A poem is a city
a poem is a city filled with streets and sewers
filled with saints, heroes, beggars, madmen,
filled with banality and booze,
filled with rain and thunder and periods of
drought, a poem is a city at war,
a poem is a city asking a clock why,
a poem is a city burning,
a poem is a city under guns
its barbershops filled with cynical drunks,
a poem is a city where God rides naked
through the streets like Lady Godiva,
where dogs bark at night, and chase away
the flag; a poem is a city of poets,
most of them quite similar
and envious and bitter...
a poem is this city now,
50 miles from nowhere,
9:09 in the morning,
the taste of liquor and cigarettes,
no police, no lovers, walking the streets,
this poem, this city, closing its doors,
barricaded, almost empty,
mournful without tears, aging without pity,
the hardrock mountains,
the ocean like a lavender flame,
a moon destitute of greatness,
a small music from broken windows...
a poem is a city, a poem is a nation,
a poem is the world...
and now I stick this under glass
for the mad editor's scrutiny,
the night is elsewhere
and faint gray ladies stand in line,
dog follows dog to estuary,
the trumpets bring on gallows
as small men rant at things
they cannot do.
I came across this poem in the film Factotum, which is based on the famous cauliflower-faced poet ("lying in the gutter staring at the stars" division) and dependable patron of LA's bars and flophouses. The poem is better than the film, though it has a few good lines: "All I want to do is get my check and get drunk". I've read a couple of his books, including Women, which seems to include an encounter with a new lady about once every page and a half, and want to read Post Office. For some reason I have always been put off by the fact that his books always seem to cost a small fortune.
I have discovered on Google Video, something called the Bukowski tapes, which apparently is a four hour documentary on him , broken up into 52 segments. In this one he talks about getting rooms and how he fantasises of making the one landlady fall in love with him so he could have her cook for him, and he could laze around. (Interestingly, I just noticed you can download Google Video in files for iPods - maybe I should stack up some Bukowski segments).
He was born in Germany in 1920; his mother was German and his dad was a Polish American and the family later moved to LA. Bukowski died in 1994, which was not a bad stretch given his boozing - in Women he speaks about running at 300 hangovers a year, which is a terrifying thought. He seems to be one of the most autobiographical writers, writing and living hand to mouth.
Factotum ends with this, a kind of manifesto, as Matt Dillon's Bukowski character watches a stripper:
If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs. And maybe your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery, isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance. Of how much you really want to do it. And you'll do it, despite rejection in the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is.