Buk discussion at the Guardian (1 Viewer)

A good blog. Some of the comments make me gag. Plain fact is Bukowski is far more entertaining and moving on his worst day than any of those dry and dead academic poets are on their best day. Nobody reads that shit because it's dull, dull, dull. Plus, you never know what the fuck they are trying to say. Or not say. Give me Bukowski anytime over those lifeless drudges. Guess I'm just another clueless fanboy, huh?
Well, I'm glad to be a bad reader...

The issue isn't one of good or bad poetry, or of good or bad poets. Everyone is a poet, and everything written is poetry. The only barrier to the recognition of this, is that there are so very many bad *readers* out there; especially readers of poetry.
Some thoughts and quibbles

I will preface my comments by saying I like Bukowski alot. Perhaps that goes without saying, or else why would I be here?

That said, I have to disagree with a few of the replies.

Rekrab: Bukowski for me is almost always entertaining. He speaks directly and honestly and there has been many a time when I've read him and been comforted, cheered, surprised. He has many shades and the more I read his poems I find many great instances of tenderness and empathy which are always pleasing. But perhaps I preface too much. Essentially I think the "dry academic poets" are not always dry. They often work directly and with humor as often as they are oblique. I just think many of them have different concerns. Not all poetry has to be direct or immediately clear. I like Pynchon for example, who's responded to critics by saying why should literature be easy? Sometimes it's worth working through something, investigating the different levels, discovering new things, discovering new allusions and structural games to get at the meaning. And meaning is overrated anyway; sometimes well-crafted ambiguity is a good thing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails. Issues of authenticity and honesty are sometimes irrelevant. Each poet is a different animal and I hesitate to apply a global standard. Which is exactly what Buk's critics are missing. An appreciation of his differences. But those academic poets are read and well appreciated and they're not all lifeless drudges. Maybe some of them are force fed to us, but those that leave a bitter taste will be spit out while others will endure and be appreciated. Eliot is as academic as it gets and I think in terms of influence, strangeness and wit his are strong strong works. And people read the hell out of Eliot. I personally don't read and re-read him like I do Buk, but others do.

rjwin666: I totally disagree. Anything can be compared, the more different the better. To me, comprison is a crucial poetic act. We can compare Floyd and Sabbath in terms of technical skil, objectives, influence, record sales, instrumentation etc etc ad nauseum. Where it gets tricky is when we say what is "good" or "better." This is where it often boils down to taste. But to say nothing can be compared renders further conversation useless. I don't think comparison necessarily means putting down one of the things compared, and one need not valorize a poet by denigrating another. Their skill, their aims, how successfully they acheive their own goals, these are very evident areas for investigation and comparison. Comparison doesn't necessarily entail a value judgement, but it can, and why not? I would say hands down the Velvet Underground is better than Bitney Spears. Maybe ultimately I'd have to agree it's a matter of taste, but the journey towards that conclusion could be an enlightening and fun debate.

bernard: I do think there is some jealousy of Buk, but I don't think the Guardian blog is a guilty party here. The criticisms of Buk seem intelligent and well thought out, and revolve primarily around what the critics perception of poetry is, what a poem is. They say Buk sometimes makes aphorisms with line breaks or is simple prose arranged carelessly on a page. Their take on poetry is clearly diffent from mine or yours. But calling into question the nature of a poem is never a waste, unless it's merely capricious. I don't necessarily even think theirs is an elitist stance. One critic admits to liking Lew Welch (a minor Beat poet I also admire). Welch is hardly a mainstream academic standard. They do share some of the elitist opinions, though. I do think there is a genuine distrust of his success, which is by some standards pretty mainstream. I hesitate with that word because in this day and age mainstream is hard to define. He has runaway sales, which causes some people to pause. Which is bullshit, of course, but a pretty ingrained reactionary tendency of all manner of people. People hate Stephen King for the same reason. Putting down what millions in King's case enjoy strikes me as even more elitist but isn't he the epitome of the mainstream, populist writer? In many ways, Buk fans are themselves a bit elitist in their sense of being other, outre, outside, not kow-towing to the academy. (An afterthought I include for the hell of it, please don' t hate me for it!)

I think of the New Yorker article mentioned in this blog, which seems almost reluctant to compliment Buk, saying he's too "easy", that he's a cartoon of the real thing and gasp, that people that don't usually read poetry like Bukowski. Pretty damn insulting and snobbish but again, goes back to what these people think poetry is, which is what's interesting about this blog. It gave me pause to think, question some assumptions and reject the criticism.

Buk has a lot of failings which proably come down to, as one poster mentions, being frightfully over-published. I know some people await every new word but it's also true that so many mediocre things have slipped through. Buk also has a kind of casual, seemingly lazy attitude, despite the fact he worked hard at it, which some may seen in his epitaph, "Don't Try". (Despite what it "really" means, and i'm sure everyone here has their own take on it.) My own prejudices in this regard were wiped away by reading his letters, which belie all of the common assumptions which lead people to dismiss him.

I also don't think O'Neill is doing Buk any favors when he points to some rather thin lines as "genius" or asserting he's the most influential poet of the 20th c. He's influenced a lot of poets, sure, but has he influeced poetry as much as the Beats, Eliot, etc? I don' know. Who cares, really? I take his for what he is. I understand his context and get added pleasure from these layers but ultimately it's me and the page which matter, his "place" in literature be damned.

On a related note, though, another aside, I once searched Ron Silliman's poetry blog for Buk and got nothing. He goes on and on about Hughes, Padgett, the New York school, but no Buk. Norton's disses him. He's still a bit of a pariah in that mainstream. I don't know what my point is anymore. I'm rambling, but it's only because this blog set off a chain off events and thoughts in me worth exploring. I'm willing to give his dismissive critics an ear by and large if they keep it respectful and thoughtful.

Sometimes it seems the only contrary opinions one can find are from trolls and of course we blow up and dismiss what they say. It's harder to do when an obviously knowledgeable and intelligent person pipes up.

But again, I ramble. I've posted very little here before and linked to this because I think it's enjoyable. Hope I haven't come across as pedantic and disagreeable. I'm a bit drunk, you see, but wanted to disagree with a few things and add a few random thoughts. Hopefully not out of place. Given that so many still hesitate to give Buk his due I think its always worth looking into why.

Me, I've read all his novels and almost all short stories, much ephemera, many many poems, the biographies and other little books about him by admirers and petty haters. He remains a fascinating creature and that what holds up stands strong, baby. ;)

Sorry for the ramble....
Interesting. Who really cares what the 'experts' regard as 'great'. I remember a few years ago I bought Saturday by Ian Mcewan after somebody on the radio recommended it and read it on the flight from NZ to England. It isthe worst pile of crap I have read for a long time. and they make English students read it as part of their 'Advanced Level' English qualifications....

Another author who is highly touted but who I find incredibly dull is Zadie Smith. I started White Teeth but gave up after a few chapters.

Then there is Shakespeare. Jesus, Buk got that right!

I enjoy the beats though. Some Leonard.
(snip...) I've posted very little here before and linked
to this because I think it's enjoyable. Hope I haven't come across as pedantic
and disagreeable.

(snip...) many still hesitate to give Buk his due I think its always worth looking
into why.


Sorry for the ramble....

Loved it. Especially the link. I liked that picture of CB. And, I would tend to
agree, it is interesting to see the different takes people have on
Bukowski. The different opinions.

As to the debate, I didn't read the entire discussion over at the Guardian.
There were a few comments I liked, notably
Comment No. 674113:

An interesting blog piece, Tony. Bukowksi continues to divide and though
his work is inconsistent he remains one of the most influential writers of our
age, his productivity and simplicty inspiring to readers, writers and non-writers

Billy Mills - I see your point about Rod McKuen, but can't help thinking that
whereas Bukwoski used writing to shield him from his crappy life and false
notions of 'the American Dream', McKuen was using the hippy idyll of the 60s
to create whimsical, flowery and often pretty terrible greeting card-esque
poems to great commercial effect.

I've never read a McKuen poem that had any effect on me, whereas reading
Bukowski as a teenager was a revelation even if, as one gets older and more
widely-read one begins to see Bukowski's flaws (it's not as if he attempted to
disguise them anyway...). He is still, in the wider literary and academic worlds,
under-rated and underacknowledged, dismissed by prudes as sexist and drunk.
Which as his fans know, isn't quite the full story...

Ben Myers

One thing for sure, critics be what they may, that blog got a lot of hits writing about Bukowski.
You know, for whatever reason people like these bloggers find the need to let others know why others are ignorant because they read someone that they find below what they consider good writing. This is no different than someone insulting someone for liking a sports team that is different than the one that they like. Why should anyone care if Bukowski has a lot of readers? It is not like we are spending our money buying Buk books and that takes away from us buying Frost books. Most of us would not read Frost anyway.

Somehow they think that their opinion is the only opinion and that anyone that does not share it is just ignorant.

This is the problem with most academia (not all, certainly) and this is the problem with judging worth as an artist based on what the "experts" say is good.

I still believe that more Bukowski books are bought yearly than Frost books and that presumes that many people are required to buy Frost books for their MFA classes, while very few professors require Bukowski books.

They are bought for pleasure and are bought by many types of people. Not only kids, not only alcoholics, not only those with low paying menial jobs.

Frankly, I could care less howmany people read Bukowski. What pisses me off istheir need to insult our intelligence for reading someone that they think is lowbrow.

To put it differently, I don't read Stephen King, but do not think that all Stephen King readers are just ignorant. They just happen to like a writer or writing style that I do not.

Of course, you can never explain this to someone that wants to see it their own way.

I still think B line breaks were NOT arbitrary by any means and that they were meant to build up the inner rhythm of many poems -not all, mind you. But we all have different rhythms and I'm sure many academicians are too old, or too bored, or too smart-assed, or too intellectual, etc, to feel B's rhythm. Oh, well...
I think that you are on to something here. It may be like a 90 year old complaining that he does not like Rock or Rap. That is because it is not for him.

Maybe with Bukowksi, or anyone for that matter, if you do not get it,then you maybe are not meant to get it. If your goal in reading a poem is to have perfect academic structure without regard to saying anything of any importance; if your goal is to write in a way that your readers have to PRETEND that they understand it, then you are just right for Buk.

I think that I can live with that...


PM on its way to you, Abel....
I read a few more of the articles linked to the guardian page, mostly about the beats. Having recently flicked through Kerouac's On the Road I was suprised how dated it felt, comparing this to when I was flicking through Post Office where the text still seems relevant, I guess the point i'm trying to make is that I think Buk dates well compared to some of his contemporaries
Poetry is pushed into the strangest of corners
Strangest of corners
on the graffiti shocked walls
of the black neighborhoods
in the words of the beaten, hardened souls
in the bars and back alleys of our cities

the whores, the derelicts, the losers
have staked their claim
they have no choice but to spout poetry without believing in it

they leave nothing for our academics
they've squandered it all
sold our life, blood and souls
for change
for another quart of thunderbird
a pint of vodka

they've wrestled poetry
from our grasp
and I believe
we're the better
for it
Great article!

Mind you, it would be strange if, in time, Bukowski became venerated as some great poe diety by the academics. But all in all, it doesn't matter: it is often what we get privately from a writer that matters most - not what everyone agrees on or thinks has merit.

What I love so much about Bukowski
is his flaws
his sincerity
even if his writing is not Italo Calvino
It's not meant to be.

We should accept the WIDE differences
of capabilities, percpetions, and intentions
in the world, literary, politics or psychopathic!

Great article!
The poetry police are right.

Bukowski didn't write poetry.


Rothko couldn't paint
nor could Guston.
And Cage didn't make music
and Ornette can't play the sax
nor Cecil Taylor the piano
and art is only what they say it is and we should be grateful for
their guiding

Bless their dull little souls.
A problem worth acknowledging with the academics is class related. How could someone who has never had to look at how he or she is going to feed oneself be truly interested in how one survives or gets there? Never mind creates from it. An art critic or even university professor may overlook certain writers or artist and plainly ignore certain perspectives because they just can't see it from where they come from. Buk'stories or poems can mostly be appreciated by someone who's seen or felt what he is writing about. I do not mean to say that one had to live a similar life but would at least had been touched by it .
"Bien entendu" critics may use comparaison to prove a point by using form but they are not ultimately right. What Buk has proven is that the common man can judge for himself even if the critics point in other directions.
Keep art available to all is a responsibily.
Just a thought!
Blackswan is right. Much of it is about class or accreditation (sp?). They do not approve of anyone that does not have a degree in English Literature writing poetry. This is a club that they feel that they earned in a university and they see it as in intrusion that someone that worked at the post office could oursell their poetry and they went to school for it. Nevermind that you cannot teach someone to have genius. You can teach them to write a poem, but not to write one that will touch people. You either have it or you don't and no degree will give it to you if you do not have it.

It is kind of like when a rapper moves into a country club community. He has more money than his neighbors and is now in their financial class, but can never be in their social class. This is not only about rappers, but anyone that makes a name for themselves and is not in their accepted norms. I can imagine that if I hit the lottery and moved into their community (i would not move into their community), that I would be seen as the trash on the block and could never move past that I was not in their "class".

There are a few academics that get Bukowski, but I suspect that when someone gets a degree and then calls them something, it is hard to watch someone that has no credentials outsell them SO thoroughly.

It must be quite painful for them...

The poetry police are right.

Bukowski didn't write poetry.


Rothko couldn't paint
nor could Guston.
And Cage didn't make music
and Ornette can't play the sax
nor Cecil Taylor the piano
and art is only what they say it is and we should be grateful for
their guiding

Bless their dull little souls.

I really like this. Like Rothko alot too.
When I said academic poets are dull, I meant the academics who write poetry, not the poets the academics study and write about, like T. S. Eliot. My experience has been that I pick up a book of poems from a University Press, and the author has an impressive bio. He/she teaches at a university, has won a ton of awards and honors, and I read a few of the poems, and have zero response. I get nothing at all from it. An hour later, I couldn't tell you their name, the title of the book, or what any of the poems were about. All I have is the impression of some dense word goo, an over-worked construction that communicates nothing. I'm sure someone out there appreciates it, and I have no problem with it being written and published. More power to them. But it is dead on the page. Bukowksi is alive on the page. That's the difference to me.
What should be evident to anyone involved in the arts is that new styles and forms come along from time to time and they should be welcomed not discouraged.

Looking at music one can see that classical was the only serious music for awhile and jazz was not respected at first. In Art painting was generally non-abstract for a long time and most of the schools-from impressionism through to pop art we're all rejected at first.

Basically there can be no hard rules in any of the arts if the whole idea is to encourage people to be creative.

In academia it's basically academics writing for academics- how elitist, limiting and boring.
Intellectuals just can't figure out our man Buk because they've been blinded by the ages. Screw 'em!

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