I'd like to have a word with you if you don't mind.

It won't take more than a minute or two.

See, this has been in the back of my head for a few days now, giving me headaches, raising boils, fouling up my breath: somewhere we stepped off the path, got all confused, got wrapped up in some inane misunderstanding.

Look, I know you don't care about poetry, okay? I know. And you don't need to pretend for my sake, or for its sake, or for the sake of posterity and honor and fifteen other used-up words. You got this thing for poets, this reverence, this sort of romanticized notion--but we both know this is for the poets and not the words. Maybe it's Whitman's fault, maybe you and I, we're not really trying. I really don't care. But somewhere along the line we got this sense of the "art" in verse, we watched Dead Poets Society, we watched Dangerous Minds, hell, we watched Back to School--and this defined our poetry, the poetry of this country, this generation.

I just want to set things straight: poetry is more communication than it is "art." (I'm not entirely convinced that art and communication aren't the same thing.) It's about pulling down ideas and emotion, compressing them into "random arrangements of twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten numbers and eight or ten punctuation marks" while leaving them as whole and sharp and vicious and fundamentally real as possible.

Bukowski understood this. You want an answer for why he wrote about bloody vomit and whores and general ugliness, there it is. At some point, somebody had to come along and cut the holiness out of poetry; William Carlos Williams came close, it looked for a while like Allen Ginsberg would do it (but he didn't), e.e. cummings could have if he'd wanted--but it was Bukowski who threw the art away:

a lot of






he says in "poetry," and I, for one, believe him. It's not beauty or art he's after, but truth. Bukowski is often called the most imitated and influential poet in America (or was, before his death in 1994), and this is for a very good reason: it's difficult to see the heavy verse of Eliot, Frost, and the like as anything but phony after taking in a few of Bukowski's better poems. And this, by the way, is a book of Bukowski's better poems:

the last night of the earth poems


Charles Bukowski

Published in 1992, The last night of the earth poems was the final book of poetry that Bukowski would publish in his lifetime. A massive collection, 160 poems in all, it's loaded with poems about Bukowski's youth, his father, his alter-ego, Hank Chinaski, poems about Hemingway and Céline, about classical music, about booze and sex and manual labor. But mostly, under the surface, it's filled with poems about mortality. In "two toughs," it sneaks in even to a discussion about his youth:

anyhow, Jed never made it
to Notre Dame
and I never made it
. . .
damn, there was no way
it seemed
we could ever
but we did.

And in "death is smoking my cigars," well, it's fairly apparent:

and here he is
and now I am a minor success as
a writer
and death is walking
up and down
this room
smoking my cigars
taking hits of my
. . .

well, death says, as he walks by,
I'm going to get you anyhow
no matter what you've been:
. . .

we drink together now
as one a.m. slides to 2
a.m. and
only he knows the
moment, but I worked a con
on him: I got my
5 god-damned minutes
and much

I can't imagine how he survived to 73, the way Bukowski drank--apparently, he was fairly amazed as well. In "the damnation of Buk" he discusses directly that he's "concerned about dying," "concerned that you might / not reach the age of 85." But there's hope as well, as in "my first computer poem:" "so this is the beginning / not the / end," although of course Bukowski knows this is not really the beginning, that it is not far from the end.

The last night of the earth poems is a very good book. It's not earth-shattering, because Bukowski has published, well, something like forty-five books, and by 1992 very few people who'd heard of Bukowski were surprised at how powerful a book it was. But if you've never read the man, I suggest you find a copy of this collection, quickly: it will change what you think of poetry, whatever that is.

table of contents:


my wrists are rivers
my fingers are words

two toughs
my German buddy
happy birthday
the telephone
the feel of it
the greatest actor of our day
days like razors, nights full of rats
in and out of the dark
be kind
the man with the beautiful eyes
a strange day
Trollius and Trellises
air and light and time and space
the eagle of the heart--
bright red car
moving toward the 21st century
the lady and the mountain lion
a laugh a minute
hello, Hamsun
death is smoking my cigars
hock shops
hell is a closed door
pulled down shade
before Aids
hunk of rock
dinner, 1933
such luck
those mornings
everything you touch
car wash
the flashing of the odds
poetry contest
the bluebird


living too long
takes more than

going out
the replacements
the genius
a poet in New York
no sale
in error
the writer
they don't eat like us
let me tell you
blasted apart with the first breath
Elvis lives
my buddy in valet parking at the racetrack:
see here, you
the science of physiognomy
Edward Sbragia
wandering in the cage
the pack
question and answer
fan letter
hold on, it's a belly laugh
eyeless through space
tag up and hold
upon this time
Downtown Billy
8 count
only one Cervantes
that I have known the dead
are you drinking?
in the bottom
the creative act
a suborder of naked buds
you know and I know and thee know


the sun slants in
like a golden sword
as the odds grow

show biz
darkness & ice
the big ride
small cafe
sitting with the IBM
my buddy, the buddha
the interviewers
freaky time
the aliens
shock treatment
between races
Celine with cane and basket
no more, no less
the lost and the desperate
the bully
get close enough and you can't see
the beggars
the old horseplayer
post time
off and on
them and us
luck was not a lady
the editor
duck and forget it
snapshots at the track
heat wave
we ain't got no money, honey, but we got rain
crime and punishment
the soldier, his wife and the bum
Bonaparte's Retreat
flat tire
oh, I was a ladies' man!
inactive volcano
creative writing class
cool black air
the jackals
warm light

in the shadow of the rose

Dinosauria, we
cut while shaving
a good job
last seat at the end
my uncle Jack
the area of pause
my first computer poem
Rossini, Mozart and Shostakovich
it's a shame
what a writer
they are everywhere
the idiot
this rejoinder
Hemingway never did this
surprise time again
young in New Orleans
the damnation of Buk
Charles the Lion-Hearted
within the dense overcast
classical music and me
the word
shooting the moon in the eye
an invitation
batting order:
the open canvas
in the shadow of the rose

The last night of the earth poems by Charles Bukowski
392 pages, Copyright © 1992 by Charles Bukowski
Black Sparrow Press
ISBN: 0-87685-864-7
ISBN: 0-87685-863-9 (paperback)

The block quotations in this writeup are Copyright © by Charles Bukowski; permission to reproduce them here has been requested, though no response has yet been received.

This writeup is CST Approved.

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