Love is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski is a poetry collection by a man who made a name for himself writing poetry that is blunt, unforgiving, and from the perspective of the non-academic, the most common of common men. I was familiar with his name and may have come across a poem or two in a collection or magazine but this is my first time reading a collection of his work.
It will probably be my last. Technically, I like the poetry. It’s accessible, with moments of emotional profundity, few and far between those may be. Early on in this collection, I found myself feeling increasingly uncomfortable as I read each poem. My impression was that Bukowski dislikes women and this misogyny began seeping from the page leaving a distaste in my mouth. In “quiet girls n gingham dresses…” he writes “all I’ve ever known are pill freaks, alcoholics / whores, ex-prostitutes, madwomen” and he titles another piece “the insane always loved me,” blaming the women in his life for not being normal as he celebrates his own promiscuity, relating his numerous one night stands even as he laments his getting older and losing his sexual and charismatic power over women much younger than himself. In another poem, he describes a friend who says “she needs someone to beat her” to which Bukowski, or his poetic persona, responds with “I’m no good at beating women” (“long shot”). Rather than refute the recommendation as unacceptable, Bukowski simply says it’s not something he is good at doing.
What woman, I wonder, would find it pleasurable to read such stanzas as this one, from “melancholia”?:
I should have kicked the redhead
in the ass
where her brains and her bread and
at . . .
Vulgarity in poetry is not something new or even averse to me. Reading of cocks, sweat, shit, and cunts is something modern poetry has done with intention, to pull poetry from its elevated literary position and make it relevant to the masses. But sexism is tasteless and more vulgar than mere sexuality can ever be. I considered the possibility that Bukowski was writing from a particular persona that is not truly his own. After all, the title of the collection itself suggests something to that effect—the poet is not merely a dog but a dog from hell. So I suffered my way through the entire collection with no expectation that the façade, if it were indeed a façade, would ever fall away.
After I read the book, I did a quick search and found this video clip in which Bukowski is talking with his wife. To find it I googled “Charles Bukowski misogyny” and there is some debate among some readers saying he was not because his apparent misogyny is merely the author’s pushing societal boundaries. It’s hard to agree with that, after watching this exchange. His wife calls him an idiot, and this is obviously as unacceptable as what he does later. Judging from his poetry, however, this one incident caught on film is not unique, merely a manifestation of Bukowski’s real feelings toward women in general.