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Betting on the Muse: Poems and Stories

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,187 ratings  ·  123 reviews
Virtually everything Black Sparrow publishes is worthwhile, but without Bukowski, whose 40-odd books kept Black Sparrow's bread buttered right up until his death in 1994, none of the rest of it would be possible. Fortunately, "Buk" left plenty of unpublished manuscript behind that, judging from this culling from it, is of a piece with the published stuff. That is, it consi ...more
Hardcover, 402 pages
Published December 12th 1996 by Black Sparrow Press (first published 1996)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  2,187 ratings  ·  123 reviews

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Glenn Russell

Betting on the Muse - 100 poems and 10 short stories collected here, previously unpublished works by the one and only Bukowski. The range covers Hank's entire life, beginning with such poems as The Monkey, recounting the time an organ grinder wandered into the neighborhood when Chuck was a kid to a short snapping turtle of a poem called challenge in the dark, where Bu is face-to-face with death.

Assuming anyone reading my words is a reader or writer, I'd like to share two Bukowski poems to serve
Christian McKay
May 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I liken reading a good Bukowski poem to getting hit in the mouth by your best friend.

It hurts.

You feel raw about it for a while.

But then you feel pretty good.

Because it's done.

Things are out in the open.

And you survived.
James Curtin
Dec 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
i used to drink alot and smoke crack. once was hanging out with some young girl in west philly and she saw this book in my backpack. nef was her name i think. near 51st and master. i told her it wasn't a book of love poems. she wanted it anyway. i gave it to her and often think of crackheads in west philly reading this.
Jun 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of poetry, anyone who liked the beats, anyone wanting to get into Bukowski
Recommended to Davis by: Brandon Daley
Wow. I am writing this about 30 seconds after finishing the last poem on the last page of 'Betting On The Muse'. I had no idea that a book published after his death, composed of random unpublished poetry and short stories could be so powerful. This book is truly moving, it grasped me from the very start.

Fans of Bukowski novels will rejoice in the short story involving our favorite drunkard, Chinaski. Many of the other stories and poems come more from Bukowski's alter-ego then himself. The book a
Tjibbe Wubbels
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english, poetry
Fantastic as always. Some of my favourite lines:

with agony stuffed in my
and the sun
behind a film of

they and we are in the
of hell,
throwing mud at the

I knew exactly what I
was doing: I was
doing nothing.
because I knew there
was nothing
to do.
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"this place, this time, now
I vow to the sun
that I will laugh the good laugh once again
in the perfect place of me

Bukowski's poetry never gets old. He continues to be my favorite poet.
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This Bukowski is a mix of short (very short) stories and poems--reading them I would assume a mix of older material and material from shortly from before Hank passed away. The poems he writes on his Mac are so quaint--as if he is talking to the machine as well as using it--reveling in it's "trash can" and it's newness when compared to his oldness. He writes often about the track (adding that odd poetic quality to something filthy and very unpoetic) and often writes of his "6 cats" (this charms m ...more
Ed Smith
Oct 21, 2009 rated it liked it
a fellow worker at the library read it. So I started to read it and
got addicted to Bukowski's poems. Some are funny, some suck, and
you could not make up the race track, drinks, women and crazy men
who fight with Buk.

I think his style is his style. Not Williams or Ginsberg but definitely Charles Bukowski writing becomes infecting. After I read him I want to
write a million poems. He gets to the point, rough & ready to do
battle with the poetry gods and he does.
Feb 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I love Bukowski, because sometimes, though rarely, when you're up to your eyeballs in misery, hopelessness, and the horse shit of life, he'll reveal suddenly a glimmer, a short line of poetry of something he finds beautiful in the world. However, this collection had a few that turned my stomach and turned me away from Bukowski for a week or so.
Jun 29, 2015 rated it liked it
This collection is a little different for Bukowski. A little less angry, more at peace with his old age. Still better than most anyone, but not my very favorite Buk.
Raven Ramirez
Feb 09, 2020 rated it liked it
This was my first work of Bukowski I read, I will say there were pieces that I was absolutely amazed at. However, it felt few and far between. The second half of the book had more substance then the first half in my opinion. Some of my favorites were, "Let it Enfold You," "The Suicide," and "Writing" I will definitely be reading more Bukowski in the future, he has a very conversationalist way of writing which I enjoy very much.
May 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
If you've read any Bukowski before you'll know the story of his life, lived out in all his writings, from drunken, gambling, addled, street fighter in and out of jail, in and out of bed with various women to drunken, addled, middle age where the eventual success of his writing bought him a less hand-to-mouth existence, but essentially his passions remained the same. This 400 page book of poetry and short stories was published post-humously but doesn't at all feel like is the leftovers being chur ...more
Tom Steele
Oct 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the first collection of both poetry and short stories that I've read by Bukowski and probably one of his more consistent works. The short stories are all amusing and the poetry is pretty good as well. There is a lot of fluctuation with the quality of the poems, however, with some of them being examples of his best work and some being forgettable to outright bad.

The end of this collection features Bukowski's meditations on his inevitable death. This section alone makes the collection w
Eve Kay
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, drunken
Such a huge bible of a book that's kinda hard to rate but majority of the work within the covers moved me in some way and some of them made me go whaaa?! so that amounts to 4.

Here are some of the unbelievably best:

it's difficult for them
The ending! Genius.
what they do and what they
are and what they want
and what they say and what
they write
has no interest for me
and, unfortunately for
them, no interest to most others
living, dying or about to be
born, uh


confession of a genius
Philip Bergstresser
The illusion is that you are simply
Reading this poem
The reality is that this is
More than a
This is a beggar's knife.
This is a tulip.
This is a soldier marching
Through Madrid.
This is you on your
Death bed.
This is Li Po laughing
This is not a god-damned
This is a horse asleep.
A butterfly in
Your brain.
This is the devil's
You are not reading this
On a page.
The page is reading
Feel it?
It's like a cobra.
It's a hungry eagle
Circling the room

This is not a poem.
Poems are dull.
Nov 05, 2011 rated it liked it
I freely admit that poetry in general has never appealed to me as much as it does many other avid readers. There are some poems I've come across over the years that I truly love, but I just don't get in the "poetry mood" very often. I decided to give a Bukowski collection a shot because he has been so often recommended to me, and I am glad I did. Bukowski has a straight-to-the-point, no-bullshit style that appeals to me. There isn't the slightest hint of pretension. Some of these poems are prett ...more
Kees-Jan van Engelenburg
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.”

No comme
Mark Bruce
Jul 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Bukowski liked to write a lot about going to the racetrack. Many of these poems carry the tediousness of a daily jaunt to the track; some are incandescent.

Of course, there's the usual mix of other subjects dear to Buk's heart: Sex, booze, poetry, and more booze. Only Buk could make the dull life of a drunkard seem romantic.
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: more_than_once
Excellent collection focusing more on old age and death. Not as much of the hilariously vulgar stuff like in LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL. there are some GREAT poems in here. A good book to start with if new to Bukowski, though maybe not the BEST one to start with since it packs more of a punch to read about Bukowski's ideas of death after reading HAM ON RYE and some of the poetry from the 60s.
Frank Robbins
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories, poetry
Sitting here, having a glass of wine and feeling dead inside. I think about the past and how I feel as dead now as I felt then. The only thing that makes me feel alive and know that everyone is just boring as hell and lost in the same nightmare is Charles Bukowski. His descriptions of his own hell makes me realize that there are kindred souls in the universe who feel the same as me.
Eve Lyons
Jun 01, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Not his best volume, and there a a lot to choose from. I recommend Love is a Dog from Hell as part of anyone's collection of poetry. This one, however, is decent. It has a couple of Bukowski's excellent, witty, and insightful poems.
Brian Pappas
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of his better books of poetry with a few great short stories thrown in.
vi macdonald
More drunken ravings and rantings from everyone-except-me's favourite douchebag.
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have to admit my interest in Charles Bukowski stemmed from the poem ‘let it enfold you’ which is on page 378 of betting on the muse. The poem was mentioned in the film ‘beautiful boy’, the poem alone was enough to spark my interest in Bukowski despite controversial comments from critics. The poems and short stories in this book are incredibly gripping and I find myself picking it up every so often to read a couple of them at a time.

The collection begins with a poem titled ‘splash’ which I beg
Alexander Mastros
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When you start reading Bukowski, automatically the lights get dimmer, some alcohol finds its way to you and you enter the realm of gloom, smoke and shadows.

At the beginning of each poem I catch my self preparing an answer to what I'm reading, but by the end of it, my answer seems so unnecessary.

Such an amazing character. I got sorrowful as he traversed toward the inevitable. I thought him tough as a coffin nail. But even he, broke, before the curtains of death.

My favorite poem of the book.

Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, short-stories
As with all large collections of work, this one is uneven--but then Bukowski was uneven, his life careening along with his words.

He cuts to the quick and catches us and the world with defenses down, matter of factly turning over the dark underside, living through the lens of B-movie noir, grim and light-hearted at the same time. It's true he has contempt for humanity in general, but his women are especially cartoonish. This shows up more in the stories than the poems.

Bukowski's dim view of the w
James Ford
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Picked up this book from a Barnes and Noble bookshelf twenty years ago. I admit, I didn't know Bukowski from baked beans.
The very first poem, 'splash', blew me away. I bought the book, and became enamored of the imagery and simplicity in which Bukowski wrote.
My style of writing, at the time, was, very similar.
Bukowski, like some other contemporary poets, have had a great impact on my own style of writing.
At the reading, signing of my first book, Numbers and Days, I started my reading with 'spl
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is my first experience with Bukowski's poetry and I've got to admit that I never expected anything like this. All I knew about the author was that he writes vulgar novels about lust and alcoholism, but this is definitely not the case. What makes this book great is that many people can relate to some of the stories and see themselves as a character in them. It is like an impersonal conversation with the reader, not just plain text. "The laughing heart" is one of the poems which really moved ...more
Hanna Abi Akl
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Charles Bukowski takes us again into his maddening world through raw unfiltered poetry. What is most captivating about this read is that it encompasses different phases of the poet's life: his early struggling years of starvation and writing and his post-famous life.
The contrast is interesting since it reflects in the poet's writing and we can clearly observe how the manner of putting down the word evolves with the evolution of Bukowski's life.
Content Warning: Gambling. Alcoholism. Sexism. Cancer. Suicidal feelings.

3/4 absolutely depressing, then at the end there's a twist where you actually get to red happy poems and how he loved his cats.
Like, great, but the first 3/4 still bummed me out, asshole.

How he writes about women still bothers me. Not necessarily that he writes them as imperfect or anything, but the lense through which he seems to view them. Makes me uncomfortable.

tl;dr: He's still a wanker.
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Henry Charles Bukowski (born as Heinrich Karl Bukowski) was a German-born American poet, novelist and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles.It is marked by an emphasis on the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands ...more

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“The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.”
think that the
world should be full of cats and full of rain, that's all, just
cats and
rain, rain and cats, very nice, good
More quotes…