To the Barricades, Zane Grey Fans!


Here's a three-handed slap, delivered by the New Yorker's Adam Kirsch, in a critical look at Charles Bukowski's poetry:

Bukowski is best read as a very skillful genre writer. He bears the same relation to poetry as Zane Grey does to fiction, or Ayn Rand to philosophy—a highly colored, morally uncomplicated cartoon of the real thing.

Our cover package on the highly colored, morally uncomplicated philosopher-cartoon is here. (Link via L.A. Observed.)

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  1. Not familiar with his poetry but his novels and short stories are amazing.

    First, you wonder how the hell did he not end up dead in his own vomit on the street and then how did he live so long?

    For someone who grew up after the ‘beatnik’ types, I found Bukowski’s stuff *so* much better and timeless than Ginsberg’s.

  2. Doc,

    His poetry is fantastic, whimsical, enriching, rich earthy, etc.

  3. “Morally uncomplicated” = His characters have morals and hold themselves responsible for their own behavior.

  4. Larry A, love the explication.

  5. “morally uncomplicated” = consistent

  6. I remembered something from Salon several years ago:

    Salon has a couple audios of Bukowski reading his material. With titles like “The Soldier, His Wife and the Bum” and “Fan Letter” you know where he’s going with them. 🙂

    The MP3’s are there, the streaming links are dead.

  7. I love Bukowski, even though I can’t agree that he’s a particularly skilled poet. It amazes me that he ever had girlfriends at all, more amazing that he had so many.

    But then again, I can’t really figure out why I like him so much myself.

  8. I’ll grant Bukowski seldom wrote longer-form poetry that stayed strong, but he could write lines and stretches that hold up just fine. If you’re going to make me read a midcentury poet’s filler material (and please don’t), I’ll take tossed-off jokes-as-filler over most poets’ windy-crap-as-filler most any day.

    As for Bukowski’s fiction, I don’t see much that’s one-dimensional about it, especially further along in his career. After years of not reading any Bukowski I’ve started reading from his novel “Women” before bed in recent weeks. The situations might be pretty static, but there’s plenty of rueful self-awareness on display. That’s where the laughs come from.

  9. Imagine this…

    …Headlines tomorrow: it is outed that Charles Bukowski was JUST a mean-spirited LA-area low-life who was paid one hundred dollars a month to lend his name, and make occasional appearances with Penn, Bono and Tom Waitts.

    All of the books, stories, poems and novels were penned by Delores Shackleton – otherwise known for her line of romance novels – and later by a string of under-employed journos at the Enquirer.

    It would take a few months for the hoax to be credited, and a few more months for the discovery to make a difference…
    …then you wouldn’t be able to sell the entire Bukowski corpus for two dollars.

    Bukowski’s career follows the arc of the classic literary hoax – like the Ossian poems and Charles Lamb. Something is esteemed for a non-literary quality (authenticity, and, usually cheap accessibility) and then other qualities, not present, are wishfully attributed to it.

    The denouement here will be interesting, because Bukowski, I suppose, wasn’t a hoax, in this sense.

  10. Andrew,

    Yes, I’ve always loved Chaucer because he was a spy. Not. 🙂

  11. Andrew:

    Have you ever read Fritz Leiber’s The Silver Eggheads? 🙂


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