Thursday, May 30, 2013

Charles Bukowski influences: Poets

Despite Charles Bukowski’s very individual style, no writing appears from nowhere, and Bukowski drew inspiration from other wordsmiths, both previous and contemporary.

When determining influences, it can be difficult to distinguish sometimes between someone that the artist (in this case, Bukowski) admired, and someone who’s style or approach forms a direct influence, although often the effect can be a combination of both.  Also a writer can exert an influence over another in terms of spirit or approach, but not style.

The list below is composed mainly of the poets who Bukowski himself said that he admired, or drew inspiration from.  Some of them, such as Catullus, even featured in Bukowski poems.

(As with my previous post: Charles Bukowski influences: Writers and books: Fiction, the list is in no particular order and not intended to be exhaustive.) 

Robinson Jeffers 

The Californian loner was an early influence and indeed, someone who’s work inspired Bukowski to take up poetry (previously, he’d written only short stories).  Jeffers, a tough outdoorsman,  often employed an epic, narrative form and was on more than one occasion described by Bukowski as his favorite poet.

Ezra Pound 

Another early poetic influence, the American expatriate’s clarion call for a move away from early 20th Century modernism towards a clearer, more precise and economic use of language affected many writers, including another Bukowski hero, Ernest Hemingway.

Conrad Aiken 

Aiken had a childhood even more violent and unpredictable than Bukowski’s.  When he was 11 years old, his father murdered his wife and then killed himself.  His prize-winning written work often focused on psychological and philosophical themes.

E. E. Cummings 

Bukowski was never foolish enough to deliberately attempt to imitate Cummings, but he did say of him that: “In Cummings I liked the way he placed his words on the page. He had a painter's eye, a gambler's eye. Others try it, it doesn't work. There was a joy, and a rareness in the way he placed the word.”

Walt Whitman 

Sometimes called the father of free verse, Whitman is such a towering figure of U.S. poetry, it’s difficult to find an American writer who hasn’t been influenced by him in one way or another, and Charles Bukowski was no exception.  John Martin, Bukowski’s publisher, liked to call Bukowski: “the Walt Whitman of our day.”


The Beats? 

Although I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of those who categorize Bukowski as a beat writer, it’s difficult to deny that there was some effect of the movement on him, especially with regard to their open approach to taboo subject matter.  Bukowski certainly had an admiration for William Burroughs and the Kerouac friend and later, Merry Prankster, Neal Cassady, but he generally didn’t care much for the others, including Allen Ginsburg, famously bellowing at him one time: “Everybody knows that after Howl you never wrote anything worth a shit.”


At first glance, it might seem odd that a twentieth century Californian might be influenced by an Ancient Roman poet, but read some of the work of Catullus and you will soon understand.  Catullus’s Bohemian lifestyle, sense of humor, obscene insults, wild love life and direct language, all seem remarkably modern and very suited to Bukowski’s sensibilities.

Ernest Hemingway 

One would associate Hemingway more with short stories and novels, but his uncluttered prose style was without doubt a major influence on Bukowski’s poetry (as well as his fiction).  Bukowski’s mastery of expressing short but powerful narrative poetry also appears to draw, at least in part, from works such as the wonderful vignettes that featured in Hemingway’s early masterpiece: In Our Time.

Pablo Neruda

Described as "the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language," by the novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Chilean writer, Neruda was another major influence on Bukowski, mainly through demonstrating the creative possibilities that could be opened up by adopting a clear and direct style.