Title: What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire
Author: Charles Bukowski
Page Count/Review Word Count: 409
Bukowski is back with another epic collection of idiosyncratic poetry. The poems published in the collection were written between 1970 and 1990, and they were part of an archive that the great poet left behind to be published after his death.
As always, it’s fascinating to see the way in which Bukowski used simple (and often profane) language in such a powerful way – his poems don’t read like Shakespeare, they read like Bukowski talked, and that’s what gives them their power. Bukowski wasn’t a poet or a novelist – he was a storyteller, and it barely matters whether you’re reading his prose or his poetry.
Take the first poem in the collection, for example – ‘my father and the bum‘. Bukowski had a troubled relationship with his father, who used to bully him as a child – here, we see his father’s pride, and the way in which the opinions of his friends weighed heavy on him. Bukowski says: “My father believed in work. He was proud to have a job. Sometimes he didn’t have a job and then he was very ashamed. He’d be so ashamed that he’d leave the house in the morning and then come back in the evening so the neighbours wouldn’t know.”
Of course, it’s no secret that Bukowski hated his father – you would have too, the man, by all accounts, was a bastard. Just how extreme that hatred was is shown by his depiction of his father’s cruelty: “My father caught the baby mice – they were still alive and he flung them in to the flaming incinerator, one by one. The flames leaped out and I wanted to throw my father in there, but my being 10 years old made that impossible.”
But let’s get back to the book as a whole. It was published by Black Sparrow Press, the legendary poetry firm that was formed by John Martin, ostensibly to publish Bukowski’s work. According to Wikipedia (and Born in to This, a documentary about the poet), John Martin offered Bukowski $100 per month for life on the condition that he’d stop working for the post office and write full time. Bukowski agreed, and shortly afterwards started work on Post Office, his first novel which was inspired by his time with the company.