I remember the day Charles Bukowski died. I was living in a region of Atlanta called Little Five Points. This was before the Little Five Point crackhouses were purchased by lawyers and renovated, but after poor white kids like me had moved in and paved the way for the wealthier white adults who would drive up rents and take more of our money than the junkies ever did when they broke in through the bathroom window. It was a time when a lot of writers, artists, musicians, and the like still lived there. Bukowski’s death at the time was earth-shattering. Residents put together a fairly spontaneous tribute for the guy. For what seemed like days (but may have only been one), people hung out in the square reading poetry—Bukowski’s or their own—telling stories, drinking forties, playing music, mourning the loss.
When Kurt Cobain died a month later, it was anticlimactic. I bring this up not to romanticize the time (which I surely just did), but to point out how long ago that was. Almost twenty years! Bukowski came out with his last good book in 1986. That was a year before Fugazi played their first show. This is serious shit to consider. The poor and disaffected—not to mention the drunk and melancholic—kids who lean toward the artistic need a new poet to scream their bittersweet pain and love. Bukowski is too old, too mean-spirited, too selfish, too misogynistic to carry that torch anymore.
It’s time to replace him with Bucky Sinister. The San Francisco Chronicle once called Bucky Sinister, “A modern day Bukowski with blue hair,” and I started this review with talk of Bukowski, but I want to make this clear: Bucky Sinister takes his poetry in whole new directions. Granted, there’s the alcoholism. And, like Bukowski, the poems are written in simple language. They tell seemingly simple stories in an accessible way. They also move beyond the simple and show us something pure, something deep about ourselves. Unlike Bukowski, Bucky Sinister expands his poetry beyond the simple story of a self-indulgent drunk.
Particularly in this new collection, Bucky Sinister’s poems tell the stories of gutter punks and San Quentin inmates and meth dealers and doomed Wizard of Oz Dorothies in Doc Martens. He retains the same type of intense self-examination that makes his last two collections (Whiskey & Robots and All Blacked Out and Nowhere to Go) so honest. In this collection, he expands that examination to the people around him, people he seems to love deeply and ambivalently. His insights into a subculture that I know well, that I live in most of the time, makes him a significant voice of this time and place.
I wouldn’t call him the voice of my generation. I wouldn’t call anyone that. But Bucky Sinister is a voice that my generation needs. There are a couple of poems in here, specifically “Trust Is a Luxury” and “How I Made a Mortgage Loan Officer Cry or a Brief Recap of the Last 15 Years,” that speak so directly to my life that, when I first read them, I literally stopped people who were near me and made them listen to me read passages. I wasn’t doing this to random strangers, but I wouldn’t mind doing that. There are several more poems that speak beautifully about the lives of people I know, even though Bucky wasn’t writing about those specific people.
Most importantly, what Buck Sinister has done in Time Bomb Snooze Alarm is find a way to grow as a poet without relying too much on the stories of his drunken exploits or giving up any of the beautiful and heartbreaking honesty that made his earlier collections so powerful. I’m not just recommending this book. I’m telling you to fill your bookshelves with all of Bucky Sinister books. Use the titles of those books as names for your band. Tattoo lines from his poems on your forearms. Carry the books around with you in your pocket or backpack or purse. Reread them when you have a few minutes to spare. (Write Bloody, writebloody.com)