Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Reader's Diary #263- Charles Bukowski: Slouching Toward Nirvana (up to "2:07 a.m.")

A while ago there was a discussion over at Sam's blog of a recent trend to find and categorize books that might appeal to boys. I understand that if boys are falling behind the girls in terms of grades and reading abilities then something needs to be done. However, I'm opposed to the labeling of books as "Boy Books". To me it just runs too much risk of perpetuating stereotypes. In another of Sam's posts, he mentioned the School Library Association's 167 "Top Books For Boys" which included such classics as Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein. What happens now? Will girls shun these "boy books"? Will boys avoid books not on the list?

I bring this up because I've been reading through Bukowski's Slouching Toward Nirvana and I can't seem to fight against my social conditioning that these are poems for men; masculine poems. The problem is that the book came from a female friend of mine after I asked her to lend me some of her poetry; more specifically, to lend me one of her favourite books of poetry.

His writing reminds me a lot of Al Purdy's and Mordecai Richler's. There's a certain roughness in the vocabulary, especially in the casual (but not gratuitous) cursing. Plus, there's a lot of references to stereotypical male pursuits; brawling and drinking to be more precise. But where Bukowski might seem like the average male, he isn't an average poet. This is not a comment about the quality of his poetry, it's about his outlook on poetry. Again like the other aforementioned authors, he rebels against bullshit. Poetic pretensions seem to be his biggest beefs, which I can't imagine gained him many friends in the poetry world (though he more than made up for it with fans). A favourite of these is called "cicada" in which he criticizes writers who use the word "cicada" as some sort of poetic stock word that fools people into believing the art (I feel much the same way as "ethereal"). Incidentally, many of his poems have an ironic ending and this one is no exception:

and look at me:
here I'm using it:

well, that means that
this poem surely will get


it works.

So far, I'm thoroughly impressed. On the surface, each poem is an entertaining narrative that could stand by itself. However, they are so well done that they invite us back for a reread and that's when you pick up on the cleverness and deeper meanings. However, I don't quite get his line breaks. At first, since they don't seem to hang and divide thoughts as I've seen some poets use them, I thought they were just for the sake of rhythm; breaking where you'd pause if reading it aloud. However, there are enough instances that don't flow well upon pausing, that I question if they weren't just random breaks; Bukowski's own brand of poetic posing perhaps? I'm hoping before I get to the end, I'll have more of answer. In any case, I've been enjoying them enough already to not even care.

(Oh, and to any women out there, you might enjoy it too!)


Kelly said...

I agree about the futility and dangers of labeling books "boy books" or "girl books". Books should be universally appropriate and appealing for both sexes.

John Mutford said...

MyUtopia, Amen! I found it hard enough as it was admiting that I liked Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a boy. If it had been specifically placed on a "Girl's Book List", I'd probably not even been allowed to read it. But that's between me and my psychologist ;)