It was a weekday as I recall, but back then they all blurred. And I only went downtown because that was easier than going up the hill, and I went into the bookstore that I’d just discovered, because it was one of the greatest things on earth. (And it still is). Bookstores in general, but this one in particularl. And that’s where I found it. Run With The Hunted: A Charles Bukowski Reader.
I had only read one of his poems until I found that book. But that one poem (Rip It Up magazine, with a picture of Bukowski walking down the road attacking a beer) made its mark. It had been published to mark his death. So, I had to know more. I bought the book and took it home and sat on my bed listening to Neil Young and Throwing Muses and Tricky and Bjork and Wayne Shorter too. And when I wasn’t changing CDs, I had that book in my hand. Some 400 pages. Turning and turning. Then turning it over in my mind.
They were horror stories. But they were bloody funny. This drunken fool. I loved it then – instantly. And I think I loved him too, or at least a little bit of him. (Loved what he was about). Because I could see straight away that there was a way in, and that in and around all that madness and the noise of drunken nights and the next day’s gloom there’d be a tiny, often broken, piece of humanity. Something so heartening as to feel brand new. He had his way with the line, the word, he put down the world in his language and on his terms. He took that afternoon from me, and I loved that he did. Each page more exciting than the next.
And then several days since. Although not as many just lately. It was for a time as much as of its time.
When I re-read Love Is A Dog From Hell – which I always thought was one of the best of his poetry volumes – it didn’t make as much sense to me as when I was 20. (I get that not much does). But back then it meant the world. And now it’s just a small handful of really great poems, lost inside all that anger, fear and frustration; all masquerading as war-stories, as hero-stories. But they’re war-torn by a hero of the hermits. Hero-stories made by a giant loser. Those loser’s tales recut to seem so heroic. The best trick he ever had was you never quite knew where he stood. The sadness of course was that neither did he.
But I’ll always remember the very best of his work, the crassness so funny for a while. But ultimately it was his way with a line – even when being so gross – the way that, out of nowhere seemingly, he could melt your heart just by showing that he even had one. I’m sure he’s deeply unfashionable nowadays (maybe even more so than the word ‘nowadays). But back after that initial discovery I would read through so many of his books like a speed-test to get to the goods (to get to the gods?) And then, arriving in the mid-80s in his publishing timeline, and the late 90s for me as a reader, the one-two of a novel called Ham On Rye and a book of poems called You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense. These two must have been written together. They share similar themes. This was where the heart was made obvious. Worn on sleeve. Worn to pieces. His heart was there in many of the other things I’m sure, and when it wasn’t that was sometimes still a profound display of being human.
Vulnerability, anger and trauma were his strengths, though treated like an illness. The women, the drink, the madness, those were his treatments, though never close to being a cure.
I found him one day, all those words, the bravado, the magic and madness, the cautionary tales. It was an impressionable age. And it changed up my flow, gave me a style – and possible even a purpose. (To just feel like I might have had one was enough). If I had not found him ever I might not still be writing. And certainly not in the way that I have, in the way that I do. So, I guess, that, finally, is where we can place the blame. And that’s where I should leave this for now. Bukowski would have a killer last line.
But some things, such as books, are in your life just for a bit. Some books are just like people.
Goodbye Bukowski, your books were on my shelf for 15 years. They moved with me through several homes, and then overnight, midweek, no doubt, I packed the books and took them to a store for anyone else to have a go. Thanks for the memories. That’s where I should leave this. For now.
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