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


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