Nesbit Likes: Funhouse by Charles Bukowski

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Anyone who knows Bukowski knows he’s straight to the point in his poetry. No fluff, no clutter, just pure, clear moments, pinpointing times in his life and revealing the poetic essence they contain, whether it be morbid or lush.

But I’ll argue his poem Funhouse is a little more open.

Bukowski writes about the distain he has for a burned-down amusement pier; he wishes the pier, and the homeless people (or ‘madmen’ as he puts it) inhabiting the thing were gone, ‘vanished’. He ends on the note telling us that the pier is where he walked when he was eight years old.

If we dive a little deeper, we know that things weren’t all that great in his younger years. His father was abusive, he was bullied for his severe acne as well as his accent of thickly blended English German.

In his interview with Martin Coenen, 1987, when he comments on how other writers bore him, he states:

“…each line must be full of a delicious, little juice flavour; full of power.” 

He does this in all of his poetry. He gives it. No cutting corners, no layers, he just writes about it, beautifully. But does Bukowski defer from this rule of his in Funhouse?

Is Bukowski describing how he wants to have the pier removed because the madmen, and the state of the pier, are invading his joyful memories of being eight years old and his time on the pier? Or does he wish the memories he has of being eight years old were gone, and the pier, sticking out like a sore thumb, is a only a prompt for the rough, early years he had?

We can all agree poetry, or any art form, is open to interpretation; this could be completely estranged and far from original intention, but Funhouse lingered, in that I wasn’t sure if we truly were told everything, and that truth mattered. The poem could have a lot more weight than first conceived, and a darker tone than first understood. Perhaps you could smile after reading, perhaps not.

But as I said at the start, anyone who knows Bukowski knows he’s straight to the point in his poetry. Maybe, that’s the way it always is.


funhouse

I drive to the beach at night

in the winter

and sit and look at the burned-down amusement pier

wonder why they just let it sit there

in the water.

I want it out of there,

blown up,

vanished,

that pier should no longer sit there

with madmen sleeping inside

the burned-out guts of the funhouse . . .

it’s awful, I say, blow the damn thing up,

get it out of my eyes,

that tombstone in the sea.

 

the madmen can find other holes

to crawl into.

I used to walk that pier when I was 8

years old.

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11 thoughts on “Nesbit Likes: Funhouse by Charles Bukowski

  1. I must admit it reads like the ramblings of a disillusioned adolescent to me , but then he had every reason to be disillusioned with his background. I’m not sure I like the term madmen applied to drop-outs it smells of an unsympathetic mind.

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    1. I completely understand what you mean. Bukowski certainly divides; some can’t stand his lack of form and rambling style, as you mentioned. Otherwise, I quite like it. Sometimes he manages to say things like ‘madmen’ which is unsympathetic, but that’s a case of him not holding back. He states how he truly feels, whether it good or bad, kind or immoral, sticking to the rule of expression in art. Not a lot of other poets do that.

      But, sometimes some things could have been left unsaid =P

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      1. I understand his stance more clearly now you have explained it. I would question whether poetry or prose should come straight from the emotions with no filter. Surely we need to reflect on what we feel and question its justice. Perhaps this is the definition of modern art all expression but no thought.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It very well could be the definition you suggest. But can poetry still be of just expression? Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948 (his ‘Action Painting’) has little to no thought, not really, yet it must be considered art for it is only expression; a stream of consciousness to his brush and then the canvas. Painting like the writing in Woolf’s To The Lighthouse or Joyce’s Ulysses.

        It’s an interesting thing to think about. There’s no definitive answer to the things we do. Some things just are and that’s all. I can find it refreshing to not question a piece and take the mood, negative or positive, for what it is. Then again, Bukowski and this poem just asks to be questioned, perhaps for its justice, perhaps for its intent. Art often becomes more obscure and more vague as we learn more about it.

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  2. The darkness and the hatred was there. He was being kind to have used madmen instead of some other morbid term. I am quite certain that he was pertaining to his experience in the distant past that was too vivid that he wanted to turn his tragedy into great art.

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  3. I found Jackson Pollock an amazing story. I read he was a tortured genius but I only go along with the tortured bit . It seems to me art is drifting into obscurity as you point out. Music is doing the same thing turning itself into sound. Some would say you philistine go with the flow , but I just can’t seem to be that liquid.

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