Madeleine's Reviews > The People Look Like Flowers at Last

The People Look Like Flowers at Last by Charles Bukowski
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's review
May 17, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: head-in-the-clouds-nose-in-a-book, leave-the-rhyming-to-the-pros, hank-chinaski, our-libeary, 2012, blogophilia
Read from December 26 to 31, 2012

Charles Bukowski is my spirit animal.

When I dug into "The Last Night of the Earth Poems" so many years ago, I had no idea that I was on the brink of discovering my all-time favorite writer. I didn't know that there was someone out there, once, who knew that life is ugly but its breathtaking essential elements are what make the trip worth the hassle. Who knew how to play elegance and simplicity against crass observation. Who voiced so perfectly the deep, driving ache that compels one to just write because your only other prodigal skill is drinking yourself to belligerent oblivion, which isn't usually a bankable talent (though if there's a secret that no one's telling me, I want in on it now).

I love his novels and I enjoy his shorter tales but it is Buk's poetry that embodies what he is to me. He doesn't dress up any of it, either: He doesn't have to. He's just pointing out what no one else bothers to piece together. His brutal honesty is all the presentation he needs. This is a man who gives himself so completely to his art that there's not a whole lot left for anyone else, which, sure, it does make him seem like kind of dick, though I maintain he would have been an even bigger ass had he kept his words to himself.

There isn’t much unread Bukowski-wrought poetry left on my shelf these days, though, blessedly, there’s still plenty more to obtain. I’ve taken to capping off my year with some delicious, delicious Buk, which always ensures that I’ll end another year of fierce bookworming on the best note possible. I’m not really sure why “The People Look Like Flowers at Last” wound up being one of the last collections I’ve tackled of my currently owned bunch but I’m glad I finally got around to it, and not just because it gave me the context for one of my most favorite quotes from Literature’s Dirtiest Old Man, demonstrating that ol’ Chuck here harbors no illusions about himself and what he’s meant to do:

great writers are indecent people
they live unfairly
saving the best part for paper.

good human beings save the world
so that bastards like me can keep creating art,
becoming immortal.
if you read this after I am long dead
it means I made it.

And, well, fuck, I found out that Chuck liked "The Stranger" just as much as I did, and for not entirely dissimilar reasons:

all along The Stranger had been my hero
because I thought he'd seen beyond trying
or caring
because it was such a bore
so senseless--
life a big hole in the ground looking up--
and I was wrong again:
hell, I was
The Stranger and the book simply hadn't come out the way
it was meant to

And then there were a few more poet-as-the-poem pieces, like the fabulously rambling “Rimbaud be damned” (which is just as insane as the title suggests), beginning with a woman and meandering into self-aware proclamation, which ought to resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like their rich inner world is hopelessly obscured by a pale and misunderstood outer self:

I was as yellow as the sun perhaps
but also as warm and as true as the sun
somewhere there inside me
but nobody would ever find it.

And then, of course, some emotional sledgehammers, like “Jane’s Shoes,” found their way into the mix:

how those strong nights
lied to us,
how those nights became quiet
my shoes alone in the closet now

He still talks about gambling but as more of an observer, watching without judgment as the foolhardy and hopeless squander away their last dollars. He still talks about drinking and fighting, but in the past tense. He still ogles the ladies and appreciates a fine pair of legs but there's a personal and slightly melancholic undercurrent there. And, like so many of his posthumously published poetry collections, there are the obligatory odes to life’s end zone and all the introspection that comes with nearing it:

no one is sorry I am leaving,
not even I;
but there should be a minstrel
or at least a glass of wine

it bothers the young most, I think:
an unviolent slow death....

will we miss
the love of a woman or music or food
or the gambol of the great mad muscled
horse, kicking clods and destinies
high and away
in just one moment of the sun coming down?

but now it's my turn
and there's no majesty in it
because there was no majesty
before it

But it’s getting harder and harder to explain just what Bukowski does to me. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m repeating myself and don’t want to do him that bland injustice. Maybe it's because most women I know abhor him and I’ve always felt a little like I’m betraying the sisterhood (not like that’s ever been a deterrent) by worshiping at Chuck’s beer-soaked altar. Mostly, though, I think my adoration and admiration of Bukowski has become something I don't really want to discuss unless I know I'm among those who can truly appreciate him. No one gets me like he does, and I take that shit personally.

and I am sick with caring: go away, everything,
and send fire.
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Quotes Madeleine Liked

Charles Bukowski
“You have to die a few times before you can really
Charles Bukowski, The People Look Like Flowers at Last

Charles Bukowski
“great writers are indecent people
they live unfairly
saving the best part for paper.

good human beings save the world
so that bastards like me can keep creating art,
become immortal.
if you read this after I am dead
it means I made it.”
Charles Bukowski, The People Look Like Flowers at Last

Reading Progress

12/27/2012 page 52
17.0% "Charles Bukowski is my spirit animal."
12/29/2012 page 98
32.0% "You're still my boy, Buk."
12/30/2012 page 299

Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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Madeleine In a year that was punctuated by discovering new authors to love, Bukowski's still my favorite. How could I finish out the year with anyone other than literature's dirtiest old man?

message 2: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich He is so badass. I haven't read a drop of this one! I'll have to soon. I was saddened when I was like 21ish to realize how many emo albums were named after poetry collections/poems of his.
Okay, Hot Water Music was a cool band, and Thursday's War All The Time was a good album right before their downfall (and my falling out of that genre...somehow this takes us back to our myspace chat...), but Chiodos - Bone Palace Ballet is too much to take (as is my knowledge of said album, which, as an excuse, was made by people I went to high school with/knew friends of)

message 3: by Madeleine (last edited Jan 17, 2013 08:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Madeleine HE IS! I've got a poster of him above my writing desk where's he's just owning something alcoholic in his atrociously maintained residence. No other man could adopt that stance and make me want to write. And also drink like a champ.

Oh, Thursday. Yeah, "War All the Time" was exactly where their discography ends for me. Fun fact: They played the entirety of "Waiting" (my favorite of theirs) at this nearby indie record shop during my senior year of college. I couldn't go because it was on deadline night for the school paper but my little bro was able to make it. He actually got Geoff to call me, which I JUST MISSED because the paper's office had terrible reception. I'm still a little bitter about that.

The only thing I know about Chiodos is that when they played Bamboozle (or maybe Skurf?) one of the years I went, they were performing under the name Fluff My Boner so it'd be a surprise that they were there.

It's so rad when people you know or are local Make It Big. The one thing Jersey has going for it is its incredible scene. Not sure if you're familiar with The June Spirit but they're from my hometown and their guitarist graduated a year ahead of me. It was really cool when this band I saw playing in people's basements and half-assed local shows started attracting a fan base in Canada.

But yeah. What's with emoesque bands lifting album names from Buk?

message 4: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Madeleine wrote: "HE IS! I've got a poster of him above my writing desk where's he's just owning something alcoholic in his atrociously maintained residence. No other man could adopt that stance and make me want to ..."

Because Buk was too good to not lift titles! Oh nice, the name does sound familiar but I don't think I've listened to them. Right around the end of the good Thursday era I dramatically changed styles and listened to nothing but depression-era folk and blues for a year or two ha. That is so sad you missed out on talking to Geoff! That would have been amazing.

message 5: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) I absolutely love this: great writers are indecent people
they live unfairly
saving the best part for paper.

Great review -- you may have sold me on picking up some of his poetry :).

message 6: by Derek (new)

Derek Whew! I don't usually care much for gritty, macho writing, but you may have just sold me.

message 7: by Steve (last edited Jan 18, 2013 08:44AM) (new)

Steve When Miles in the movie Sideways offers this quote: "I am a thumbprint on the window of a skyscraper. I'm a smudge of excrement on a tissue surging out to sea with a million tons of raw sewage," he says he thinks it's Bukowski. I've been trying to find out if it really was, but am having trouble getting an authoritative answer.

Great reveiw, btw!

message 8: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Hmmm, yeah I just browsed the internet trying to find that quote too and nobody has anything about it other than saying 'it sounds like something Buk wrote but is an original line'. I wonder if it is a paraphrase of Bukowski.

message 9: by Steve (new)

Steve Thanks for helping me look, Spenkers. It's certainly a line in the spirit of Buk, as was Miles's whole life.

message 10: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich That's true, I didn't even really notice that until today after reading your earlier comment and then seeking out the poem. Perhaps it just a line from a book even. That was a great movie though. And I am NOT drinking any f*cking merlot!

message 11: by Steve (new)

Steve Haha! Merlot? Heaven forfend! Actually, pinot noir sales skyrocketed after the movie. It probably got overproduced and isn't as good as it was, on average. Maybe merlot is the better bet now.

message 12: by Steve (new)

Steve Great research, Caris! Thanks for clearing this up. Looks like Rex Pickett deserves a shout then, too.

message 13: by Steve (new)

Steve Good suggestion. Thanks again for helping in the search for proper "smudge of excrement" attribution.

message 14: by Nefariousbig (last edited Jan 18, 2013 08:23PM) (new) - added it

Nefariousbig Fantastic review! I recently coined the word "Bukenstupor" in one of Jenn(ifer)'s reviews. Defining the exceptional lifestyle of Bukowski: the man, the character, the writer, the legend.

I live my days in an elegantly dismal Bukenstupor.

Madeleine Aw, I miss all the good conversations/literary detective work because of work.

Scott Holstad Caris wrote: "Very nice review. One of my favorite things about Buk was that he seemed, in so many ways, to only get better as he got older. He never peaked. When they first came out, I thought these posthumous ..."

I agree with you, Caris. I think the posthumous collections are among his most solid. I enjoy them immensely.

Scott Holstad Good review. I really enjoyed this book too and gave it the same rating you did. Now I might just have to go back and re-read it. Thanks!

message 18: by Steve (new)

Steve Caris wrote: "Glad to be of assistance, Steve. I bet if you added it to the GR quotes database with the correct author attribution, it'd answer the question for curious Sideways googlers across the universe."

Somebody beat me to it. It's a great quote to have added, and almost exactly like the one in the movie.

Madeleine Thank you thank you thank you everyone! Your kind comments are much appreciated, despite my typically delayed response.

I'll get back to this when work stops munching on my brains and I can respond as adequately as I'd like to. There's lots of good stuff I want to comment on. You guys rock, as usual. :)

message 20: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M Your first line got an "instant-like" followed by a hardy chuckle. Now I'm off to read the rest of this wonderful review.

Katie Emma What a perfect review.

message 22: by rachel (new)

rachel "I’ve always felt a little like I’m betraying the sisterhood (not like that’s ever been a deterrent) by worshiping at Chuck’s beer-soaked altar."

Me too, and there are some poems that put me off, but nothing is so glorious:

Wajiha He's the best. And yes, his poetry is like nothing i've ever read before. Simple and so relatable.

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