Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reader Response: "at the zoo"

     There is a specific line in the poem "at the zoo" on page 243 that really captures the difficulties humans have in overcoming loneliness.  Here's the quote:

"this is the way the gods have arranged it
for the moment:
one caring
one not caring"

     This is a heartbreaking but common phenomenon, especially among young people plugged into unstable and unpredictable emotional outlets.  It seems that everyone is breaking someone's heart at some point in time, while the person doing the heartbreaking is simultaneously getting their heart broken by someone else.  To me it seems rare that two people can balance eachother, especially in teenage relationships without "one caring/ one not caring".

Formalist Criticism: "75 million dollars" & Allusion

     This poem revolves around a direct allusion to Pablo Picasso.  Picasso is an enormously famous artist known for his volatile personality and disregard for tradition.  It makes sense that Bukowski would admire such a man, as he shares many of the same traits.  Bukowski discusses the immortality that Picasso possesses as he reads about his 75 million dollar estate being divided up in the newpaper.
     In one of the final stanzas Bukowski also alludes to Henry Miller, another artist/writer rule-breaker who died in 1980.  Bukowski draws himself into a club of disenfranchised misfits and geniuses by sympathizing with and comparing himself to these two famous men in a poem about the legacy one can leave behind after death.  It could very well have been a purposeful move on Bukowski's part to publish this poem in what matters most is how well you walk through the fire, as it is a collection of poems he set aside to be published after his death.
     Bukowski utilizes allusions to other writers and artists in many of his poems.  For example he refers to "Frieda" (Kahlo), Huxley, and Lawrence on page 332 in "what's it all mean?" and Beethoven on page 346.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Historical Criticism: Los Angeles

     There's little doubt that the "City of Angels" had a huge affect on Bukowski's life and poetry.  On page 43 there is a poem titled "Pershing Square, Los Angeles, 1939" that describes an assortment of eccentric winos and prophets that Bukowski encountered in the park in the middle of the city. 
     Another direct reference to Los Angeles is a poem on page 241 titled "Carlton Way off Western Ave":

"here among the massage parlors
the pawn shops
the liquor stores
caught in the smog and the squalor".

     Carlton Way is a rough neighborhood that Bukowski lived in for many years and it certainly satisfied his attraction to a dingy lifestyle.
     Carlton Way is mentioned again on page 184.  The poem is titled "hard times on Carlton Way" and it again alludes to squalor and crime, but this time in a way that suggests Bukowski is tiring of it rather than thriving off of it.

Reader Response: "the railroad yard"

I especially enjoy this poem on page 51 because it captures the odd beauty that can be found in unexpected places.  It hit me personally because I often feel that I am more affected by things such as lines of motionless boxcars than my peers.  Sometimes a glimpse of a trailer park or public bathroom or trash in the park catches me off guard and pierces me to the core.  I felt a real kinship for Bukowski that he felt similarly, and I admired that he illustrated it without sounding too uppity or flowery.

Formalist Criticism: "no title"

The poem "no title" on page 65 is a meager 17 lines and 47 words.  This is a purposeful choice, as it makes the poem resemble something narrow and stark: perhaps a knife blade?  Bukowski disregards capitalization and most grammar rules the same way that he disregards social norms and expectations of flowery poetry.  The word choice is sparse, harsh, and clinical, just like the tone.  The shape and organization of the last two sentences allude to the feeling of choices being whittled down, thrown off a bridge, of hope dwindling but not disappearing entirely.  Here is what it looks like:

"we have narrowed it down to
the butcherknife and the
wish us

Historical Criticism: Father

Many of the poems in the first section of what matters most is how well you walk through the fire closely resemble Bukowski's childhood and refer to his father's violence and harsh demeanor. On page 22 there is a poem titled 'the mice' in which a father, presumably Bukowski's, violently burns up baby mice in an incinerator.  Bukowski, 10 years old, must sit in silent anger and helplessly watch these murders occur.  Here is a quote from the poem:

"the flame in the incinerator
was dying down.
it was all too late.
it was over.

my father had won

Bukowski obviously wishes he could conquer his father but cannot, and lives most of his life in frustration of that fact.  Later he grows up and the frustration turns to complete resentment. 

On page 17, in a poem titled 'my father and the bum' Bukowski describes their clashing personalities by comparing their reactions to a third person.  Bukowski's father looks down upon those who do not have steady jobs or live within social norms while Bukowski idolizes them as rule-breakers.  He even compares the motivationless to "Freud,/ Jaspers, Heidegger, and/ Toynbee."

Reader Response: Overview

Being your typical angsty teenager, I whole heartedly appreciate the poetry of Charles Bukowski.  It is dark with just the right amount of bright moments.  It is passionate and desperate and lonely, just like being a teenager.  I also love that his poetry is full of profanities because it makes it raw and vulnerable like something you might overhear in the street.  In what matters most is how well you walk through the fire 'Chinaski' gives into his demons at times, allowing himself to bathe in the loneliness.  Other times 'Chinaski' fights his demons heroically and with flair.  What could be better?