Had you met me five years ago you would have seen a shocked child walking around with what felt like the book of Satan. Perhaps we are all sheltered to a certain extent. I wonder if Charles Bukowski felt like it was his job to shock the American public. (Well, not just the American public, but Europeans too). I was terrified, curious and swore off men after reading the first few pages I skimmed of his poetry. Charles Bukowski’s “Sifting Through the Madness of the Word, the Line, the Way” is an excellent read for those who are not faint of heart.
My first impression of his work was disgust, but the type of disgust where you can’t pull your eyes from the page. At this point many college students are used to reading about sex, drugs, gambling, whores, alcoholics, poverty and just plain heartache. So far Bukowski is the only author I have come across that can shove them all into one book.
In regards to taste, Bukowski writes with a dry sense of humor. Reading his work feels like going into a stranger’s home with clusters of unwashed dishes and beer bottles scattered across the house, but the stranger has prepared a really delicious fish with rosemary sauce and lots of red wine, with a lit candle and fine silverware. Charles Bukowski’s style reflects his lifestyle. His common theme is commentary on American life and poverty. Bukowski’s work is different from most styles. It is simply written and has a short structure that doesn’t break into abstract free form. Inspired by the beat generation, Bukowski was a confessional writer of the most direct kind. He wrote about people who pissed him off, prostitutes he had slept with and his gambling and drinking problems. His work portrays a dark side of American culture and a poverty we generally choose to ignore when confronted in reality.
My favorite element of Bukowski’s book that sets him apart from other writes is his use of semantics and symbolism in his work. He refers to himself as “the monkey” and often uses insects and rodents to symbolize different types of people. Sometimes he refers to African Americans as “mockingbirds.” In describing people as creatures he paints a picture of the animalistic tendencies that we often try to hid of our human nature.
It is in his simple writing style and modest vocabulary that Bukowski exercises his skill of being creative in the most humbling and structured manner. His creativity shines through the bleakness of the life he had lived. He was an alcoholic who got into bar fights and suffered much of his childhood with an abusive father. He worked in the postal service for most of his life and didn’t get recognized until much later in life. Through Bukowski’s modest lifestyle he portrays the failed American Dream. Although his book is often sad, he expresses himself as a strong person in a class of his own.
Charles Bukowski’s book “Sifting Through the Madness the Word, The Line, The Way” is special in particular because it uses imagery that is elegantly written in its formal structure that’s easy on the eyes. In literature that stirs our imaginations we are able to share things that might be inexpressible face to face (reader and writer). For all of this and more I am content in wrapping my mind around Bukowski’s words and highly recommend the book to anyone who wants a sophisticated read.
This book is available at the Penfield Library, third floor. Call number: PS3552.U4 SS42004