Having already written my 5 Best Charles Bukowski Poetry Books, I thought it might be fun to do something similar, but this time do it with individual poems. In some ways, it’s an intimidating task, Charles Bukowski was a prolific author who wrote hundreds and hundreds of poems. So picking my top 10 best Charles Bukowski poems was never going to be easy, even despite it also being a labor of love. It is also the case that while I would consider myself very well read when it comes to Charles Bukowski poems, I cannot claim to have read absolutely every poem that he ever wrote. That said, my knowledge is extensive enough for me to feel confident about offering my opinion.
My choices are also, I admit, by their very nature, subjective, depending on things such as my mood and what I’ve been reading recently, as well as my general personal tastes regarding poetry. I have also tried to pick poems that come from different stages of Charles Bukowski’s life. It is not unreasonable to split his work into two phases. The earlier work is rawer and less polished, but has a definite energy in it that is difficult for the reader not to be effected by. His later work, from the mid seventies onwards, is smoother and more readable, but sometimes (though certainly not always) lacks the edge of his early work. Looking as the list, I notice that I have also picked a large number of poems from his book, The Last Night of the Earth Poems, which is my favorite collection of his.
Anyway, in no particular order, here are my top ten best Charles Bukowski poems. Feel free to offer your own opinions.
The soldier, his wife and the bum
The soldier, his wife and the bum
Dark but wonderful narrative poem which takes on even more power when you appreciate that Charles Bukowski was a draft dodger. My favorite lines: war has its price and peace never lasts and/ millions of young men everywhere would die/ and as I listened to classical music I heard them making love, desperately and/ mournfully, through Shostakovich, Brahms,/ Mozart, through crescendo and climax, /and through the shared/ wall of our darkness.
Another deeply moving piece from The Last Night of the Earth Poems. My favorite lines: there's a bluebird in my heart that/ wants to get out/ but I'm too tough for him,/ I say,/ stay down, do you want to mess/ me up?/ you want to screw up the/ works?/ you want to blow my book sales in/ Europe?
There is a "Youtube video of “Dinosaura, we” which is worth checking out, if you want to hear and see Charles Bukowski. This film except is taken from the Bukowski documentary “Born into this” and is one of my favorite Bukowski clips.
The best way to get famous is to run away
Part of Bukowski’s “Don’t Try” philosophy was to just be yourself and if you were any good, people would seek you out. Well it worked for him! This poem is a humorous and surreal take on him going from a nobody to being famous.
The sex fiends
An example of Charles Bukowski at his most witty and entertaining. Amazon have got Charles Bukowski reading The sex fiends available as an individual mp3, I noticed. Bukowski developed a drunken and misanthropic persona for the readings which reminds me of W C Fields, comic and entertaining.
The Laughing heart
I love the youtube video of Tom Waits reading this poem. I never appreciated that Tom Waits was a fan of Charles Bukowski, although it makes sense, until I saw the “Born into this” documentary.
The man with the beautiful eyes
An evocative poem written about a childhood experience. There is a great animation of this poem onYoutube.
To the whore who took my poems
Charles Bukowski's paean to the Roman poet, Catullus, who was a big influence on Bukowski's work.
Air And Light And Time And Space
A great poem about the writing process and how some people find excuses for why they can’t write. Charles Bukowski sees the urge to write as a natural force which if it's there cannot be thwarted by the other distractions of life
Roll the dice
Another poem about the writing process and the writer’s life, where Bukowski basically says don’t bother unless you’re prepared to give it your all. (His "Don't Try" philosophy was more about being natural, rather than a praise of any sort of lazy attitude to creativity).