Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Everything is poetry

I went to look for Bukowski poems and found a film of him kicking a woman and calling her a whore, complete with canned laughter.

Underneath the clip, the comments are brutal. Bukowski's face is brutal, and broken.

Someone says they'll throw out his books now they've seen that clip.

Can one seperate the writer from their work? I suppose this argument resurfaces every so often - Ezra Pound, Gunther Grass - writers with dubious political affiliations or loathsome personal lives. Picasso burned one of his wives with cigarettes. Hemingway was a misogynist shit, wasn't he?

Even so, I don't think I can lose Bukowski's work no matter how foul he was. There's a good discussion of his work here.

I can't quite tell - is Bukowski a skewed creep, or is he just so honest it's both awful and sublime? Maybe the key is in being unable to tell, when someone is so openly broken and unsettling, when they are cruel but also sometimes tender, when at last all you can really probably say is that they are human.


Erobintica said...

It's probably necessary to separate the artist from the art at times.

When I first came across some of Bukowski's poetry for the first time - oh, maybe 22 years ago (or more) - I was floored. And at the time I was a mom of a toddler and one on the way. I wasn't into poetry then, but his stuff reached me. I didn't know anything about him until many many years later. In a way, I'm glad. It might have colored my opinion of his work. Not that I think he was a great guy. I think he was an extremely fucked up guy. But he wrote some amazing poetry. I also think that folks that say they're going to throw somebody's work in the garbarge because of that video are fucked up too.

I grew up with alcoholic parents and the video definitely triggered me. But reading some of the comments (which I stopped after a couple of pages) were worse - the world seems to have it's fair share of stupid people.

There's an awful lot of food for thought here Nikki. I don't have time to read the whole discussion on the link right now - but I will tomorrow. Thanks for posting this.

Nikki Magennis said...

Mm, I have to admit my first reaction was 'fuck you and your loser poems', when I watched the first video. Yes, it's that self-indulgent self-pity of the drunk that's so abhorrent, never mind the violence of his reactions.

Especially with someone like Bukowski, who I think used himself and his life as material - is it possible to seperate him from the work?
I mean, maybe the genius - if that word still has any currency - is that his work is compelling enough that one would still read it and look for the humanity, even after witnessing something as ugly as that scene.

In some ways, maybe the value of the work is only increased by the fact that I can still feel empathy with him, even tho he appears monstrous.

Danielle said...

interesting "zufall"..i just came back from andernach which is the town where bukowski was born...

i think he is a genius by night..and a sad, insecure and lonely man by night..some of the most creative minds are belonging to such broken and destroyed human beeings..its part of mistery around a genius..because somehow they all are broken

but how could you seperate a man like bukowski, like miller or a woman like nin from their work?..i think thats imposible most of the time

plus..for sure its wrong to beat women..actually its wrong to beat anyone...but we shouldnt forget that there are minds and persons outthere who are extremly attracted to the manic and dark sides of the artists...

Janine Ashbless said...

My personal feeling is that a work of art is bigger than the artist. It has to be, or else it will have no meaning to anyone else but the creator - or anyone beyond his era or set of circumstances or society.

That does not mean that the artist is morally redeemed by the art, or that a crappy personality or a crappy life is excused in any way by the art that person produces.

I think you can love the poetry without respecting the man.

But that's just my opinion, and I know I'm a much more judgmental person than you, Nikki.

Erobintica said...

I started to write a comment earlier to clarify what I was saying - because reading Nikki's and Danielle's comments made me realize that I didn't say what I'd really wanted to say. But then I got a phone call and now it's hours later. And Janine has said pretty much what I wanted to say - about the art not redeeming the artist.

This subject of art (and whether it's great or not is in the eye or ear of the beholder) and the often awful places it springs from is one that I'm almost constantly thinking about. If Bukowski (and myriad others) were not so fucked up, would they have even produced the work they did? If all the fucked-up creative people suddenly "got better" - and as a result all the interesting (for lack of a better word) art stopped being made, would we be better off? Ack. This is the kind of thinking that drives me crazy and I do it all the time. My mother was a frustrated artist, my dad maybe a frustrated writer. I never ever got to talk to them about any of this.

Our demons have a strong hold on the steering wheel, whether we like it or not.

Okay. I almost burnt the rice while writing this. Hahaha.

Thanks again Nikki for posting this and your comment - it's making me think a lot.

Nikki Magennis said...

Hey Danielle,

'zufall' - what a great word, thank you!

I'm always a bit unsure about that idea of art and angst being so intertwined. Sometimes I think art is only made despite darkness, rather than because of it. There is that persistent, Romantic myth of the tortured artist - I really don't know how true it is.

Then again, one could write a long list of all the great writers and artists that have been, as you say, broken.

Is it just that they're more honest? I suppose that everyone has their dark and light, and maybe those artists are just more aware of both, and willing to show it.

Nikki Magennis said...

Hi Janine,

Mm. Yes, that's a nice idea, the work being bigger than the person who makes it. Of course there has to be space for the audience to interpret the work, doesn't there? In some ways I suppose the work happens between both.

As for redemption - that's not quite what I meant, I don't think. I didn't mean that Bukowski makes up for his failings by writing well - more that his writing enables me to get some understanding of him as a human being, nuanced and contradictory and difficult, as most of us are. I meant that I really find work very valuable when it moves me beyond moral judgement, when it widens the circle, so to speak.

As for judgemental - hehe! I just never can make up my mind ...

Nikki Magennis said...

Hi Robin,

Hope the rice was saved!

I expect it's just one of those questions that is not possible to answer. It seems that some art/work tends to be spurred on by - would you call it 'damage'?, but sometimes the fuel combusts and explodes rather than actually fuelling anything.

I think that art might be a poor substitute for life. By which I mean - art won't necessarily save anyone or redeem them or whatever.

Yet again, I (mis)remember this quote, by (I think) Ian McKeever -

"When you start work, everyone you know is there in the studio with you.
As you continue to work, one by one, very slowly, they all leave.
At last, if you work very hard and are very lucky, you leave too."

Heh, maybe we all think about these things too much and too hard!

neve black said...

Thought provoking, Nikki.

I didn't coin this phrase, so I can't take the credit, "There are an awful lot of talented assholes in the world...."

I'm not Bukowski fan, but I surely recognize the brilliance of his work.

Nikki Magennis said...

Hey Neve,

Talent is an interesting word, though. Personally, I don't believe there is such a thing. I think there is skill, which is different, but not an innate ability. I suppose the key here is whether the assholeness and the ability are two sides of the same coin?

Shanna Germain said...

This was a wonderful discussion, and I have to admit that I didn't comment right away because the video just made me feel so sick, watching it. Of course, in part because of what he does. But also in part because the reality is that everyone has this inside them, don't they, when they're full of fear or anger or denial. I don't believe anyone's purely good -- I think we can spend a lot of time hiding the dark in us and meeting our culture's expectations by behaving as though we're made of sweetness and light (that's a skill in itself), but I don't buy it. To me, it's like the sliding scale of sexuality. We're all over the board, and depending on the circumstances, we can react in a variety of ways.

Which isn't to say it's okay. To me, the more (or equally) interesting thing to ponder is the hidden us versus the exposed us. What if no one ever caught this on tape? Does it change his brilliance just because we don't know that he did these things? Or does it just change our perception of his brilliance?

In today's world of capturing everything -- on tape, on video, on cameras -- more and more people are exposing their private/dark selves. Does this change who they are? No. It just changes who we think they are.

I wonder if Bukowski felt bad after. Either for what he did, or for knowing that it was captured on the camera. Or did he not care? Did he believe that he was who he was and the world should see him -- hate him or love him -- for that?

In discussions about his work, it seems like everyone says, "He was a misogynistic pig, but he was so talented." Perhaps it is our demons that push us to work and work, to make brilliant creations. Or perhaps he was just an asshole with an amazing ability.

It reminds me of the wonderful movie, "Amadeus," which is so much about what body and mind carries talent. As Salieri says at one point (talking to God, about Mozart): From now on we are enemies, You and I. Because You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation."

Nikki Magennis said...

Hi S,

The thing is, when I've read Bukowski's work it's openly acknowledged this side of himself, so it's not that he's not aware of it.
Reading it, though, when its written with such acute sensitivity, I had somehow thought he was exaggerating his attitude to women. Seeing this clip made me realise - god, he wasn't making it up.
I seem also to get from his work this absence of judgement - of himself and his own behaviour, sure, but also of others and their darknesses. Perhaps that's a suspension of judgement.
And I love your comments about darkness and light. It's something I'm thinking about a lot lately.

Danielle said...

hm..the more i watch the video the more sad he seems to me..first all i saw was the anger and hat..but..isnt that sadness in his face after he kicked her..isnt that angst and fear in his eyes ...he knows he is weak...doesnet he?

Nikki Magennis said...

I think it's a mixture, Danielle. I found a longer clip here, and yes, while I can see that part of him is responding rationally as a hurt man, there are moments when he flips, and I recognise that horrible switch from human to inhuman.
The thing is, everyone can be ugly or have ugly moments, but perhaps there is a part of alcoholism that just isn't our natural darkness, but more twisted than that.
I also think it's interesting that at the start of this other clip he's talking about how kind hearted he is, and how he thinks women take advantage of him.

Danielle said...

i think thats the most scary moment you can have yourself..when you overreakt..when you flip..when the darkness takes over and you get aware that you slipped from a human beeing into the role of the inhuman cruel beeing...

Shanna Germain said...

Bukowski Writing Contest:


Nikki Magennis said...

S, thanks for that link. Actually, a fascinating insight into CB and his life.