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, William, it all depends upon what or which finds us first, we are always ripe and ready to be taken. ruined lives are normal both for the wise



it is only when

that life


becomes ours

we realize


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




and nothing


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

beautiful eyes,

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

human race.

there is always the dead dog on

the freeway.

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

...... [quoted]

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.