Hello - Matrix 1946

cirerita

Founding member
"Hello!," in MATRIX (Philadelphia & New York City) v. 9 no. 2 (Summer 1946), p. 13.

Uncollected as of January 2006

Please note this is NOT the same "Hello" poem published in Open All Night.

Next to the previous poem you can read the ending of The Reason Behind Reason which, unfortunately, I didn't copy. Funniest thing is that the main character is called Chelaski, an early incarnation of Chinaski.

hello!.jpg


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mjp

Founding member
cirerita said:
"Hello!," in MATRIX (Philadelphia & New York City) v. 9 no. 2 (Summer 1946), p. 13.

Uncollected as of January 2006
Heh, well I can understand why BS didn't want to add that to any of the early collections.
 

mjp

Founding member
Because it says, o, big nigger over and over. That might have flown in the 40's, but not so much in the 60's and 70's.
 

hank solo

Just practicin' steps and keepin' outta the fights
Moderator
Founding member
cirerita said:
Next to the previous poem you can read the ending of The Reason Behind Reason which, unfortunately, I didn't copy. Funniest thing is that the main character is called Chelaski, an early incarnation of Chinaski.

Thanks to David, here's The Reason Behind Reason.
 

bospress.net

www.bospress.net
HELLO! really strikes me as a strange Buk poem. Maybe I have not read enough VERY early ones, but he seems to have not found his voice yet. If you told me that they screwed up and put Buk's name on someone else's poem, I would not be surprised (although I believe that it IS him, of course, especially because he would not have provided the details to Dorbin if it was not him). It is not only the offensive word, but to me, the complete lack of style.

To me, the poem is not good at all. IF they changed the word to something less offensive, I would still find the poem odd and tough to get through.

Anyone else?

Bill

p.s. I'm not sure how I missed this post for 2 1/2 years....
 

cirerita

Founding member
Bill, there are very good posts from the early days. Poptop used to bring them back to life ;)
 

Father Luke

Founding member
HELLO! really strikes me as a strange Buk poem.

(...) he seems to have not found his voice yet.

(...) I would (...) find the poem odd and tough to get through.

Anyone else?

I agree. It's a difficult piece. There is
an internal cadence he is marching to, like
he is mimicking some style.

Buk did all his growing in public.
It's interesting to watch the progression.

- -
Okay,
Father Luke
 
O Sweet Jesus

Here's my take on this uncollected literary hot potato after living with it for a few days. I write only as an amateur who loves talent, and I see Hello! as adventurous beyond its use of one of the most racially offensive words in the language: the dreaded n-word; and I think there's more to the poem than meets the eye.

More hemming and hawing... The problem is that in order to comment at all it's necessary to refer the same words Bukowski did in the poem, and how does one get around that without risking the charge of being insensitive oneself if there's a black man or woman reading it?

DISCLAIMER: my first music teacher was a wonderful black man, named Milton Hall, from East L.A. who taught me at the age of 12 about Duke Ellington and his great clarinet man, Jimmy Hamilton! He was big, dimpled, had a great laugh and the patience of Job, and his spirit was as big as the 'negro' that Bukowski describes in Hello! There begins my artistic appreciation of the black race, without whom America might be more of a superficial cultural wasteland than it already is. Only by being unafraid to risk using Buk's language can anyone appreciate the words within the context of the poem itself and see his artistic development. So call this an appreciation of what I got out of it rather than an attempt to put words into Bukowski's mouth.

Okay, on Hello!... when Bukowski introduces the 'O' as he writes "O, big nigger," I believe he saves himself and elevates the intention underlying the poem to a much higher plane - higher than through the ordinary use of these racially charged words, and instead his poem become a paean, a tribute to the man he's writing about and to the naturalness of the negro race as a whole. Every reaction Bukowski has appears unexpected and internal, and he's witnessing this unexpected scene of great spiritual and 'animal' wonder as if it might have happened 100 years ago during the time of Whitman. The O carries the sound of earnest sincerity and something holy, as in O Israel! O Joy! O Lord! (Whitman: O Pioneer!) I believe the reactions he puts down are sincere and real. So what's he saying without trying to reinterpret him?

The first stanza has the feeling of something good about to happen, and I feel there's unusual skill in the way Bukowski delivers his pacing and rhythm:

"Sky: cold; time: morning; listen, watch:
Here it comes by --

O, big nigger..."

Bam! He hits the reader right between the eyes with the unexpected n-word and grabs their attention. But which way is the poem going? Bukowski then repeats these words in a pattern of 'recurrence' to add additional drama, grandeur, and unity to the overall poem. The use of recurrence also establishes a cadence of rhythm and sound, builds momentum, and is found in countless later poems. ('The Big Fire,' from Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, is a favorite.)

Every time he repeats these three loaded words - surprise, surprise - he finds something positive to admire other than what might be expected because of their common usage... Each time he uses it as a salutation, his feelings of admiration become richer, deeper, with the poem becoming bigger and bigger in scope, full of as much goodness and openness of heart, hail fellow well met, as Bukowski seems capable of - a rare glimpse into his sensitive nature that has nothing to do with the self-protective hardness he was known for because of his drinking, bar fights, and the beatings by his father. I think it's the warmth of his open-heartedness that makes this poem of value, and unique, compared to what I've already read of him.

There's a big risk using the three word phrase over and over again, because everyone knows that it's a super-charged, pejorative term used by bigots to denigrate blacks, and had Bukowski used the phrase to trash blacks, I doubt that this poem would have ever been written, let alone seen the light of day in any publication - and deservedly so. But as this is a paean of praise of a real or imagined event, he steals the thunder from the bigots, plays off the usual emotional charge of the words for added dramatic effect, and uses them as a salutation of praise rather than condemnation:

(excerpts)

"O, big nigger
"O, fine bone and power of horses...

riding loose sway and rumble
lousy wood and filled mesh
hauled hard in flesh and wildness...

something touches between us and you..."

Then Bukowski gets even bigger in sentiment and is carried into the celestial:

"they speak of wombs and stars and roses...

they speak of Spain and wounds and love...

a thousand poems to Lorca
dying in the rain...

O big nigger
the top of the morning to you!"

The last line is a hearty unexpected sunburst of good-will... What bigot would have thunk it?

In one stanza, Bukowski refers to the stereotypes of the negro and suggests that it doesn't matter: "maybe you booze and maybe not." Bukowski's heart is still beaming, welcoming, unguarded, unprejudiced, untouched by cynicism, as big in soul as the man he's writing about, and he's writing about the man of "the big wooden wheels" as an equal. I've never seen Buk express this type of unreserved, exalted emotion to this degree, and his exaltation reclaims the usual pejorative use of the n-word.

Bukowski appears to offer his feeling of goodness in the same direct way of celebration that Whitman does, and he may be 'modeling' this poem after Leaves of Grass. ("O span of youth! ever-push'd elasticity! / O manhood, balanced, florid and full.") The strange irony is that Bukowski uses the n-word but Whitman never did that I know of. In that sense, Bukowski is going beyond Whitman's candor, it's a literary advance, because of the risks he's taking. I feel that one can only do that after absorbing the essence of Whitman. Bukowski creates a powerful reaction in the reader by using those denigrating words in a positive context, words that even Whitman shied away from. If not genius, I think that's the value and joy of Buk's poem, that if he could stick out his hand to greet this man in brotherhood, he wouldn't have hesitated ("something touches between us and you grin").

What dates the poem for me is that, while this is a hymn of praise to a negro, it may still contain the subtle assumption of racial superiority that white people had toward blacks during the 40s and 50s, and the poem could still be offensive on that level for those who notice it. However, the overwhelming sentiment here is that he writing about this man as an equal, and I feel that Bukowski deserves credit for it. That limited view of superiority has somewhat improved over the years. But as of today, a poem like this could never be published without causing an uproar.

That's my appreciation of the whole of it; I'm glad I read it; I speak for no one but myself; and now it's good-bye to Hello! O Sweet Jesus, I'm duckin' for cover.
 

bospress.net

www.bospress.net
I don't think that the word was "super-charged, pejorative term used by bigots to denigrate blacks" in the 40's. I think that it was much more accepted than it is today and was used freely and openly by many people in everyday conversation. I'm sure that it was always very offensive to black folks, but they were invisible to whites, really. Remember, blacks were without any power, not having the right to vote, marry outside of their race, get many jobs, eat in restaurants, etc, etc.. Of course, someone like Buk would not have said to a black man's face, probably, they would have no problem saying it at work, the dinner table, or the church parking lot.

Buk may have been trying to write a poem in the style of Whitman, but my point was that he was trying to write like someone else. This is as bad as someone trying to write like Buk, so they write about booze, women and the track.

I'm not discounting it because of the offensive word, but because I feel that it is a bad poem and not authentic to his style. It is him trying too hard to be a poet.

If the word was changed to "african american" of even something like "black brother", I would still find it a bad poem...

But that is only my opinion.
 

Gerard K H Love

Appreciate your friends
I'm not discounting it because of the offensive word, but because I feel that it is a bad poem and not authentic to his style. It is him trying too hard to be a poet.

If the word was changed to "african american" of even something like "black brother", I would still find it a bad poem...

But that is only my opinion.

I will share that part of your opinion Bill. I do like what poptop wrote and I see how he's looking at it. That is if you are trying to spin it into the nicest side of getting away with using that N word. That could have been his intention sorta.
Pop sure you can type up a strom.;)
 
I don't think that the word was "super-charged, pejorative term used by bigots to denigrate blacks" in the 40's. I think that it was much more accepted than it is today and was used freely and openly by many people in everyday conversation.

Hi Bill,

Well, that's why I mentioned that bigots would be more inclined to use it; and there were exceptions to the rule with whites. One would have to study the history of the word to know, I feel, but from what I've seen it's been used for at least 100 years and it was commonly used in the South, and not as a term of endearment.

I'm sure that it was always very offensive to black folks, but they were invisible to whites, really. Remember, blacks were without any power, not having the right to vote, marry outside of their race, get many jobs, eat in restaurants, etc, etc..

I would have to defer to what blacks would have to say about its use down through the years... but I'd feel strongly that the nature of the super-charged word was know to just about everyone. Perhaps that's why when Whitman writes about negroes with admiration and respect, he never used the term (I did a word search in the 1881 edition of Leaves out of curiosity.)

Of course, someone like Buk would not have said to a black man's face, probably, they would have no problem saying it at work, the dinner table, or the church parking lot.

Well, I'd have to disagree with that view overall, but there are occasions when blacks will use that term among themselves, even today. But taking that from a white man? I'd have to be bearing arms to use it myself.

Buk may have been trying to write a poem in the style of Whitman, but my point was that he was trying to write like someone else. This is as bad as someone trying to write like Buk, so they write about booze, women and the track.

What you say has truth to it - that it's, in a sense, using Whitman's voice. But that's what 'modeling' is. You take the poem of another writer, use the form, some of the attitude, and still make it your own. Underneath the words in Hello! there's Bukowski. Then later in his development, he drops the Whitman model and voice and retains the bigness of feeling for his own. That's why I still see the Bukowski under the words here Bukowski modeled ee cummings the same way in 'man and woman in bed at 10 pm,' from Mockingbird, from 'may I feel he said' (I Googled it to refresh my memory.)

I'm not discounting it because of the offensive word, but because I feel that it is a bad poem and not authentic to his style. It is him trying too hard to be a poet.

My view only! If this poem lacked skill in design, I would have agreed with you; but I think it shows some mastery of heartfelt sincerity, form, pacing and style, even if one the surface it sounds like he's not in his own voice. For me, I still see him there, and I think readers sometimes miss out on a lot when what they read to something and reduce it down to 'good' or 'bad' - unless the poem is so downright obviously bad that you can't get through it. Instead, I'd rather ask myself, "what is he doing here?, what is he risking?, what's the gain?, what's he getting at?, do I feel the images?" What some readers view as Bukowski being 'pretentious,' I view as Bukowski being 'self-conscious'. Big difference! And he was only 26 at the time and still reading everything he could get his hands on, it seems. I'm perhaps more forgiving of his earlier poems because I view his development from the end to his origins rather than from the other way around. I did this because I consider him one of the greatest poets of all time! So in his earlier poems, I look for the signs of that developing greatest, even when he sounds like someone else, and see what the gain was for him there. The bigness of his greatness was already there and I deliberately look for it and try to see beyond whatever might be influencing him at the time. But if I said, "Is this a good or bad poem?" It's slams the doors of perception and I feel that sometimes readers miss a lot and they are too unforgiving when his early efforts do not match the later period when he was in his total mastery.

If the word was changed to "african american" of even something like "black brother", I would still find it a bad poem...

But that is only my opinion.

Thanks for your opinion. I respect it. I would close by saying that the poem would never have worked for me without the super-charged "O, big nigger...", because there would be a lack of tension within the poem and nothing to play off of for dramatic effect... it would have been too politically correct to cause such much of a ripple, and the poem only works for me because of Bukowski's youthful development and the period in which it was written. Please forgive the typos. Best wishes.

Gerald K H Love,

Thanks for your comments. It's a strange thing. I feel a great sense of gratitude to this man for what he went through and the legacy he left behind. That's why he interests me so, I believe in giving back to life to "replenish the well."

B. qualified all his Matrix poems as "desultory."

That may be true... but he had to write them anyway, didn't he?, as part of his development and mastery. He wrote them anyway, desultory or not - and he already had command of the keyboard: vivid use of language, the risk-taking, a sense of drama and expanse, and his semi-colons were in the right place. He might have been struggling with form and focus, but not of language. There's still much to appreciate, and that's why these poems are part of his hidden development period, where he was taking in more than giving out and he's seeking more experience under his belt... I think readers sometimes expect so much of him that they are too harsh in their judgments because his later works have such mastery. That's why I've felt for a long time that he's probably glad some of those early stories and poems have been lost to oblivion; but he even had to write the so-called 'bad' poems to evolve into the great ones and that makes them of lasting value, at least to me... I truly believe that it's only by sidestepping the good/bad assessment of his works that one can see what he perhaps missed or forgot about himself - because we all know how it turned out for him... I think it's clear that he was a serious f'n writer from the beginning - greatness was his destiny! and something drove him - but no one springs from the head of Zeus fully formed but the gods....Poptop.
 

bospress.net

www.bospress.net
pt,
I have to disagree, but I don't feel strongly enough about it to continue. We'll have to agree to disagree, I suppose.

All best,
Bill
 
I just read that letter and it's also interesting because he says he "used to change batteries in the service station for Sears-Roebuck there" [Houston]. So this was probably in early Forties? I think this would be a job not in earlier biographies?
 

mjp

Founding member
It's the only place I've ever seen that job mentioned, or any mention of working in Houston for that matter, so I tend to believe it may not be exactly true or accurate.
 
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