What would some good questions of inquiry be for "the schoolyard of forever" by Charles Bukowski?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Charles Bukowski's poem "the schoolyard of forever" is interesting to study and analyze, and there are several elements which would provide excellent points of inquiry.

The plot of the poem is relatively uncomplicated, and the entire poem is a kind of metaphor for life (thus the word "forever" in the title). The speaker of the poem, along with others like him, is bullied by 

the bullies, the dragons, the freaks,

Eventually, however, the bullies grow and mature, and then, when they get to college, they become the bullies. Once they are out of school, however, the speaker of the poem and those like him again find themselves 

trapped against the steel fence

while everyone passes by but fails to notice. That is the essential story line.

Some ideas to pursue might include the following:

  • How is this poem autobiographical? Bukowski was a Beat Poet of the 1960s, and has been forthcoming about the troubles in his life. He lived through a lot of abuse and some significant family troubles; in addition, he talks freely about being bullied when he was in school. Not every speaker of every poem is representative of the poets who wrote them, but in this case it is pretty evident that the speaker is reflecting Bukowski's experiences, at least in part. So, how autobiographical is this poem and what impact does the answer to that question have on the work?
  • Are the "bullying" and "schoolyard" metaphors effective comparisons to real life for most people?
  • The implication in the poem is that we are all either being bullied or doing the bullying in life; do you think that is a truth for the average person?
  • After examining the poetic elements of the poem, decide if they are used effectively.
  • Consider the form of the poem. How does the form of the poem add to or detract from the meaning of the poem?
  • In terms of meaning, what commentary is Bukowski making about the educational system in this poem? Note that he mentions elementary (grammar) school, junior high school, high school and even college in this piece. That covers the entire spectrum of the American educational system. He seems particularly disdainful of college professors, as in the following lines:

there were new bullies
the professors
who had to be taught something beyond Kant
we glowed madly
it was grand and easy

  • Do you suppose Herbie Ashcroft is a real person, or is he some kind of composite or representative of all the bullies in life? Why do you think Bukowski used general terms such as "they" and "bullies" throughout the poem and yet kind of calls out Herbie Ashcroft not once but twice?
  • What are some of the "fences" we are all pushed up against at times, and who or what are some of the forces (bullies) that push us up against them?
  • Examine the poetic (metaphorical) language Bukowski uses to describe the transformations from bullied to being a bully and back again: deflating, growing like plants, melting. What other metaphors might work to describe this phenomenon?
  • Finally, in the first line of the poem, Bukowski metaphorically refers to life as a "horror show." Do you suppose this is a simple commentary about his own life, or do you think he was applying this image to life in general? Either way, make the case that life is or is not a horror show.

This is not a difficult poem to grasp, though it is rich with imagery and symbolism. These questions should help generate a discussion about both the poet and the poem. 

Below I have attached an excellent and interesting eNotes biography site on Bukowski if you need it. 

Sources:

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