Friday, August 26, 2011

Charles Bukowski and the American Dream

My favorite poem by Charles Bukowski is called, “stew,” (from Burning in Water Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems1955-1973 [1997], Black Sparrow Press). It’s a poem that begins with a lunch time meal, goes into describing mundane routines for the day, and then ends with—what I believe—are some of the four greatest lines ever put into a poem: “after we eat/ let's sleep, let's sleep./ we can't make any money/ awake.”

Not sure how other people would interpret this, but to me it reads as an indictment of American capitalism—of the so-called, “American Dream,” in particular. When I read these four short lines, (only 13 words), what I really hear is: “You know why they call it, ‘the American Dream,’ right? It’s because you have to be asleep to believe it.” (I think George Carlin said that).

The poet’s conclusion doesn’t come out of nowhere. As a matter of fact, earlier in the poem, he says, “poverty is a small game you play/ with your time.” This gives the poem a kind of class-character, which is needed because Bukowski was never known as a political poet. But anyone who puts any thought into this piece can come to a similar conclusion of what the poet must have thought of what kind of future this type of society holds for average working-class people. Of course, none of this makes up for the large amount of misogyny that is found throughout Bukowski’s work--nothing can, really. But, still, those last stanzas are worth repeating and pondering over. (Sorry I can’t post the entire poem, but I might get sued).

Paris can wait.
more salt?

after we eat
let's sleep, let's sleep

we can't make any money

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