Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Bukowski is no stranger to the seamier side of life, in Los Angeles and elsewhere. He has been the familiar of junkies and drunks as well as of many artists of his and later generations. He has said that at one point in his life, he quit writing and stayed drunk for ten years, and it was after that long binge that he started writing poetry. Alcohol is a recurrent motif in his poetry. The poet John Ciardi, while poetry editor of The New Yorker, commented that he could detect the ingestion of “a sip of sherry” in any poem. The tone of the fourth part of “The Twins” is just maudlin enough to be motivated, at least in part, by alcohol. Remember that Bukowski advised his father to “learn to paint and drink,” and in another poem, “Counsel,” he claims that drink maintains continuance because “drink is a form of suicide/ wherein the partaker returns to a new chance/ at life.”

No condemnation is intended here, for in every age people look to visionaries and madmen to correct their own vision. One only need point to John Lennon, Timothy Leary, and William Burroughs as examples of men who have taken drugs to cut through the trappings of the routine, anxiety, or pain of modern life. One can be grateful to those who do so and pass on their experiences as poetry or other forms of expression: It shows everyone else how to survive or how to save themselves from the direct experience.

Bukowski readers may never know which came...

(The entire section is 462 words.)