Charles Bukowski: Love Him or Hate Him

When I was getting my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing, I had a professor who asked me to visit her in her office.

I feared that one of my stories was getting me in trouble, which was a very realistic concern.

But it turned out I was being summoned because she was very curious as to who was influencing the strange stories I was writing.

She wanted to know because she was about to give me the only 4.0 grade in a class of 30 (her policy was to only give one 4.0 to each class –  a bell curve thing).

I gave her two answers.

The first was Roald Dahl.

“Isn’t he a children’s author?” she asked.

“Well, yea, but he wrote a number of short stories and a novel.”

“I never heard of his short stories or a novel” she replied.

“Most people haven’t,” I said.  “In fact, some of them were only published in Playboy Magazine because they were anything but for children.” (In fairness to Dahl, they were not ‘adult’ in a sexual sense, but more because of their wicked, twisted endings).

“Ok,” she said.  “And who else?”

“Charles Bukowski.”

She had a look on her face as though she had just consumed a shot of the worst tequila on earth.

“There is not an author on the planet I despise more,” she said.

Bukowski was, and continues to be, largely misunderstood. Academics hated him.

They hated that a drunk could become so popular.  That such unpolished work could be so successful.  That they had gotten degrees and were trying so hard and remained obscure while a drunk that went to the race tracks everyday could be vaulted to celebrity.

While it is true that he was an alcoholic who wrote many stories that seemed to degrade women, there are two things I accepted about him that enabled me to love his writing.

  1. Alcoholism is a disease and he had an alcoholic mind.  I didn’t judge him for the byproduct of his disease.
  2. You have to sift through Bukowski’s large body of work to find the gems.  I’d say about 90% of his work never really struck me, but the 10% that did was amazing.

In fact, Bukowski is one of the few poets that I can recite his poems off the top of my head, not having read them in many years.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Oh Yes
There are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it’s too late
and there’s nothing worse
too late.


One Comment

  1. Do you know the song about Hank Williams titled “Has Anybody Here Seen Hank?” by the Waterboys?

    “I don’t care what he did with his women.
    I don’t care what he did when he drank.
    I want to hear just one note.
    From his lonesome old throat.
    Has anybody here seen Hank?”


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