Love as a Theme in Bukowski's Poetry

Watch out! There's gonna be a another one comin' down the pike with the initials C.S. on th Absolut bottle, you just watch.

The corgi's feet are pointing at the ceiling. That means it's time to retire for the evening he hates it when you make me laugh when it's this late.
those are both exceptionally beautiful bottles of vodka.

custom made to feed my ego.

'it's not all about you -vodka'
I know no one will read this because as usual I'm miles behind. As usual, I diss myself. As usual, I repeat myself.
For what it's worth, and I've only touched the surface, I believe Bukowski was massively influenced by love, more than anything else. I feel he knew that all his actions were motivated at their deepest level by one of two emotions - fear or love. In truth, there are no other emotions. Not me I just agree.
Love and the Purple Onion

There is much attention paid to the womanizing, gambling and drinking ways of Charles Bukowski, but I find love as a theme running throughout his writing tends to be largely ignored....

What do you think of the Bukowski's poetry which speaks of love or often the lack of it? ...

Hello Vodka,

My first chance to drop in in awhile... As a long time Bukster I don't have any answers at the moment... but I love your amazing questions... so rich and good. Makes me feel good just reading them.

Perhaps I will venture to say that I always felt he was a sensitive and vulnerable soul and his vulnerability carried over heavily into his love-life, though not always apparent in his early works, with him continually getting the shaft emotionally (starting with his parents) when he was young, because he either didn't understand women, was repeatedly rejected by them, or his emotions were too backed up to get at. That yearning can build up inside a man and harden him if the right woman doesn't finally come along, even in his case it turns out to be his "300 whore." (While he treated her like shit at the end of their encounter, wrongly accusing her of stealing his wallet, I believe that he remembered her with some tenderness and affection.)

Some of his macho savagery might have been in reaction to that sensitivity and he would sometimes lash out -- i.e., the famous kicking scene in the Buk tapes with his future wife Linda on/off the couch.

I might also say that some men draw a wide divide between love and sexuality. It might be easier for them -- though there a exceptions to the rule in both men and women. That steeply inclines the man to crow about his sexual prowess, appear to be beyond the need of tenderness, and perhaps try to impress the woman with his throbbing purple manhood. ☺ Bukowski's "purple onion," if I'm quoting him correctly, lol. I think he was acutely aware of the distinction in order to prove himself as a man. He finally had his fill of sexual escapades (written on in Women) and mellowed in love... became more the gentle tolerant romantic in his twilight years, probably because Linda was a strong woman who had stood up to his occasional vicious verbal abuse and he came to terms with the 'dark' side of his nature. He probably needed her more than he knew, but men are taught not to reveal that. He could be surprisingly emotionally dependent on women, as shown in Born into This, with Cupcake or whatever her name was.

If I had to guess which came first, I would say that his sensitivity came first -- his writing became the outlet for that, which he discovered at an early age to save his sanity from his physically abusive father -- and much of his occasional leonine outbursts of unregenerate macho behavior came in reaction to his sensitivity and romanticism.

On the other hand, maybe he was simply a total macho prick always needing to prove himself and compete when he was young and was finally civilized into his romantic sensitivity from ground zero. But one cannot deny that something finally softened within him and we have his exquisitely sensitive writings when the exquisite sensitivity was needed and without appearing to lose all his strength as a man. Hard to put into words.

Just my own thoughts on the matter, because after all it's what the great and immortal Bukowski evokes in the reader that makes him the great writer he was beyond what he put down on paper, at least for me. His sensitivity and ability to observe the falsity and truth of the human condition becomes more apparent the more one reads him. The limited reader is likely to latch on the drinking, toughness and whoring only and think that Bukowski never went beyond it. That's why when one discovers a writer one likes, devour everything to get the richness of the rounded picture... the flaws and exaltations. I've also done that with the works of Henry Miller and Eckhart Tolle.

i cannot remember the poem, but there was one where he mentioned that, in love - people always end up treating each other badly. i believe it was Bukowski anyway. i cannot remember the poem or the book though.

that always rang so true to me.

the idea that it's not so much whether someone will end up treating you badly, but when and how.


maybe someday i will be able to evolve so much as Bukowski did.
The poem with the repeated lines..."people just aren't good to each other" or words to that effect? I believe Bono read that poem in Born into This. Anyone?
What a fantastic thread. I've been away a bit and just popped in.....

I won't get into the argument re: academic approval of Bukowski..... It doesn't really matter.... Just look at his sales.
The thing that attracted me to Bukowski was his honesty and sincerity. I love his work.
It's his love poems and his observations on life that I appreciate soooo much.

Despite Buk presenting himself as a hard man, he was deeply sensitive, compassionate and caring.
could somebody please tell me who is the woman with the red hair Bukowski wrote this poem, and others about toward in Love is a Dog From Hell, without making me feel like a dolt?

I made a mistake

I reached up into the top of the closet
and took out a pair of blue panties
and showed them to her and
asked "are these yours?"

and she looked and said,
"no, those belong to a dog."

she left after that and I haven't seen
her since. she's not at her place.
I keep going there, leaving notes stuck
into the door. I go back and the notes
are still there. I take the Maltese cross
cut it down from my car mirror, tie it
to her doorknob with a shoelace, leave
a book of poems.
when I go back the next night everything
is still there.

I keep searching the streets for that
blood-wine battleship she drives
with a weak battery, and the doors
hanging from broken hinges.

I drive around the streets
an inch away from weeping,
ashamed of my sentimentality and
possible love.

a confused old man driving in the rain
wondering where the good luck
could somebody please tell me who is the woman with the red hair Bukowski wrote this poem, and others about toward in Love is a Dog From Hell, without making me feel like a dolt?

Since Bukowski writes in Women she (Tammie) was my first woman with red hair, it must be Pamela Miller.
There is a photo of her in the Uncle Howard book. She also has posted here and reads the posts here from time to time...

sifting through the madness for

maybe with bukowski it wasnt really about themes talking about the theme of love in those poems ahh whatever the arguments might be

maybe it wasnt really about "writing what one knows" either

if i go through life knee deep in shit thats more about being in shit than knowing it even it i dont REALLY seem to be in it anymore

and another thing that ruffled my dirty feathers somebody said something about 'technical' to refer to bukowski baaa! bukowski was in there enough to be in there and just out of there enough to write about it

james joyce did that in the dubliners the kinks did it on Arthur

most people, don't do it

dammit talking about bukowski in terms of knowledge, technique, themes fuck and shit

and choice? choosing dames? does anyone think that bukowski had criteria?
Oh my......
What a fantastic and entertaining thread.....
I really don't believe I'm qualified to comment that much..such is the standard of debate...

Other than:
I agree with the view that Buk was starved of love, in childhood and youth.
The first love is the strongest and he felt this with Jane.

I believe a lot of the academics focus their venom on his 'misogny' as an easy target.
They simply ignore the quality of his many love poems.

I think Buk chose his women for their qualities as he saw them.... all of them so different.... but I think he loved them all..... His later relationship, I feel HE had more control over.

And I love Anne Sexton and I WOULD have slept with her.... and Plath and Buk...
People don't need love...

Good thread this is. Cudos to all contributing. But be warned! I feel like taking a ramble on the subject...

A theme running thru the movie Factotum seems to be a focus on Bukowski's own personal philosophy. I'm thinking about the lines in the breakup-scene with Jan that go something like this: "People don't need love, what they need is success in one form or another. It can be love, but it doesn't have to be."

What's that!? People don't need love?

Buk also says something similar in one of the conversations on "The Bukowski Tapes" (can't remember which one just now). The movie Factotum made me notice the importance of these lines, and no doubt they also made an impression on the director. That's why the humor is toned down in the movie, I think. I like these lines because they show Bukowski trying to understand mankind instead of just despairing over and disparaging them. He's good at that too, and it somehow appealed more to me when I was younger, but in time you grow weary of pointing out faults. OK, mankind has faults, now let's get on with it for Christ's sake!

The lines from Factotum show Bukowski at his best, trying to understand mankind, perhaps personified by his own brutal parents. It's just a survival reflex I guess.

Lately I've found this philosophy can deepen my appreciation of many of Bukowski's best pomes & ideas. Examples:

-The "Don't try" credo: being good at something without effort - like love.
-Small children as geniuses: when you're little you're good at everything! You learn things on the fly without any effort. Everyone's a winner! That is, if you're father doesn't beat you to a pulp...
-The Genius of the Crowd: the one thing we all can do well without trying - hatred
-Buk's scatology: "hot, glorious and stinking!". Admit it! Sometimes you feel proud of your effortless accomplishments in the crapper! (Just like small children in potty-training.)
-Art: good artists and writers are simply doing something they enjoy and are good at. There's no magic involved. It may be hard work, but in the end they're just enjoying a hot glorious beer-shit!
-Alcohol: you forget your inhibitions. You're good at everything again, just like when you were little.

Now on the love-subject: Love is just an expression of our need to be good at something, says Chinaski. Falling in love with someone doesn't take any effort, it just happens, like dumb luck. This feeling of intense accomplishment, which seems to come effortlessly, is what Buk means when he writes: "People want to be good at something. It can be love, but it doesn't have to be." It's the feeling of accomplishment that's important.

What's important is finding some talent or ability in yourself which you can base your self respect on. It can be writing, plumbing, farting, horse racing, crossword puzzling, love or whatever. This can carry you thru rough times. And then you work on improving that talent - going all the way - to the best of your ability. It's fun! The "Don't try" credo focuses on the starting point: the ability or talent you have without trying. You just can't fake that. But once you find it, you have to work on it, cling to it, make room for it, go all the way, like Chinaski says at the end of the movie.

So love, in itself, isn't important. Rather, it's a bit over-rated because ppl tend to mistake it for the ultimate miracle wonder drug answer which can solve all problems - hey presto!

Nope! That's not it. So says Bukowski.

There's one BIG problem though: what if you can't seem to find your own personal ability or talent? Then mankind falls back to basics - hatred, envy, violence, negativity, projecting low self esteem aggressively outwards towards others. That's the lowest common denominator when all else fails. We've all done it. It's the genius of the crowd.

Oh well. Maybe we should stick to "love the wonder drug" after all.......

All in all, you can find plenty of lines in Bukowski's writing that seem deceptively obvious and simple, but which are actually amazingly acute observations of human insight.

That one simple line from Factotum: "People don't need love" is pretty acute, if you ask me.
Pretty acute indeed.
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Erik, I think if that's what he truly believed he wouldn't have been such an obvious romantic. He had success, sure. He had something he was very, very good at which was writing, but never did he abandon his quest for love. And all of his loves seemed to involve some sort of struggle, and often times he appeared to be trying very hard in spite of himself, such as in this poem:

Admittedly, I'm not exactly sure what you are trying to say. Are you saying that Bukowski was saying it's more important to have something you're good at, regardless of what it is? Are you saying that he was more interested in trying to understand mankind than writing about love? I'm not sure what you are saying exactly about love as a theme in Bukowski's work. That it is not necessarily a theme?

Pardon me if I'm being a dolt, but I'm just not quite following.
Pardon me if I'm being a dolt, but I'm just not quite following.
vodka: No, you're not being a dolt, especially not for starting this thread! You are right in pointing out that love, as a theme, gets less attention than Bukowski's other, more "macho", subjects. No argument there. Good point.

I may have jumped the gun a bit because lately the word "love" has been bugging me. I've started to notice, more and more, that it gets used just about everywhere, by just about anyone, in a vague, careless sort of way, with absolutely no strings attached. But nobody ever seems to explain what they really mean by the word. And nobody ever says anything against it. This is similar to the use of the word "democracy" in politics. Democracy is a universal good, basta. Love gets the same treatment.

You wrote: "[...] while reading Bukowski I have fallen in love with him several times over."
What do you mean by the phrase "fallen in love"? You fell in love with some words on paper? Language is a funny thing.

You don't have to answer, I know what you mean, sort of. But my point is that romantic love is not the major theme in Buk's poetry. Buk knew the true value of romantic love from a very early age. What brought him thru his horrific childhood was definitely not love. Love had nothing to do with it, except by being in the background as something he lacked, perhaps. But he did come thru his childhood, more or less, and he did it, more or less, without love. (One of the few early instances of love I can recall off the cuff from Ham on Rye is the concern from a nurse drilling his boils... Now that's an example of (unromantic) love I can appreciate! Concern for an ugly, sullen, pus-dripping teenager. Gotta "love" those nurses! )

So how did Buk manage to get thru his childhood? I have no doubt that he was a very sensitive child, and later a very sensitive man, but it was not his sensitivity that brought him thru, it was his cool, unflinching intellect. That's what saved him. His ability to stay cool and analyze every situation. Quite unromantic. And his intellect was only matched by his sensitivity. And boy could he analyze love. Two titles come to mind: "Love is a dog from hell." and "Women". Also chapter 52 from Factotum, where Jan says: "So now you're a little crazy. No love. Everybody needs love. It's warped you." (Great concise lines!)

So I'll agree with you half way: he was concerned about love, but about love in a much wider sense, love in a more existential manner. Love understood as "What makes us happy?", "What makes life worth living?", "Why/how should/can we go on?". Romantic love is part of the equation, but only a part of it.

Ah well. I ramble.
But be sure of one thing vodka: my rambling is also an acknowledgement of you hitting an important nerve concerning the writings of Bukowski.

And finally I'll mention the poem "let it enfold you" from Betting on the Muse (378).
Do you agree that whole poem is about love - in a wider sense? :)
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god you're such a nitty little bitty.

yes, prolific. fuckoff.

i did not say he didn't write well, i said it was up for debate according to those who don't think he writes well, of which there are many.

as for your grammar corrections, Father Luke:

You pair remind me of Rochester and Jane in
'Jane Ayre'
Combative love!
Erik, i wouldn't say that romantic love is the main theme in Bukowski's work either. merely that it is an often overlooked theme. Bukowski, since he writes simply, tends to be taken at face value. in my opinion it's always good to pull back the layers a little.

corndog, you don't know the half of it. ;)
I think for Bukowski, it's about him not truly knowing how to love. That's what I get from reading these sorts of poems. He loves, yet he's not able to express it in the flesh, so he did so through writing.

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