when the sun goes down, I think of Charles Bukowski

photo taken by Steve Jackson outside a coffee shop in Amsterdam
photo taken by Steve Jackson outside a coffee shop in Amsterdam

I like to imagine what he might think about the world today. Not that I knew the guy, it’s just an interesting exercise. I thought of him this morning for reasons I’ll get to in a minute.

I have a couple of CDs of his readings–Poems and Insults and Solid Citizen–recorded in what sound like dive bars. The audience is drunk, so’s he, and there’s a palpable danger in the room. Like he could set the place on fire or someone could run up to the stage and punch him in the face at any moment.

Maybe because he wrote about people who don’t always get to see themselves in poems and stories. Drunks, jailbirds, blue collar workers who aren’t living some academic’s version of the “stolid American working the land,” ugly women, uglier men, gamblers, fighters, poor people. That’s who his audience was. They came to see themselves and revel in all their glory and grotesqueness.

Though Bukowski wrote a few things about writing, he mostly wrote about the struggle of living. About working for the post office or begging money off some pock-marked woman he met in a dark bar on a sunny LA afternoon. He didn’t write about sitting at his typewriter, waiting for the words to come. When given the opportunity to meet “important” writers of his day, he generally said no thanks (only with a few expletives thrown in). I’ve quoted him here before: I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd.

I thought of him, and specifically that quote, today when I read a post in a playwriting forum about someone weeping when they killed off a character. “I cried for hours!” a commenter said in reference to their own experience. Another said, “That’s how you know you’ve written a great character!” It was a circle jerk of people smelling their own intellectual farts, and I wanted Buk to show up and tell them all to stop writing about writing (like flies on the same turd) and actually do some fucking writing.

This sort of thing goes on there all the time. “Does anyone else ever find when you’re writing a play that it just veers off in a direction you didn’t expect?” No, fancy writer, you’re the only person who’s ever experienced that. We’ll just go ahead and send the Tony to your house now.

I can’t even imagine Bukowski in the same room with some of these people. I’d wager his whiskey shits were more dramatic than their plays are. Mine, too. Plays, that is.

Writing is a solitary experience, so I understand the need some people have to reach out and talk about it. I need to stick to groups that discuss dogs or hamburgers or national parks. I’d happily read about someone shedding a tear after taking their new puppy to Yosemite and  grilling up some burgers. “Does anyone ever have that moment when the sun is just about to set and you’re a little buzzed and it feels like you’re connected somehow to the past but firmly in the present and you weep for the beauty of it all?” Yes, my friend. Yes.

Listen to Mr. Bukowski read his poem Style.

10 Replies to “when the sun goes down, I think of Charles Bukowski”

  1. Ah Crystal….
    Damn! I love your writing…

  2. This has to be one of your best blog posts.Nice job.

  3. Sam Maloof a famous furniture builder and a personal hero of many a builder was once asked during an interview why he never called himself an artist only a woodworker or craftsman. He explained that he felt the label of woodworker was a more honest explanation of what he really did.

    I think it all boils down to is that these days we may just have too many who wish to be “artist” and not enough who wish to be craftsman. Is there art in craftsmanship? Yep, I see it everyday in the trades from sunburned faces and callused hands. None of them would have the audacity or ego to pretend what they do,needs to be self examined and certainly not circle jerked over.

    Great post.

    Your bro and woodworker,carpenter,craftsman who is hopeful to stumble into art every now and then,
    T.sJ

    1. Thanks, T. I like “playwright” for similar reasons–building a play. It’s easier to create when you have both hands on the job and one isn’t busy patting your own back.

  4. Crap that seems dismissive. I wrote a bunch of words then edited while drinking myself under the table and then gave up and just typed a comment on my own comment. I’m a mess these days.

    The thing that got me started was that Kerouac thing and I just found out a few days ago that a bar where I spent some serious drinking time was one of Jack’s hangouts but they’ve tarted it up as some kind of t-shirt deal so I wrote a comment using my Buk voice and then later stumbled over to your place and there was this synchronicity thing, pretty cool but by then it was midnight and I was wasted and I had to be up at five to drive to Palm Beach…then after lunch they rerouted us to St. Pete and tomorrow I will be having a drink in that bar.

    Maybe. Who knows? I am also thinking about shaving my head. Or a mohawk…yeah, a mohawk would be cool…

    Whatever.

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