Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame
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Charles Bukowski has always sat uneasily amongst the cannon of modern American writers. To some he is an original and perceptive writer on the nihilism and futility of modern, capitalist society; a man who brings a keen poetic eye to the loneliness and desperation of the modern, American sub-culture. To others, he is a man of little talent who squanders what talent there is on a glorification of misogyny, violence and alcoholism. Whichever view holds more truth, Bukowski is a writer where you need to make up your mind and you will probably recognise which view you subscribe to within half-an-hour of picking up one of his books.
In choosing to read Bukowski, I would recommend that it is the poetry upon which you base your decision; despite the fact that he is, perhaps, better known for his prose - particularly the novel Factotum, made into a film starring Mickey O'Rourke. Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame is an excellent book for those unfamiliar with Bukowski's poetry. The poems in this volume are collected from various works, spanning the years 1955 - 1973.
The beauty in Bukowski's poem lies in their apparent simplicity. The simple language, the short lines, even the font and printing style combine to make the reader feel that a lonely drunk has sat down and typed out his pain in a few unreflective moments. However, behind this apparent ease of composition lies a power and poetic sensibility that ensures the poems, their words and symbols stay in the mind for a long, long time after their reading. Bukowski's poems are ones that, if they hook you, you will turn to and read again and again. A poem such as machineguns, towers & timeclocks tell of a man setting off for work. The sheer sense of futility and alienation of the reader scream at the reader through the easy, understated language. Whilst a poem such as sway with me is a simple cry for love, the humorous structure and bathos of they, all of them, know gives a different perspective on loneliness and alienation.
Poets like Bukowski, who divide opinion so sharply, are always worth reading but for those who regard the most beautiful and powerful poetry as that which conveys the most intense emotion in the simplest language, this writer is sure to appeal.
of Songs would be out in the Fall. I did not know what to tell her but I told her to get any bad teeth pulled and be careful of the French lover. I put her photo by the radio near the fan and it moved like something alive. I sat and watched it until I had smoked the 5 or 6 cigarettes left. then I got up and went to bed. man in the sun she reads to me from the New Yorker which I don’t buy, don’t know how they get in here, but it’s something about the
here, I hope a bridge, a fish, a cactus somewhere strutting whiskers to the noon, I dream flowers and horses the branches break the birds fall the buildings burn, my whore walks across the room and smiles at me. 7th race when the angels swung low and burned I watched the board and the 6 dropped to 9 after a first flash of 18 from a morning line of 12…two minutes to post and a fat man kept jamming against my back, but I made it, I bet 20 to win and walked out to the deck
have to do. Charles Bukowski January 30, 1974 I It Catches My Heart in Its Hands Poems 1955-1963 lay down lay down and wait like an animal the tragedy of the leaves I awakened to dryness and the ferns were dead, the potted plants yellow as corn; my woman was gone and the empty bottles like bled corpses surrounded me with their uselessness; the sun was still good, though, and my landlady’s note cracked in fine and undemanding yellowness; what was needed
consider sex. it is all forgotten like an old movie. I see people in department stores and supermarkets walking down aisles buying things and I can see by the way their clothing fits them and by the way they walk and by their faces and their eyes that they care for nothing and that nothing cares for them. I can see a hundred people a day who have given up entirely. if I go to a racetrack or a sporting event I can see thousands that feel for nothing or no one and
and a good one the curtains are waving for the mercy mongers Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame (Poems 1972-1973) now the trash men zoo tv lost hot love burn and burn and burn the way out of the arms death of an idiot tonalities hey, dolly a poorly night looking for a job the 8 count dogfight letters yes yes eddie and eve the fisherman warm asses what’s the use of a title? the tigress the catch wax job