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90-year-old great-grandmother waxes poetic on Bukowski

February 14, 2013|By Richard Verrier
  • Marjory Gilbert wrote a poem about Bukowski after attending one of his readings in L.A. in the late 1970s.
Marjory Gilbert wrote a poem about Bukowski after attending one of his readings…

When Marjory Gilbert read a Times On Location story about the movie "Bukowski," produced and directed by James Franco, it brought back vivid memories of her long-ago encounter with the late poet.

Gilbert was working as a clerk in the history department at Cal State Los Angeles in the late 1970s when she joined a grad student friend to hear Charles Bukowski give a reading of his poetry at a campus bookstore.

"It was quite an evening," said Gilbert, who is 90 and lives in Claremont. "I didn't even know who Bukowski was, so I sat there not knowing what to expect. Here he was with a beer can in one hand and he's got these pages in the other hand and he's reading to us like he couldn't care less. He'd sip his beer then throw his page on the floor."

Gilbert said she was struck by the rawness of his poetry. "He sounded very honest, like he was telling it like it is," Gilbert said. "I knew he lived a life I would never know, so I was intrigued."

She was so enthralled by the man and his poetry, whom Time magazine called a "laureate of American lowlife," that she did what she has done for many other memorable experiences in her life: She wrote a poem, published here for the first time.

The Night Bukowski Read His Poems

His reputation preceded him

Campus police guarded the doors

The written word can be dangerous you know

Bukowski was going to read his poems

The only request from Charles

Bring plenty of beer

Everything would flow

What a show!

From the stairwell he stood

Never looking up

Beer can in one hand, poem in the other

The pock-marked face

Showed the ravages of the life he had known

And the seeds he had sown

He read matter-of-factly

Laughter permeated the air

He didn’t care!

He sipped his beer between sentences

As he finished the page he tossed it on the floor

Several pages were scattered about

The words lay in repose

He was loaded and so were we

But in a different way

Raunchy verse from a man who had lived in flop houses

With winos, prostitutes, drug addicts and other unsavory souls

Images of a life we would never know

This nether world revealed to us by a man who lived his prose.

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