I wrote this last summer for the Charles Bukowski Gesellschaft Jahrbuch, which is the German Bukowski Society yearbook. It is presented here in lieu of actual entertainment. Thank you.
Actually I have something to complain about, but it’s just a television show, so you aren’t missing anything. I will type it up when I come out of this coma. Okay, sorry to interrupt. On with the show.
CHILDREN OF BUKOWSKI
I should have typed this weeks ago. I have been putting it off because I didn’t want to simply repeat what has been said so many times by so many others in words more eloquent than I will be able to muster. What is there possibly left to say about Bukowski? The most uncommon of common men. A man and an artist who changed the creative direction of so many of his generation, inspired so many of my generation, and who will undoubtedly continue to inspire for generations to come.
There is something about Bukowski’s work that makes people think to themselves, “I could do that!” So we do. Thousands of us. It isn’t until you try to capture the powerful simplicity of his work in your own words that you realize how very difficult it is to do it, let alone do it well. You can feel the shadow of Bukowski looming over the words of so many poets, from university literary journals to Xeroxed zines. What would the literary landscape look like today if we took him out of the equation? While we may not be spending our days following rigid rules, and fitting lines into formalized styles, the world of words would be an undeniably different place.
We are, all of us, in one way or another, children of Bukowski.
That he changed the face of American poetry is a given. He was a pioneer. We reap the benefits of the pioneers even if we are not inspired by them directly. We still follow those who had the foresight, the tenacity, the balls or the sheer lunacy to walk off into uncharted territory with nothing but a pen, typewriter, paintbrush or a drum. Pioneers do not break new ground so that we can follow. They do it because they have to. It is born in them. It is not something that they do, it is who they are. And so we follow. We follow along in awe, in fear – or perhaps because the clear path makes it easier to pick the low hanging fruit – whatever the reason, we follow.
We have existed for decades in ragged tribes around the world. A few of us in each little town, sometimes rubbing elbows or nodding in understanding as we pass. But times have changed, and now our global tribe of bastard children has something that no one could have predicted: easy access to each other. Now, many of us gather online, to celebrate, compare notes, dispel myths and read rare works that only a handful of people have seen in the fifty years since they were published.
In Eastern Oregon there is a giant, underground mushroom. The fungus Armillaria ostoyae. It is almost six kilometers wide. The largest living thing on the face of the earth. Like Bukowski’s children, most of Armillaria ostoyae is underground. But if you stand in the middle of it, it is alive, spreading as far as you can see in every direction. The internet is not unlike that giant underground mushroom. Look off as far as you can see in any direction and you will find like-minded people. Members of your tribe.
For ten years I ran a web site that featured Bukowski’s work along with a couple dozen other artists, writers and photographers, and the most visited sections of the site were consistently those with Bukowski’s work. So while I knew that the children were out there, for the most part, they were as invisible as the giant mushroom. Then, at the beginning of 2006, something happened. We started talking to each other. Now there are hundreds of us at the Bukowski.net web site every day, engaging in debate, gossip, bullshit and bald-faced hero worship. You really ought to come by and say hello to your extended family.
If you told Bukowski that a group of people routinely gathered to discuss and analyze his work and his life, he would have laughed. Or more likely, he would have told you that such people were wasting their time. But beneath it all, I have to believe he would feel vindicated and proud. They say you can always spot a pioneer by the arrows in their back. Bukowski took a lot of arrows. Not for us, but because for him, there was no other alternative.
I followed Bukowski’s path through his words. Deep into places I would have never ventured on my own, and it absolutely turned my world around. He was mentor, inspiration, clown and priest. The longer he has been gone the more I have learned to appreciate the depth of his talent, relentless work ethic and raw skill.
His genius was in expressing the common pain that we all share. Misery we have all experienced. Work that kills us, relationships that drive us mad, broken down automobiles, poverty, desperation, horror and – ultimately – transcendence. It’s where we’re all headed. And once again, Bukowski has gone on ahead of us.
Proprietor of bukowski.net and smog.net
San Pedro, CA