Christmas poem to a man in jail by Charles Bukowski

This seasonal piece, which on the surface seems so mainly because of its title, speaks to various questions I’ve found myself discussing and pondering of late. Not just form versus free verse, commas and line endings, but the state of the world, and art’s place in it.

Bukowski says here that poetry is getting better, one of the few times I’ve seen him subscribe to that view. What do you think? Does he make his case? And what about politics and the human condition? Are we getting any better?

This poem is new to me, but I confess it might just be my new favorite Bukowski. There is much more going on here than the casual chat he pretends to be having.

Your thoughts?

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6 Replies to “Christmas poem to a man in jail by Charles Bukowski”

  1. I have more or less read all of the poem C.B. aka Hank , wrote, in my recently purchased The Pleasures of the Damned…collected verse . B.C.is one of the few poets who writes in the style that I call Prose , (we beg to differ on the use of this word in poetry) !! lol !!. I find his view and treatment of women in general (they are all called whores more or less) arrogant and misogynist in the extreme..but he also writes very tender poems..thoughtful and original. So overall..I do like his work. And I like what he writes about. Yes…he is good…Happy Xmas David…x

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  2. Hi David! I enjoyed the poem and though Bukowski (I am looking at the above comment) like many beat-types, has a certain attitude towards women that is not my favorite, I’ve always liked him . I wonder about Bill Abbott. At first I was thinking John Henry Abbot–is that his name? The guy that Mailer got released who then committed a violent crime–but I don’t think they are the same. What a world. I do think art, as well, as politics needs somehow enlivening, but I also like commas! Thanks. k.

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  3. Hey, David. Long time no see! Glad to discover that there are still Journalspace survivors scribbling away at their craft. And making good big time 🙂 Bukowski has managed to make the poetry world both a better and worse place to inhabit.

    He makes it all seem so simple. It is not. But I applaud him for giving poetry back to the ordinary man (instead of academics). Too many college educated people are now trying to write like Bukowski, and their practiced words seem more like the ghost of Jayne Mansfield than Marilyn Monroe. Does that make any sense?

    I wish you and yours an amazing 2015 🙂 Keep on keepin’ on!

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  4. First, I’d agree with the above commenters, re: Bukowski’s misogyny. It can be a bit shocking to our more delicate 21-century ears, and there are many of his lines that make me cringe. Though, I also agree with the first comment — he writes some tender, beautiful things. He’s a very complicated, complex man. Of course, when you read the details of his childhood, his adult attitudes become more understandable (if not always palatable.)

    Bukowski is the first poet I read and loved. Between your blog, and his poems, a whole world was opened to me. Bukowski teaches us that poetry can be plainspoken and full of intense emotion and wondrous images.

    What I find most interesting about Bukowski’s poems is that they rarely feel dated. There are a few references here and there that place the reader in a specific time place, reminding us that he lived in a different world, a different place. Yet, the things he writes about transcend time. If you took out the few specific ‘time period’ references, his poetry could just as easily have been written yesterday. This is both good and bad — good that he managed to capture humanity in a way that reminds us of our commonality, of the timeless concerns of (wo)man; and bad because we’re reminded that some things haven’t changed much.

    I think Bukowski has one of the strongest voices in poetry. If you watch a video and hear him speak or read his poems, he sounds exactly what you think he’s going to sound like.

    When I read this poem for the first time, a few years ago, the line at the end of the first stanza was so powerful to me:

    I don’t like most poetry, for example,
    so I write mine the way I like to read it.

    I feel that way about so much of the poetry of now. I think he was write that poetry was getting better … in the 60s-90s, there were some fine poets. And, there are still some fine poets today. Sadly, there’s a lot of academic crap trying to pass as poetry. I’ve cancelled a few subscriptions because I can no longer bear the awfulness being published. But, then I stumble upon something beautiful. I suppose that’s what art is all about — the variety, the art for art’s sake, the art for other artists, the art for the people.

    On the back cover of my copy of The Pleasures of the Damned, there’s a quote by Sean Penn that says “The thing about Bukowski is, when you read what he has to say, he’s right.” I think that’s very true (minus the bit of misogyny of course). Even his novels, which are in some ways, more dated than his poems, what he has to say about the human condition is so on target (to use a cliche). Bukowski understood the human condition better than most — and articulated it much better than most.

    Thanks for posting this — its one of my favorites.

    Happy 2015!

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  5. THAT, dear friend is one heck of an excellent reply. I appreciate it, and you more than you may know. I am honored to be considered any sort of inspiration, as you have been an inspiration and encouragement to me.

    As for Charles B. and poetry, I have nothing to add. You are incredible.Thank you, John.

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