Charles Bukowski is a bad poet. I learned this in grad school.
Grad school was great for a lot of reasons. Not because it gave me the time to write as much as it gave me the time to figure out what I was doing with my life. Which of course was to return to whence I came, the only place I belong, San Francisco.
But I learned some neat stuff along the way. Not exactly "practical." But stuff like "verisimilitude" and "bildungsroman" and "antepenultimate" are terrific to drop into conversations, and I do like saying I have an advanced college degree, even if it is just an MFA, which they pretty much hand out at airports these days.
Of course, you learn a lot of useless shit, too.
There is a canon of "good" poets, and you know they are good because you are told they are good, and you read their poetry, where their deft skills are displayed by their succinct turns of phrase, which in turn highlight their deft skills. I am not going to dig out old notebooks. Mostly because I threw them away. But if I had them, I think the names that would pop out would be Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke. There are a lot more, I know. And I'd sit in these workshops and nod and grin when we'd read these poets' works, and I'd drop in my ten-cent words praising these poets, because I wasn't going to take on an entire class of sheep, and I do like to be liked. But I'd like to go on record as saying just how much I hated these writers. I seriously cannot remember a goddamn poem from any of them. Good, bad, or otherwise.
I am not disputing the skills of these writers. Like I said, I learned a great deal in grad school, and professors dissected various works skillfully enough to show me why, say, Plath is "good" and guys like Bukowski "bad." And they won. In that regard. But I'd still rather have a chopstick jabbed in my eye than have to suffer through a course on Frost or Bishop, and when I need a book of poetry to read when I am on the can, it's going to be Bukowski. (Admittedly, it's the only book of poetry I've ever bought [that wasn't for a class]).)
Once when I began complaining about my dislike for these writers we covered, a fellow classmate said, "Well, of course, Joe, it's not in your milieu." (And, yes, this is how we talked on smoke break.)
He was, of course, right. I can't appreciate a writer who doesn't speak to my world. I don't know what Bishop, et al are even writing about, and I don't give a shit. Bats? Mountains? Cherry fucking pie and sandstorms? Beats fuck all out of me. But Bukowski? That world I know, no matter how high above it I am these days. I will always be there. The drunks and the dreamers, the bums and the bad breaks, the crippled and the wounded and the hearts on their sleeves hustlers who just can't fit in or get it right no matter how hard they try.
Bukowski is a bad poet. Or at best, an imperfect, woefully inaccurate one who is capable of flinching bad lines that echo the worst of 16-year-old angst scratched in notebooks. But everyone once in a while he'll stumble across that perfect line. And I will take all his missteps and embarrassments for that one brief shining moment.
(And fuck Sylvia Plath. If you want the definition of pretentious, You Tube Sylvia Plath reading "Daddy." What a jerk. No wonder Ted screwed around on her.)