Charles Bukowski Where It Counts

poet
The poet Charles Bukowski
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Date: Thu Sep 26, 1996 6:48:50 PM America/New_York

To the Editors of The L.A. Free Press,
November 15, 1974

Hello editors:

Regarding the Lynne Bronstein letter of Nov. 15 about my story of Nov. one:

1. The story was about pretentiousness in art. The fact that the pretender had female organs had nothing to do with the story in total. That any female made to look unfavorable in a story must be construed as a denunciation of the female as female is just so much guava. The right of the creator to depict characters any way he must remains inviolate—whether those characters are female, black, brown, Indian, Chicano, white, male, Communist, homosexual, Republican, peg-legged, mongolian and/or ?

2. The story was a take-off on an interview with an established female poet in a recent issue of Poetry Now. Since I have been interviewed for a future issue of the same journal and for future editions of Creem and Rolling Stone, my detractors will get their chance to see how I hold or fail under similar conditions.

3. When the narrator lets us know that he has Janice Altrice's legs in mind might infer more that he is bored with the poetry game, and also might infer that he could have a poolhall, dirty joke mind, at times. That the narrator might be attacking himself instead of trying to relegate the lady back to a "sex object" evidently is beyond the belief of some so-called Liberated women. Whether we like it or not, sex and thoughts of sex do occur to many of us (male and female) at odd and unlikely times. I rather like it.

4. That "she is indeed speaking for Bukowski himself, who has expressed a similar contempt for unknown poets who give each other support." The lady spoke for herself. Her "contempt" was toward poets not academically trained. My dislike is toward all bad poetry and toward all bad poets who write it badly—which is most of them. I have always been disgusted with the falsity and dreariness not only of contemporary poetry but of the poetry of the centuries—and this feeling was with me before I got published, while I was attempting to get published, and it remains with me now even as I pay the rent with poesy. What kept me writing was not that I was so good but that that whole damned gang was so bad--when they had to be compared to the vitality and originality that was occurring in the other art forms. As to those who must gather together to give port, I am one with Ibsen: "the strongest me alone."

5. "Now that he's well-known and the only California poet published by Black Sparrow Press, he thinks that nobody else is entitled to be a poet—especially women, My dear lady: you are entitled to be whatever you can be; if you can leap twenty feet straight up into the air or sweep a 9 race card at Western harness meet, please go ahead and do so.

6. "A lot of us think there's more to write poetry about than beer, drunks, hemorrhoids, and how rotten the world is." I also think there's more to write poetry about than that and I do so.

7. "Female artists, on the other hand, try to be optimistic." The function of the artist is not to create optimism but to create art—which sometimes may be optimistic and sometimes can't be. The female is bred to be more optimistic than the male because of a function she has not entirely escaped as yet, the bearing of the child. After passing through pregancy and childbirth, to call life a lie is much more difficult.

8. "Could it be that the male is 'washed-up' as an artist, that he has no more to say except in his jealousy, to spit on the young idealists and the newly freed voices of women?" Are these the thought concepts you come up with in your "ego-boosting" sessions? Perhaps you'd better take a night off.

9. "Poetry is an art form. Like all art it is subjective and it does not have sex organs." I don't know about your poems, Lynne, but mine have cock and balls, eat chili peppers and walnuts, sing in the bathtub, cuss, fart, scream, stink, smell good, hate mosquitoes, ride taxicabs, have nightmares and love affairs, all that.

10. "... without being negative ..." I thought they'd ridden this horse to death; it's the oldest of the oldest hats. I first heard it around the English departments of LA highschool in 1937. The inference, when you call somebody "negative" is that you completely remove them from the sphere because he or she has no basic understanding of life forces and meanings. I wouldn't be caught using that term while drunk on a bus to Shreveport.

11. I don't care for Longfellow or McKuen either, although they both possess (possessed) male organs. One of the best writers I knew of was Carson McCullers and she had a female name. If my girlfriend's dog could write a good poem or a decent novel I'd be the first to congratulate the beast. That's LIBERATED!

12. Shit, I ought to get paid for this.

Charles Bukowski ©1974

I was 28 years old however before I ever uttered my first curse words aloud, so ingrained was my early parental training and youthful leanings. I moved to DC, donned a leather jacket, infiltrated its punk rock scene, made some drunken guitar friends, consciously worked to fit in so diligently that I apparently overdid it by all accounts but my own, and soon my mouth became the crowded gutter my poor southern heart apparently was meant to reveal.
A swashbuckler, that CB was, no doubt. He was always concerned about getting paid, but then I know I am too, and only Sue pays me a whiff, so I must admit I feel terribly obligated to succeed on some level or the other in due time although I would simply love to "create art and suppress it" as Len Bracken preaches from the idealogical remnants of his own hero Debord, while privately scavenging for fame and fortune with an high energy drink clenched in both fists like none other in my own flattened circle, but I digress.

I think this was some pretty cheeky thinking, although the political correctness crowd had hardly stormed the gates at this point, merely the first and second waves of feminism, and the first stirrings of the gay assault on the closet. Bukoswki hit the mark as far as I am concerned, although I am certainly no great fan of his so-called poetry, and have never bought a book of his poems. His minimalist-styled novels are decent enough as a reflection of a down and out substrata of humanity, but I hardly call his work great writing. But his theory abides mine. This ain't no touchy feely world we live in and report from. Life is cruel even among the most civilized and friendly of friendlies. And while I question rock and rap and even these action adventure flicks on the grounds of perpetuating a sad influence upon impressionable minds (and whom dares brag of having an unimpressionable mind), I certainly am no adherant of the Disneyfied approach to artistic expression. The Jean-Jacques Rousseau idea of keeping young minds pure until they reach the age of eighteen, characterized in his novel Émile has had a good run in the West. It seemingly has failed.

But on a side note: personal liberty and more specifically, the abolition of slavery and the notion of equal rights is uniquely a western male idea as Dinesh D'Sousa, of East Indian descent, points out very poignantly in his own book. No other culture in the history of humanity can touch what Jefferson and his cronies idealized in the late eighteenth century. But here I go again, venturing out of the CB parameter.

"...and while talking to him I learned something: Larry Flynt (publisher of the Hustler skinflynt) ain't just kidding about his religious stance. The copy editor told me that my story had several "god damns" in it and Larry wouldn't allow God to be used like that in his mag so my people instead of saying "god damn" would have to end up saying "damn"..."

Now that's bizarre. Seems I recall plenty of filthy religious cartoons and shit, but Flynt (as any wacko eccentric we know is prone) is weird about combining this word and that word... Seems Jehovah and even Jesus were quite adept at damning this and that whenever the mood was ripe for a curse or two, but this fear of uttering God and DAMN in the same breath is really astonishing. I was 28 years old however before I ever uttered my first curse words aloud, so ingrained was my early parental training and youthful leanings. I moved to DC, donned a leather jacket, infiltrated its punk rock scene, made some drunken guitar friends, consciously worked to fit in so diligently that I apparently overdid it by all accounts but my own, and soon my mouth became the crowded gutter my poor southern heart apparently was meant to reveal.

GT

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