Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame


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Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame is poetry full of gambling, drinking and women. Charles Bukowski writes realistically about the seedy underbelly of life.

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Oct 2, 2018

Early Work From The Poet Of Skid Row

From 1944 -- 1955, Charles Bukowski (1920 -- 1994) lived the life of a wastrel, wandering from city to city, holding menial jobs, while spending most of his time drinking or fighting. Bukowski began writing poetry in earnest in about 1955, as he continued his life of drink, horseplaying, and sex, while gradually finding a voice for himself as a writer. In a poem called "we the artists", included in "Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame", Bukowski recalls these early years: "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 pround of me/but they never come back/again."

"Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame" (1974) is in part a compilation of several earlier Bukowski collections published as chapbooks in the years before Bukowski formed his relationship with John Martin and Black Sparrow Press. The poetry is unrhymed, in short free verse lines. It is largely but not entirely autobiographical as Bukowski explores his themes of death and suicide, drinking, womanizing, gambling, and finding meaning and redemption in life through art and poetry. Bukowski's early work tends to be more metaphorical and abstract than his later poetry.

The first part of the book, "It Captures my Heart in Its Hands" includes selections from a chapbook of that name published in 1963 with poetry written between 1955 and 1963. In addition to poems detailing Bukowski's experiences with women and the track, such as "to the whore who took my poems" and "a 340 dollar horse and a hundred dollar whore", it includes several poems about other people, including "for marilyn m." and "the life of borodin" as well as a meditative poem, "the singular self."

"Crucifix in a Deathhand" the second section of the book, likewise draws upon an early chapbook which included poems written between 1963 and 1965. In addition to the title poem, some of the writing in this collection shows Bukowski's compassion for the working poor, including the poem "the workers". The poem "a nice day" shows Bukowski trying to give meaning to the mundane, and the awful, events of daily life.

The third chapter of early poetry, "At Terror Street and Agony Way", (1065 -- 1968)includes, in addition to autobiographical poems, poems graphically describing the lives of outcasts and losers, including, "true story", "x-pug", and "he even looked like a nice guy".

The final collection in the book, "Burning in Water Drowning in Flame" Dates from 1972-1973. Bukowski, already attaining some recognition, had received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to write these poems. The poems "charles" and "my friend andre" are among those in which Bukowski offers portraits of other people. Some of the poems in this collection I enjoyed include "the sound of human lives" in which Bukowski observes " I don't know why people think effort and energy/have anything to do with/creation", "burned", which tells a story of rejection in a way unique to Bukowski, the philosophical "pull a string, a puppet moves" and "dreamlessly" which laments the lovelessness common to many people.

This is an excellent collection for those wishing to explore the early poetry of Charles Bukowski.

Robin Friedman

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