In Charles Bukowski?s, The People Look Like Flowers At Last, the reader is drawn into the author?s tumultuous lifestyle through freeform poetry. At first glance, this collection may seem geared towards a more adult audience. However, upon further examination the book reveals itself to be a striking chronicle of human experiences, universal themes, and timeless struggles that appeal to every human, regardless of age or wisdom. Taken as a whole, the book appears to be much more than a sum of its rhetorical devices: imagery, sarcasm, irony and endless metaphors. Instead, it is essentially like life: each part is interconnected, creating unity to form a whole. The People Look Like Flowers At Last is poetry with literary merit?and lots of it.
Part of the book?s appeal lies in its compelling themes, which strike chords that resound throughout time and across social boundaries. Personality clashes, fatal character flaws, and the deliberate rebellion against social norms are the main themes in which Bukowski?s poetry probes. The author uses a great deal of imagery in order to portray these key themes; ??I smashed the glass, I broke the glass, and then I reached in and touched Christ?? (43) Instead of sugarcoating every word and phrase available, Bukowski recalls events exactly as they occurred. One might say that Bukowski simply ?lists? his ideas, rather than trying?as many poets do?to romanticize every aspect of a poem. In fact, he does almost the opposite.
One of Bukowski?s claims to fame is his use of sarcasm and satire. Upon first glance, the reader might find his humor to be offensive, but it is actually an extremely clever method of pulling the reader in; the reader, being obviously offended, will retaliate and try to contradict many of Bukowski?s statements, unknowingly making a personal connection with the words.
?people who have dogs in their cars
and let them hang out the window
when these dogs fall out on the freeway
often they just keep driving.? (172)
One might read this and think, ?I would never in my right mind keep driving if my dog were to fall out onto the freeway!? By thinking this, the reader is connecting to the text, albeit not in a typical manner.
The author also makes great use of irony. In fact, this entire book is plagued with irony, and Bukowski has it running through every page like the ink is bleeding. His use of ironic satire is especially prevalent when he speaks of his experiences with women, suggesting that he never had a very keen understanding of the opposite sex. In one particular poem, Bukowski speaks of a man in Paris, recalling that ?he has no money, but he wears a very good suit?and all the beautiful women are in love with him? (188). The poem continues on like this, with Bukowski complaining as if the man deserves none of this, but the verse ends with ?I knew what would happen?thinking, you dumb-ass son-of-a-bitch, you deserve [it all]? (189). Oddly, the way the poet uses irony to convey meaning is almost depressing; many of his poems end with this sad undertone, bringing out how Bukowski truly feels despite his nonchalant and sarcastic remarks about everyday life.
Although his sarcasm is probably the main way Bukowski connects with his readers, another more obvious method is his explosive use of similes and metaphors. He employs these rhetorical devices in order to give the reader a new perspective on a seemingly mundane fact of life, such as racial discrimination. In a poem simply titled ?Dog?, Bukowski notes that ?a dog can?t tell a Nazi from a Republican from a Commie from a Democrat and, many times, neither can I? (239). This is to say that Bukowski considers himself to be a like a dog: color blind. A dog does not care who feeds it, just as long as it is fed (239). This entire poem is a metaphor for acceptance of race, just as many of Bukowski?s poem are metaphors for a subject much deeper than one might think.
Upon reading this book of poetry, it is easy to conclude that, despite his alcoholism and dark remarks, Bukowski was an extremely wise man. The People Look Like Flowers At Last uses imagery, irony, sarcasm, and metaphors in order to help the reader understand better that trivialities of life. Charles Bukowski may have seemed like an extremely angry person, but his