War all the time

An evening with Charles Bukowski, my own personal Poet Laureate.

The drunken, womanizing, raucously incorrect world of Charles Bukowski may seem out of touch with contemporary sensibilities. Yet, most of us in these quarantine times can learn how an uncensored night at home could be well spent from “You Never Had It — An Evening With Charles Bukowski,” coming to Kino Marquee virtual cinemas in the Bay Area starting Friday, Aug. 7.

Less than an hour long, this conversational documentary with the prurient poet of Los Angeles’ lower depths is remarkably rich with insights into the writing craft and business, sex and love, humanity’s lack of humanity, and more.

Unlike at his often rowdy and combative public readings, Bukowski comes off as a gently growling, even cordial host here. He’s funny as hell, knows it and is pleased to prove it. All while consuming copious amounts of wine and skinny, Indian bidi cigarettes.

Among many gems that came out of Bukowski’s mouth that January evening:

“Writers are very despicable people; plumbers are better people,” following a revelation that he declined an invitation to meet Jean-Paul Sartre while on a book tour in Paris. “I’m a writer.”

“Why is everything sex?” during a stretch of playful, if morbid, back-and-forth on their cream-colored couch with his future wife, Linda Lee Beighle. “Can’t I ride a bicycle down the street without thinking about sex?”

“Take all these people in the world,” he says at one point, chillingly foreshadowing what a lot of us have just come to realize in the last several years. “They’re more full of hate than they are love. This is our society. Let’s go with the flow, let’s not kid ourselves.”

This is one flick I’ll have to see, since I’ve been a huge fan of Bukowski’s work for many, many years now. I’ve always found his bloody-knuckled insights on the writing life to be arresting, pungent, and penetrating—maybe even more so than his other stuff, which doesn’t exactly pull any punches either. Exhibit A:

get a large typewriter

and as the footsteps go up and down

outside your window

hit that thing

hit it hard

make it a heavyweight fight

make it the bull when he first charges in

and remember the old dogs

who fought so well:

Hemingway, Celine, Dostoevsky, Hamsun.

If you think they didn’t go crazy

in tiny rooms

just like you’re doing now

without women

without food

without hope

then you’re not ready.

Oof. Still makes the hair on back of my neck stand up, even after long years of familiarity with the man’s work and decades of dabbling myself in writing professionally, albeit writing of a very different style and sort. There are a few other poets I like a lot too, but only Bukowski can hit hard enough to stand you straight up and lay you out flat like that.

2 thoughts on “War all the time

  1. Back in 1982 or so, he gave a reading at the English Department at Emory University in Atlanta, where I was a grad student in Chemistry. I knew about the reading, but I got caught up in whatever the hell I was doing at the time, and damned near missed it, I walked in for the last five minutes. There was a wine and cheese thing at the end, so I went to that and was standing around with a group of friends, and they were talking with Bukowski, and he said “Where can I get a real drink around here?” and of course we knew the place to go, it was Jagger’s, across the street pretty much, so the five or six friends, me, and Bukowski went there, and we had real drinks. Boilermakers, one shot of whiskey chased by a glass of beer. It was amazing conversation for the next four and a half hours, he knew a lot about Kansas City, the tough parts near 18th and Vine, down near Union Station. I was from Kansas City, so we had a good conversation, and I don’t remember too much else, except that walking home was a real challenge, inasmuch as I couldn’t really feel my feet and staggered into a huge spiderweb… Quite a night. So we had an evening with Bukowski, that was one of the more memorable events of my stay at Emory.

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