the news comes on, and I know there was another casualty in Afghanistan (Cpl Scott Smith). A photo of the young soldier is displayed while the standard words are read out – so official, the Prime Minister’s deep sorrow; successful operation; struck a telling blow; disruption to the Taliban – not in vain. And always there’s the obsession with ‘stats’. This is a report of a young life sacrificed on behalf of the free, civilised world’s stand against terrorism, not a bloody number. Say something human for crying out loud! Moving right along, there’s a final insult when the report breaks to an ad with cartoon figures acting out the benefits of chewing Extra gum after you’ve eaten.

                                                  Becoming a Statistic

It bursts,
Usually listening to Radio National and then carried
on the 6 o’clock television news channels,
Carried on shoulders, on a C-130 Hercules,
Following the ramp ceremony at Tarin Kowt,
The 39th Australian
soldier in total since 2002,
To be killed in action in Afghanistan
is shown as he was half turned, seated
in the bush-master turret,
In the studio shot now frozen
to his poor parents mantle-piece,
The 18th Member
of Special Forces,
To sigh, so young, just a kid
in need of a shave and a haircut,
and a hug, what a shame,
The 6th Elite Soldier
to be killed by an insurgent IED, and
The 15th Digger
overall, from IED’s.
Then having dealt with the statistics,
The nation returns the audience
to a most ridiculous ad break,
Knowing it’s all over ……. and we can move on,
“Bad boys! bad boys!,
What-cha gonna chew?
What-cha gonna chew,
When they come for you?
Bad boys! bad boys!”
                                                                                 J.O. White