We’ve all been hearing comments about how poetry is irrelevant for so long that it’s basically boring. Newsweek announced “Poetry is Dead” in 2003, and now it’s just a hip opinion that people regurgitate. When Natasha Trethewey was named Poet Laureate in June, NY Daily News even wrote a piece asking if we still even need a Poet Laureate.
It’s a valid question—how many of us have bought poetry books on our iPads?—but the idea that the whole art form could die like basket weaving doesn’t work, especially because it’s the basis of most popular music, and popular music taste is still kind of the yardstick for all pop culture. With artists like Craig Finn, Mos Def and Jeff Mangum, it’s hard to buy that poetry is dead—more likely it’s just dressing up in songs until it can show its face again without being scoffed at.
And even if it’s true that poetry is dead (or in a coma, or whatever), some poets like Charles Bukowski, the “laureate of American lowlife” according to TIME, will never die—their contributions to American lit have been too substantial to just slip though the cracks because cool people don’t like it. Today being Bukowski’s birthday (he would be 92 had he not died in 1994), here’s a famous poem by the dead genius. You can read it—it’s not gonna kill you.
An Almost Made Up Poem:
I see you drinking at a fountain with tiny
blue hands, no, your hands are not tiny
they are small, and the fountain is in France
where you wrote me that last letter and
I answered and never heard from you again.
you used to write insane poems about
ANGELS AND GOD, all in upper case, and you
knew famous artists and most of them
were your lovers, and I wrote back, it’ all right,
go ahead, enter their lives, I’ not jealous
because we’ never met. we got close once in
New Orleans, one half block, but never met, never
touched. so you went with the famous and wrote
about the famous, and, of course, what you found out
is that the famous are worried about
their fame –– not the beautiful young girl in bed
with them, who gives them that, and then awakens
in the morning to write upper case poems about
ANGELS AND GOD. we know God is dead, they’ told
us, but listening to you I wasn’ sure. maybe
it was the upper case. you were one of the
best female poets and I told the publishers,
editors, “ her, print her, she’ mad but she’
magic. there’ no lie in her fire.” I loved you
like a man loves a woman he never touches, only
writes to, keeps little photographs of. I would have
loved you more if I had sat in a small room rolling a
cigarette and listened to you piss in the bathroom,
but that didn’ happen. your letters got sadder.
your lovers betrayed you. kid, I wrote back, all
lovers betray. it didn’ help. you said
you had a crying bench and it was by a bridge and
the bridge was over a river and you sat on the crying
bench every night and wept for the lovers who had
hurt and forgotten you. I wrote back but never
heard again. a friend wrote me of your suicide
3 or 4 months after it happened. if I had met you
I would probably have been unfair to you or you
to me. it was best like this.