Charles Bukowski. Poet, dirty old man, and probably my one and true Patron Saint of Male Honesty.
It kind of drives me crazy when knee-jerk, conveniently feminist, selectively scandalized women publicly decry him as being a misogynist. The reality is that he loved women -- all differently messy, ugly, honest, raw, plastic and whorish -- and his writing should serve to inspire hope and confidence in any female of clear intelligence.
What I think a lot of women struggle with is looking for hidden meaning. It's obvious that the male and female brains work differently, and I think we can all agree as well that women are far more over-thinking and obsessive than men. I've always envied that men can be so straightforward. Even in their cowardice and insecurity, they are usually still rather demonstrative regarding their true feelings. It's women who never want to see it. Never want to believe that actions speak louder than words.
Bukowski, as mythic and poet, encapsulates true male mindfulness. He was disgusting and crude and viciously indifferent at times, but it was straightforward and always honest. I appreciate the pulling no punches and I exalt in it. For me, that kind of honesty is a rare gift. Being that confident -- confident enough to tell someone to their face that you think they're ugly but that you'll still fuck them -- must feel so freeing. Every day, feeling like you will be 100% yourself and people with either like it or not. Unsurprisingly, people loved Bukowski, the man -- women in particular -- and I would wager that the main reason why is that he didn't bullshit them.
For my own part, I'm doing a lot of work lately to not bullshit others, or myself. I'm trying to be more deliberate, say more what's on my mind, and walk that fine line between not being outright hurtful, but not hide behind double-speak either. So far, just the increase in awareness, the paying attention to the tone I'm using and the communication goal I'm trying to reach, has been cathartic enough.
My favorite Bukowski line of all time follows. There is so much meaning here; so much about the poison of unspoken desires, unsatisfied power, and unquenched rage.
"I think that when a woman has kept her legs closed / for 35 years / it's too late / either for love / or for / poetry."
Charles Bukowski. Poet, dirty old man, and probably my one and true Patron Saint of Male Honesty.
Late in August, Silvia and I finally visited The Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California. We'd only been talking about it for the last couple of years since I moved to San Francisco. Eventually, we always get where we want to go.
Miller. Most people read him first -- Tropic Of Cancer, most likely -- and then gateway into Nin. I went the opposite direction.
I found her first when a teacher insisted to me that Emily Dickinson was one of the best erotic poets of all time. Really, I thought? First, I have to endure Salinger saying she's the best war poet (in Catcher), and then a creative writing teacher tries to tell me she is erotic, too?
Don't get me wrong. I love Emily. I do. That mysterious, prolific woman. Legendary.
But "erotic," she is not. I count only one poem of her's that I find mildly sexual, and it's clearly about losing virginity, buds blooming, nature being nature, etc. It's vanilla and romantic. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) It's safe. It's sweet.
So I disagreed with that teacher. At that point -- teenage romantic that I was -- I considered Elizabeth Barrett Browning to be the most "erotic." I had learned the etymology of "Eros" and could only imagine it as courtley and beautiful. Browning, therefore, was whom I considered the ideal embodiment.
But I wanted another example, and when I asked a librarian at UCSD, she brought me a pile of Anais Nin books.
Nin wrote erotic. Erotic in every meaning. Every journal entry oozed with it, whether she meant it to or not. And no wonder, as she was writing short stories for that unknown benefactor that later ended up in Delta of Venus and Little Birds.
And for her, eroticism and sensuality surpassed what our generation's mainstream sexual preferences would categorize under "hot." She was of the "tell, don't show" mindset, but in the most evocative and visceral way possible.
One of my favorite quotes of her's comes in the form of an outraged letter she wrote to her writing benefactor.
We hate you. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships which change its color, flavor, rhythms, intensities.
You do no know what you are missing by your microscopic examination of sexual activity to the exclusion of others, which are the fuel that ignites it. Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood.
If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent man in the world. The source of sexual power is curiosity, passion. You are watching its little flame die of asphyxiation. Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feeling, inventions, moods, no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all of the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine.
How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of discrete and never-repeated wonders? Not two hairs alike, but you will not let us waste words on a description of hair; not two odors, but if we expand on this, you cry "Cut the poetry." Not two skins with the same texture, and never the same light, temperature, shadows, never the same gesture; for a lover, when he is aroused by true love, can run the gamut of centuries of love lore, What a range, what changes of age, what variations of maturity and innocence, perversity and art, natural and graceful animals.
We have sat around for hours and wondered how you look. If you have closed your senses around silk, light, color, odor, character, temperament, you must by now be completely shriveled up. There are so many minor senses, all running like tributaries into the mainstream of sex, nourishing it. Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.
(P.S. Why haven't I ever started a letter with the line, "We hate you.")
I love cataloging my journey of discovery from one writer to the next, so I am finally going to get to my original reason for writing this post. My newest delight.
At the Miller Library, I found a new book by an old (friend) author, whom I never considered to be particularly erotic before. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention enough, or only reading and re-reading my favorites of his that leaned more towards the wistful and absurd than the sexy.
But man, seeing them all together in this collection, and gorging myself on this book in one sitting, I exclaimed, "Holy crap, Cummings is a beast!"
may i move said he
is it love said she
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she
Why is it so amazing always to peel back people's words and find new meanings? Countless meanings and layers all at once? Why does this happen so infrequently in real life, as we (I) race to try to find out everything I can as quickly as possible. Racing to explain and over-explain everything as quickly as possible so that I can control the messages.
There's a lot in my head about this. I'm thinking not just about having discovered the erotic side of Cummings, but also of the how. The curation of this collection of his. Would I have gotten there myself by one day re-reading one of my many Cummings poetry books and noticing an erotic theme, or did it have to be curated and packaged and featured prominantly in a significant place for me like this?
What does that say about the other familiar things in my life? Truths about people? Opinions that I haven't altered for years?
Maybe all of the writers I know -- or even people I know -- could have a collection of "erotic" words, if someone combed through carefully enough. Maybe I could, too.
We are the sum of many parts and layers. And we are fluid. And it should be enough sometimes to tell people, and hope they care enough to listen, believe and understand, rather than having to show them everything all at once. Share everything all at once.
Maybe when we do that, we really are "shrinking your world of sensations. ...withering it, starving it, draining its blood."
Oof. Thank you, Lynn Crosbie.
I needed this, today.
all my seasick sailors
Sly and second-sighted, my friends have abandoned ship. Rats,
escaping in small grey
lifeboats, their annular tails turn the tide, their lambent eyes, like the
moon, dictate its flow.
The violinist plays Autumn as the masts unfold, water lilies in the
pitch of the sea.
A message in semaphore, what I have always longed to know — to stand
by the stern, and
with courage, let go. Nostalgia’s poison
love spreads out like a sheaf of photographs, memory without blood,
a fluked anchor,
undone. The line that breaks when the storm comes, the truth that
red skies without delight,
a bad sign. To navigate you must know where you are going, with an
pin-stuck with ellipses. Accidents, typhoon, the fibrous stakes of sea
monsters, the diamond ice caps,
miracles that have changed course, carved passages into the new
worlds, where sailors
arise. In white militia,
letters come like gulls flat on the crest of waves, infatuation coursing,
like a science of chaos,
they appear in envelopes of ice, intermittent ghosts — to remind me
that love is spectral,
The rapids were turbulent toward the Asian corridor, sailing into
Lachine. It is China, after all.
Rare and fragile, esteemed from a great distance,
protected in shelf-ice.
I touch this china from rim to stem, and feel its raised flowers,
brought to me from the ocean’s
floor. In spite of the danger, the mariners have garlanded the stingray
—as the lashings narrowed,
they retrieved me from the wreck.