When I was at an impressionable age (I think I maybe still am) my first poetic influences were the Beats – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Orlovsky, and the total outsider Kenneth Patchen. Later, I turned on to the Black Mountain School – Olson, Creeley et al. Later still, my American influences tended towards a non-school of poets; diverse writers, including Gary Snyder, Larry Eigner, Edward Dorn, Denise Levertov, Philip Whalen, William Everson. I didn’t encounter the poetry of Charles Bukowski until much later – maybe just 15 years ago or something like that.
I’ve read three of his collections – Burning in water, drowning in flame (1974), Love is a dog from hell (1977), and The last night of the Earth poems (1992). These are thick books, not slim volumes – he was very prolific. He wrote many other volumes of poetry, novels and short stories, and from about the mid-1990’s he has acquired what’s now labelled as cult status. His life style was chaotic, especially after leaving the US Post Office to become a full-time writer. Booze, sex, and betting on horses were major preoccupations, through which the poetry emerged. He’s an interesting writer, but not one whose example or style I’m tempted to follow. I can recall well-turned lines by Creeley, Barbara Guest, Levertov, but none by Bukowski. And yet he has his adherents, sometimes passionate ones. Maybe it’s a failing in me, but I just don’t get it. Somebody tell me what I’m missing.