Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame
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Charles Bukowski has always sat uneasily amongst the cannon of modern American writers. To some he is an original and perceptive writer on the nihilism and futility of modern, capitalist society; a man who brings a keen poetic eye to the loneliness and desperation of the modern, American sub-culture. To others, he is a man of little talent who squanders what talent there is on a glorification of misogyny, violence and alcoholism. Whichever view holds more truth, Bukowski is a writer where you need to make up your mind and you will probably recognise which view you subscribe to within half-an-hour of picking up one of his books.
In choosing to read Bukowski, I would recommend that it is the poetry upon which you base your decision; despite the fact that he is, perhaps, better known for his prose - particularly the novel Factotum, made into a film starring Mickey O'Rourke. Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame is an excellent book for those unfamiliar with Bukowski's poetry. The poems in this volume are collected from various works, spanning the years 1955 - 1973.
The beauty in Bukowski's poem lies in their apparent simplicity. The simple language, the short lines, even the font and printing style combine to make the reader feel that a lonely drunk has sat down and typed out his pain in a few unreflective moments. However, behind this apparent ease of composition lies a power and poetic sensibility that ensures the poems, their words and symbols stay in the mind for a long, long time after their reading. Bukowski's poems are ones that, if they hook you, you will turn to and read again and again. A poem such as machineguns, towers & timeclocks tell of a man setting off for work. The sheer sense of futility and alienation of the reader scream at the reader through the easy, understated language. Whilst a poem such as sway with me is a simple cry for love, the humorous structure and bathos of they, all of them, know gives a different perspective on loneliness and alienation.
Poets like Bukowski, who divide opinion so sharply, are always worth reading but for those who regard the most beautiful and powerful poetry as that which conveys the most intense emotion in the simplest language, this writer is sure to appeal.
them with a fat, kind woman whose ex-husband (who’d died) had come very close to being welterweight or middleweight champion of the world, I forget which. Each night I went over to Jon and Louise’s and we drank until early morning at a small table in the kitchen with the roaches running up and down the wall in front of us (they particularly liked to circle around an unshaded lightbulb sticking out of the wall) as we drank and talked. I would go back to my place and awaken about 10:30 a.m.,
my mother’s hand is in the bag drawer and from the backs of spoons come the cries of tiny tortured animals. in the closet stands a murdered man wearing a new green necktie and under the floor, there’s a suffocating angel with flaring nostrils. it’s hard to live here. it’s very hard to live here. at night the shadows are unborn creatures. beneath the bed spiders kill tiny white ideas. the nights are bad the nights are very bad I drink myself to sleep I have to drink
and I thought, well, somebody likes me, then the cat started pissing, it pissed all over me and all over the sheets, the piss rolled across my belly and slid down my sides and I said: hey, what’s wrong with you? I picked up the cat and walked him to the door and threw him out into the rain and I thought, that’s very strange, that cat pissing on me his piss was cold as the rain. then I phoned her and I said, look, what’s wrong with you? have you lost your god damned mind? I hung up
cigarette thinking, you must really be insane, and then I got out an hour late to meet my date; she was pretty damned old, almost as old as I, not very sexy and she gave me a very hard raw apple which I chewed on with my remaining teeth; she was dying of some unnamed disease something like asthma, and she said, I want to tell you a secret, and I said, I know: you are a virgin, 35 years old. and she got out a notebook, ten or twelve poems: a life’s work and I had to read them and I
and nothing, and nothing. the days of the bosses, yellow men with bad breath and big feet, men who look like frogs, hyenas, men who walk as if melody had never been invented, men who think it is intelligent to hire and fire and profit, men with expensive wives they possess like 60 acres of ground to be drilled or shown-off or to be walled away from the incompetent, men who’d kill you because they’re crazy and justify it because it’s the law, men who stand in front of windows 30 feet