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Essay on Charles Bukowski by Prosper Ifeanyi


"Creative writing is not the prerogative of a genius." This was said by our Creative Writing Workshop instructor, Aghogho Agbamu, at Delta State University, Nigeria. No better poet or writer better embodies this assertion than the American poet, Charles Bukowski. As a child, he was an emigrant from Germany to America. He won no Nobel Prize or any notable and distinguished prize for his poems and oeuvres, but I have learnt to look at them (his poems particularly) from different lenses whenever I can, and I must admit, in them, I have found succour, peace and relief.

I was introduced to Bukowski at a tender age by a mentor and lecturer of mine: Mathias Orhero; and I read his poetry like I read Shakespeare, Milton, Tagore, Rumi, Tranströmer or Soyinka. The first poem of his I ever read was "Bluebird" and I still can't forget it's musicality, fictionality as well as imaginative import to his craft. His ideas, he wrapped up in symbols and images which were capable of transmogrifying one to an outer word beyond time and space. An excerpt from the poem:

there's a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I'm too clever, I only let him out

at night sometimes

when everybody's asleep.

I say, I know that you're there,

so don't be


then I put him back,

but he's singing a little

in there, I haven't quite let him


Jean Cocteau once said: "the worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood." But this isn't the case with Bukowski's poems. His writings were given impetus by the social, cultural and political millieu of his city Los Angeles. Like the Bible, Bukowski's poems act as a navigational compass and guide for everyday living; he addresses the phenomenon of poverty, the act of writing, alcohol, relationship with women, marriage, family the drudgery of work—all of that which goaded and prodded my mind at the time growing up in the suburbia of Lagos, Bukowski seemed to have somewhere between the lines of his poem.

A favourite line which I like to reflect upon, is gotten from the theme of marriage and relationship with women. In his poem "Cows in Art Class," he limns a reality which when recasted exhumes a greater deal of understanding of the women folks.

good weather

is like

good women-

it doesn't always happen

and when it does

it doesn't

always last.

Unlike all other poets and writers, Bukowski taught the art of writing through the his poetry. He let aspiring writers and readers have a glimpse of what poetry and writing was all about. When Niyi Osundare said "poetry is man meaning to man," this was what Bukowski always seemed to do in some of his poems, like "So You Want to be a Writer" and "Poetry." On becoming a writer he says:

if you're doing it for money or


don't do it.

if you're doing it because you want

women in your bed,

don't do it.

if you have to sit there and

rewrite it again and again,

don't do it.

if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,

don't do it.

if you're trying to write like somebody


forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of


then wait patiently.

(So You Want to be a Writer)

His ability to place complex situations within the binary of simple and effortless words made reading his works indefatigable. Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker avered that "the secrets of Bukowski's appeal is that he combines the confessional poet's promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero."

Reading Bukowski can make one exclaim "Bukowski is a god!... My God!" His poetry like the music of Mike Oldfield is reminiscent and a documentation of humanity, the matrix of our existence and our flaws. His poetry has relatively received little attention from academic and literary critics and this often comes as a shock to me. This poet and his poetic offerings should be placed on a pedestal when other literary figures are reverenced or recognised.


Prosper Ifeanyi is a Nigerian writer. His works are featured/forthcoming in Identity Theory, Lumiere Review, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Salamander Ink Magazine, Kalahari Review, Terror House Press, Aôthen Magazine, 2022 Libretto Anthology and elsewhere. Reach him on Twitter and Instagram @prosperifeanyii

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