From an early age I was attracted to poetry. Like most people my introduction to the art was through nursery rhymes and Edward Lear’s Limericks. At secondary school we were exposed to the Romantics, but also to Shakespeare, Dante, and even Kipling, a poet usually associated with the glories of the British Empire and one that who would not be considered appropriate in today’s schools (particularly those which have a high rate of children of Irish descent, as were the schools I attended).
Having left school, I continued to read poetry. T.S. Elliot was my first real passion but as time went on I began to discover a greater world. My interest in Beat poetry (particularly that of Ginsberg) led me to look at the wider world of American poetry. What struck me, as I got to learn more about the poetry of the USA, was the incredible diversity and invention from Walt Whitman and Emily Bishop to William Carlos Williams and John Berryman. It was during this time that I also happened upon the work of Charles Bukowski. It was like nothing I had ever come across in poetry. In fact I questioned whether it had any poetic value at all. The opening lines of a later poem of Bukowski summed up his work for me:
as the poems go into the thousands you realize that you've created very/ little.
In fact Bukowski was fairly prolific in his ‘poetic’ output. I had difficulty trying to understand his popularity amongst friends and serious poets. I, like many others, held Bukowski responsible for the deluge of bad poetry that seemed to be everywhere in the 70s onwards.1 It is only up until fairly recently that I have begun to re-evaluate my dismissive attitude towards this very influential poet and writer.
It was not through reviewing Bukowski’s poetry that led to my volte face, but through my understanding of the works of other, much earlier, poets. The great Roman poet Catullus [c. 84 B.C.-54 B.C.] was one of the earliest poets to react against the epic, that dominated the poetic narrative of ancient times right up to the Middle-ages. His poetry, occasionally, shows wild emotions the strength of his poetry, written in hendecasyllabic and elegiac couplets, illustrates a powerful and disciplined approach to the art.