The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993

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9780061228438: The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993

To his legions of fans, Charles Bukowski was—and remains—the quintessential counterculture icon. A hard-drinking wild man of literature and a stubborn outsider to the poetry world, he wrote unflinchingly about booze, work, and women, in raw, street-tough poems whose truth has struck a chord with generations of readers.

Edited by John Martin, the legendary publisher of Black Sparrow Press and a close friend of Bukowski's, The Pleasures of the Damned is a selection of the best works from Bukowski's long poetic career, including the last of his never-before-collected poems. Celebrating the full range of the poet's extraordinary and surprising sensibility, and his uncompromising linguistic brilliance, these poems cover a rich lifetime of experiences and speak to Bukowski's “immense intelligence, the caring heart that saw through the sham of our pretenses and had pity on our human condition” (New York Quarterly). The Pleasures of the Damned is an astonishing poetic treasure trove, essential reading for both longtime fans and those just discovering this unique and legendary American voice.

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About the Author:

Charles Bukowski is one of America’s best-known contemporary writers of poetry and prose and, many would claim, its most influential and imitated poet. He was born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany, to an American soldier father and a German mother, and brought to the United States at the age of two. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for over fifty years. He died in San Pedro, California, on March 9, 1994, at the age of seventy-three, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.

From The Washington Post:

Reviewed by Bill Press

Even though he was preoccupied with his own death, Charles Bukowski worried about one thing even more: "of course, I may die in the next ten minutes/ and I'm ready for that/ but what I'm really worried about is/ that my editor-publisher might retire/ even though he is ten years younger than/ I."

Bukowski needn't have worried. John Martin not only outlived him, he's still at it: hunting down uncollected poems, editing Bukowski, and turning out yet new volumes of one of America's most-published poets. After convincing Bukowski to quit the post office and write for a living, Martin and his Black Sparrow Press became the poet's sole publisher. Since closing Black Sparrow in 2002, Martin has produced for Ecco five collections of poems that Bukowski set aside to be published posthumously. For this sixth and last volume, he reviewed all 2,618 poems in the 21 Bukowski books that Ecco now has in print and selected 273 of what he told me were "the best of the best of Bukowski," including 20 poems never before collected.

In a very real sense, then, The Pleasures of the Damned is as much about John Martin as it is about Charles Bukowski. It's an insightful walk through the work of a poet by the man who knew him best, and it reveals Bukowski in the many, often conflicting dimensions that make him such a popular, accessible, and, yes, great artist. Others might write for the high-brow, Bukowski writes for the crowd. Others see poetry in a flower or symphony, Bukowski sees poetry in whores standing on a street corner, a man mowing his lawn or boxcars sitting in a railroad yard. For him, as for Walt Whitman, poetry is everyday life: "a poem is a city, a poem is a nation,/ a poem is the world. . . ."

This extraordinary collection establishes Bukowski as much more than just another West Coast Beat poet. At last, maybe fans like me won't have to apologize for ranking him among the best.

There are many sides to Bukowski, and here they are all on full display. He's at once cynical about humankind, yet full of hope. His language can be uncomfortably crude, yet movingly lyrical. He shocks you on one page and moves you on the next. Nowhere is he more seemingly contradictory than in his complex relationships with women. Just when you think he sees women as nothing but a collection of body parts, he unveils an amazing tenderness. After his graphic description of showering with his wife, Linda, for example -- "I turn her, kiss her,/ soap up the breasts, get them and the belly, the neck,/ the fronts of the legs, the ankles, the feet,/ and then the . . . " -- he suddenly admits his fear of losing her: "Linda, you brought it to me/ when you take it away/ do it slowly and easily/ make it as if I were dying in my sleep instead of in/ my life, amen."

Indeed, the impression of Bukowski from this collection is that of a crude, hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-fighting curmudgeon who is, at the same time, a closet romantic. In "The Bluebird," perhaps the most beautiful and revealing of all his poems, Bukowski hints that his rough exterior, first mounted as a protective shield against an abusive father, is just a smokescreen to mask the vulnerable soul lurking inside: "there's a bluebird in my heart that/ wants to get out/ but I'm too tough for him."

What's surprising about The Pleasures of the Damned is that, while Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994, many poems in this collection read as though they were expressly written for today. He has great faith in democracy, but no patience with those who complain about the political process: "fellow citizens/ the problem never was the Democratic/ System, the problem is// you." He skewers politicians who preach one thing but practice just the opposite: "AND The Best at Hate Are Those/ Who Preach LOVE/ AND THE BEST AT WAR/ -- FINALLY -- ARE THOSE WHO/ PREACH/ PEACE." And he recognizes the futility of war after war: "but the young wised up first/ and now the old are getting wise,/ almost everybody's anti-war,/ no use having a war you can't win,/ right or wrong."

Bukowski had little faith in his contemporaries. The older generation he dismissed as "the raving, the battered, the blind and the sadly corrupt." It's in the young that he placed his hope, and it's for them he saved some of his most powerful advice: "invent yourself and then reinvent yourself/ change your tone and shape so often that they can/ never/ categorize you." In some fashion, we must all survive the test that sums up Bukowski's remarkable life: "what matters most is/ how well you/ walk through the/ fire."


Copyright 2008, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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