Bukowski – The Unlikely Hero

Discovering Charles Bukowski’s writing was a bit like discovering Pink Floyd. In both cases I didn’t know a great deal about the creative artist in question. But there was something that drew me to them. Some unseen force which made me pick up their product from the shelves and buy it. With Pink Floyd it was back in 2002 or so. Bukowski was more recent.

It was in Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books in Johannesburg. I remember it being December 2016, just before Christmas. It was the first book of poetry I ever bought. “Pleasures of the Damned” – a collection of his poems over a few decades. Ever since that moment I was hooked.

It’s worth pointing out that Bukowski is the archetypical example of a writer who is ‘not for everyone’. Not by a long way. Bukowski himself was an unattractive, crude, womanising alcoholic who spent most of his life in poverty, living one drunken bout to the rest, drifting in and out of endless dead end jobs. I think he was even homeless for a while.

His writing was as crude as his life. Brash, unapologetic, real. Despite everything about Bukowski, no other writer has ever given me the sense that the author knew exactly how I felt. At the worst times in my life, it was usually Bukowski that dragged me out. Not through some inspirational pieces or uplifting passages. You never found those in a Bukowski. Oddly, it was the opposite. He wrote about the downtrodden, the misfits, the outsiders. He wrote about life, death and absurdity of it all. He wrote with heart. With soul. He got it. He looked the shittest parts of life in the eyes and never flinched.

His writing sort of made me feel like Hey, its ok. I’m ok. Someone gets it. Someone gets me.  There’s a strange comfort in reading something and knowing that someone else just understood. They just understood. Even though it was written decades ago by a man now long dead.

I tend to think we all need a writer or two like this. The ones who speak to our darkest parts, the ones who recognise us humans as the imperfect creatures we are. The ones we feel oddly connected to. 

I sometimes think, in some ways, Bukowski saved my life.

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