Bukowski and Saroyan: poems
09 May 2019
Charles Bukowski, the most famous underground writer in American history, was a fan of Saroyan's early works and mentions him in his several poems and writings.
"I think some writers do suffer this fate mainly because at heart they are rebellious and the rules of grammar like many of the other rules of our world call for a herding in and a confirmation that the natural writer instinctively abhors, and, furthermore, his interest lies in the wider scope of subject and spirit… Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, Saroyan were a few that reshaped the rules, especially in punctuation and sentence flow and breakdown. And, of course, James Joyce went even further. We are interested in color, shape, meaning, force… the pigments that point up the soul."
Here are some of Bukowski's poems where he mentions Saroyan.
William Saroyan said, “I ruined my life by marrying the same woman twice.”
there will always be something
to ruin our lives,
it all depends upon
what or which
we are always
ripe and ready
ruined lives are
both for the wise
it is only when
that the suicides, the
drunkards, the mad, the
jailed, the dopers
and etc. etc.
are just as common
a part of existence
as the gladiola, the
on the kitchen
from Septuagenarian Stew (Black Sparrow Press).
What Can You Do?
there is always somebody to chop the wood
for you, to speak of the ways of God,
there is always somebody to kill the meat,
to unplug the toilet,
there is always somebody to bury you,
there are always the animals with the
and there are always the gossips,
like Stanley leaning toward me
and saying in a soft voice,
“do you know that at the end of
his career Saroyan had other
people writing his stuff and that he
gave them twenty-five
this was supposed to make me
feel good because I was a starving
writer and the rejects were arriving
in endless numbers.
it didn’t make me feel
there is always somebody to make
you feel worse about the
there is always the dead dog on
there is always a fog full of
there is always Christ drunk in
the tavern with dirty
—from Rattle #7, Winter 1999
we, the artists—
in San Francisco the landlady, 80, helped me drag the green
Victrola up the stairway and I played Beethoven’s 5th
until they beat on the walls.
there was a large bucket in the center of the room
filled with beer and winebottles;
so, it might have been the d.t.’s, one afternoon
I heard a sound something like a bell
only the bell was humming instead of ringing,
and then a golden light appeared in the corner of the room
up near the ceiling
and through the sound and light
shone the face of a woman, worn but beautiful,
and she looked down at me
and then a man’s face appeared by hers,
the light became stronger and the man said:
we, the artists, are proud of you!
then the woman said: the poor boy is frightened,
and I was, and then it went away.
I got up, dressed, and went to the bar
wondering who the artists were and why they should be
proud of me. there were some live ones in the bar
and I got some free drinks, set my pants on fire with the
ashes from my corncob pipe, broke a glass deliberately,
was not rousted, met a man who claimed he was William
Saroyan, and we drank until a woman came in and
pulled him out by the ear and I thought, no, that can’t be
William, and another guy came in and said: man, you talk
tough, well, listen, I just got out for assault and
battery, so don’t mess with me! we went outside the
bar, he was a good boy, he knew how to duke, and it went
along fairly even, then they stopped it and we went
back in and drank another couple of hours. I walked
back up to my place, put on Beethoven’s 5th and
when they beat on the walls I beat
I keep thinking of myself young, then, the way I was,
and I can hardly believe it but I don’t mind it.
I hope the artists are still proud of me
but they never came back
an old fan
he used to write me from jail
and I’d write him back. he said that of all the writers he
had written only Saroyan and I had written him back. he
purchased my books and passed my newspaper columns around.
that jail like anyplace else was full of writers and critics
and like the rest of them some of them hated me. Harry the
Moose defended me. he told them that even though I couldn’t
write a decent sentence I had done some time.
Harry came to see me when he got out, he came with another
x-con who had gotten out a bit earlier. I was then living
at my girlfriend’s place and they stood in front of the fire-
place looking at my girlfriend and running their zippers up
and down. I had never asked what they had gone in for but
that gave me the idea. they didn’t stay long, they had their
old ladies with them and their old ladies wanted to see
Disneyland. they had jobs as carpenters and made more in 3
days than I made in a month. we shook hands and said goodbye.
I got a letter last week. Harry the Moose was back in. he
said it was a parole violation. I believed him. when I was
in a con told me: “nobody’s guilty in here.”
Harry wants to know where he can get my latest book. he’s
typing 12 hours a day in that cell. that’s one thing about
lock-up: you don’t get many interruptions. I suppose
Saroyan will answer him again and I will too. I’d rather
have readers and friends in there than in Paris or heaven,
now what in the hell did I do with his letter?
The captain is out to lunch and the sailors have taken over the ship
Slow at the track today, my damned life dangling on the hook. I am
there every day. I don't see anybody else out there every day except the
employees. I probably have some malady. Saroyan lost his ass at the track,
Fante at poker, Dostoevsky at the weel. And it's really not a matter of the
money unless you run out of it. I had a gambler friend once who said, "I
don't care if I win or lose, I just want to gamble." I have more respect for
the money. I've had very little of it most of my life. I know what a park
bench is, and the landlord's knock. There are only two things wrong with
money: too much or too little.