Aug. 16, 2003

punched out

by Charles Bukowski

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "punched-out" by Charles Bukowski from the night torn mad with footsteps (Black Sparrow Press).


I remember best coming out of that factory into the
none of us saying much
glad to get out
but needing the job
—getting into our old cars
one could hear the grinding of the starters
the sudden roar and explosions as
the worn engines fired up once more
—as we backed wearily
out of the parking lot
to pull away
leaving the factory back there
—each of us to a different place
—some to a wife and children
—others to empty rented rooms or to
small crowded apartments:
as for me
I never knew if my woman would be there or
or how drunk she would be
if she was home
—but for each of us
the factory waited back there
our timecards punched and neatly

for me somehow
the best time was that moment
driving from the factory to where I lived
stopping at the signals
looking at the crowds
between a place I didn't want to be
and a place I didn't want to go
—I was caught between my two unhappy lives
but so were most of the others there
not only from that warehouse
in that city
but in the world
we had no chance
yet still we all managed to continue and

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of author and editor William Maxwell, born in Lincoln, Illinois (1908). He grew up in a small town in Illinois. His father was a fire insurance salesman and was on the road for days at a time. With his father gone so much, Maxwell became especially close to his mother. He said, "She just shone on me like the sun." When he was 10 years old, his mother caught influenza and died during the epidemic in 1918. He wrote, "It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it…the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away." His family moved to Chicago a few years later. Though he never lived in Lincoln again, he never forgot it and he wrote many of his short stories about his childhood there with his mother. Maxwell wrote many novels, including They Came Like Swallows (1937) and So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980). Most of his short stories are collected in All the Days and Nights (1995). But he's best known as a fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine. He started in the art department, where he persuaded John Updike to give up drawing cartoons and start writing fiction. Maxwell worked at The New Yorker for 40 years, editing fiction by John Updike, J.D. Salinger, and Vladimir Nabokov. He said that what made him a good editor was that he himself hated being edited, and so he changed very little. According to Eudora Welty, "For fiction writers, he was the headquarters." William Maxwell said, "I wouldn't like to live in a world where nobody ever told stories."

It's the birthday of beat poet Lew Welch, born in Phoenix, Arizona (1926). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Hermit Poems (1965) and At Times We're Almost Able To See (1965). He said, "Seeking perfect total enlightenment is like looking for a flashlight when all you need the flashlight for is to find your flashlight."

It's the birthday of Charles Bukowski, born in Andernach, Germany (1920). His family moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old. His father worked on and off as a milkman, and was so frustrated by the difficulty of making a living in the United States that he became very abusive. He once beat Bukowski with a two-by-four because he hadn't mowed the lawn correctly. The kids in the neighborhood picked on Bukowski because he came from Germany, and at the time Germans were still the enemy from World War I. He got a steady job as a postal clerk in the '50s. In 1960, when he was 40 years old, he published his first book of poetry, Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail (1960). He published more than 15 books of fiction and poetry in the next 10 years, including Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts (1965), and Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window (1968).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show