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The Bukowski Poetry Contest

[whitespace] The 2nd Annual Bukowski Poetry Contest, sponsored by the Sonoma County Independent, Black Sparrow Press, and Copperfield's Books, concluded with a reading and awards ceremony on May 30. Below is the complete text of the top two winning poems.


First Prize
"No Relief in Sight from Western Civilization"

By Anne Kolarich

Today was a huge fourteen hour effort with really no good parts at all
except for the thirty minute acupuncture mellow melt down
with sixteen needles sticking out of my body while lying on a cot
in a round white room with skylights open and warm breezes flowing
and a big blue sky overhead with clouds shimmering white against the
suns hot flash making the view very ethereal and Greek Island like while
the music tape played the sounds of evening woods full of crickets and frogs.

And as I was lying on that beautiful Greek Island, I closed my eyes and
like a junky sixteen times over the silent needle energy kicked in
and streamed through my body until it melted my brain into a
relaxed puddle of gentle peace--and I tried to push the stress
out of my aching skin and bones.

And then it was over--needles out--tape shuts off.
I crawled off the table dazed and disoriented.
Out came the check book--"sixteen needles plus
acupuncture expertise is $67 dollars total."
I wrote the check and staggered down the stairs
to the bright glare of reality.

Somewhere on the street I'd parked the car--now looking--
I had places to go, things to do--why?--I don't know why
but the push of necessity knows no reason other than it was a must do
and I began to feel some panic because I'd forgotten where I'd parked

I continued to search through this neighborhood in decline where
people were sleeping on discarded furniture with rubbish piled all around,
garbage stinking, piss, shit, vomit and flies everywhere.
A man sitting on the curb drinking a beer told me he liked my shirt.
I nodded at him as the smell of marijuana poured out of a window
mixing with the afternoon lunch smells from a nearby cafe.

I finally merged onto the freeway. Traffic was a mass of chaos and
no one knew how to drive. All lanes were long flowing metal snakes
whipping by at ninety miles per hour. There I was driving in a slow motion
trance while cars were flying by me at twice the speed of sound.

Anger began building on top of my rapidly dissolving mellowness.
Acid thoughts formed into solid insults that I shouted out loud, but
they just bounced off the windshield and circled around inside the car.
I began driving like a maniac too and just grabbed hold of the wheel and maintained
all the way to work. Oh yes, work. The direction I was heading.

The heavy metal jet engine maintenance factory.
Toxic air with the psychotic co-worker.
The institution of corporate slavery. My paycheck.
My next destination...

The nightshift crawled by. I busted my ass.
The air was thick, toxic, killer.
The psychotic co-worker went berserk in my face, just before break.

Why the company would pick this jerk to be a temp-supervisor
I'll never know. He should have been carried out in a straight jacket
a long time ago, but to them, he's management material so they
keep him around. They had this lunatic judging my

work performance. It was his decision whether or not
I made probation. I knew if I didn't bow down and
lick his boot, the asshole wasn't going to pass me.

He was a brown noser, a spy and a squealer.
That son of a bitch.
He was management material all right.

At 9:00 P.M. I went outside and sat on some wooden boxes.
I put a fresh stick of gum in my mouth to cut the taste of the
chemicals and hydrocarbons that had been accumulating on
my tongue and throat. My lungs were tight and coated with
some kind of crap. My head was killing me.

I stretched my tense, aching muscles. The aspirin hadn't worked yet
even though I had taken it over two hours ago.
I decided to take a few more, when I looked off into the night--
and then I remembered--
I paid $67 dollars for something today--
but I couldn't remember what it was for...


Second Prize
"Closing Time (or, Deja Buk)"

By Steve Heilig

Crunching down the soggy North Beach alley
2 am Frisco fog overhead
drunken old bum pissing on the grimy wall.
I was going to walk on
but the sound of his stream triggered my own beer-filled bladder
What the hell, I thought
and joined him at the wall,
as if at an old Paris pissoir.
So two drunks,
one old, one getting there fast
My feet spread wide so as not to get splashed,
I blurt: "Did you know this alley is named for a famous writer?"
He looked over at me
as if this was an everyday setting for small talk
"Oh yeah?" Who that?"
"Jack Kerouac," I answer. "The 'King of the Beats.'"
"Hunh," he grunted, shaking himself off. "Never heard of the shithead."
"Good for you," I said. "He never heard of you either."
"Maybe so, who gives a damn," he belched.
"How about this," I continued,
"This wall we're pissing on belongs to a famous bookstore,
owned by a famous poet."
"And who's that?"
He didn't sound interested.
"Lawrence Ferlinghetti," I replied. "The Poet Laureate of San Francisco."
"Hmmph," he mumbled, zipping. "Never heard of him either. But you know what?"
"What?" I said, finishing too.
"Great poets die in steaming pots of shit."
I had no reply to that.
He grunted again and walked towards Chinatown.
I went the other way
The bookstore was still open
Nothing else to do, I went in.
Forty years too late,
beatniks sat scribbling in the dim light
too cheap to buy anything.
Drunk young professionals,
losers in the nightly meat market,
kicked out of the bars at closing time
but afraid to go home alone
nodded off against bookshelves.
All surrounded by a million words going unmolested.
On a strange unbidden whim,
I went looking:
Auden, Bowles, Brautigan...
Bukowski: "Tales of Ordinary Madness."
Sounds familiar, I thought,
and sat down to read, too cheap to buy
and there on the Contents page:
"Great Poets Die In Steaming Pots of Shit."
"Aha," I said aloud
"Fooled me, old bastard."


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From the May 13-19, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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