Poetry is meant to be read aloud. Thus, although I have read a good deal of the poetry of Charles Bukowski (1920 -1994), I learned a great deal from this CD of his readings at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center in San Francisco on September 14, 1972. The track includes 14 poems excerpted from the reading; an earlier recording of the complete reading is no longer available.
Known as the "poet of skid row", Bukowski became a cult figure for his portrayal of low life in Los Angeles. Bukowski's novels, stories, and poetry continue to be read, and his reputation has grown with the years. Bukowski's poems are short, easy to read, and tend to shock. They include ample reference to sexual and excretory functions but have their serious side as well. Bukowski's themes include death, women, horse racing, and loneliness. There is a sharpness and toughness to his best work.
Bukowski claimed to dislike live readings. But he used them to create his artistic persona with vulgarity, on stage drinking, and frequently ill-natured exchanges with his audience. That is the case in this reading. Bukowski arrives beers in hand, engages in heckling and threats with his audience, expresses his disdain for the reading, and belches several times while reciting his poetry. It is a rowdy and not entirely edifying performance.
There still is a poet at work here. Bukowski reads his works slowly in a declamatory style. He makes the most of his short, unrhymed lines, with careful rhythm, articulation, and emphasis. For all the notoriety of the reading, Bukowski took his poetry seriously. Bukowski's poem "Style", which he declaims on this CD, captures something essential about the man:
"Style is the answer to everything
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to
doing a dangerous thing without style.
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I
Other poems I liked here include "The Death of an Idiot", "The World's Greatest Loser" and "the Best Love Poem." Some of the poems Bukowski reads here do not appear in his published collections of poetry - he published a substantial amount in little magazines - and this makes the reading valuable as well.
This is a short CD of only 40 minutes. But readers of Bukowski will enjoy it. Hearing Bukowski read his own poems reminded me that poetry is indeed an oral art.