Charles Bukowski- Heinrich Karl Bukowski was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer. Known for his prolific autobiographical work, Bukowski addressed the ordinary lives of the poor Americans belonging to the less privileged class of the society, the act of writing, relationships with women, alcohol, drugs and the drudgery of work. Bukowski published his first story when he was twenty-four and began writing poetry at the age of thirty-five.
Gas- “Gas” was published in the book The Flash of Lightning Behind The Mountain in the year 2005, among the collection of other unpublished poems by the late American author, Charles Bukowski. Gas can be read as an autobiographical poem, the author narrating the nostalgic experience of his six year old self on Sunday dinners with grandmother. Providing justice to the true poetic style of Charles’s works, Gas is humorous, witty and presents a raw description of a six year old’s thought process regarding the people and activities surrounding him.
Setting of Gas-
The setting of the poem is the author’s house, specifically the dinner table during Sunday dinners with grandmother. Charles Bukowski presents a very humorous description of a ritual, once-a-week dinner with paternal grandmother as experienced and perceived by a six year old.
Poetic Devices in Gas-
Stanza 5: “and mashed potatoes and gravy”
Stanza 2: “after 4 or 5 blasts” – describing grandmother’s intestinal gas release as blasts, providing a humorous innuendo.
“my grandmother had a serious gas (A)
We only saw her on Sunday (C)
She’d sit down to dinner (D)
And she’d have gas. (A)
She was very heavy. (E)
80 years old. (F)
Wore this large glass brooch, (G)
That’s what you noticed most (H)
In addition to the gas.” (A)
Summary of Gas-
Gas by Charles Bukowski is a belly tickling description of the narrator’s six year old self’s experience of the Sunday dinners with a vivid portrayal of his paternal grandmother and her intestinal gas problems. The first two lines acquaint the readers with the humorous theme of the poem, as represented by the title itself, “my grandmother had a serious gas problem”. The first stanza is solely dedicated to providing the grandmother’s vivid description, as the readers are told that she was of 80 years old, wore a large glass brooch, was heavy and was flatulent. Grandmother would accompany the rest of the family only on Sundays during dinner, probably after Church. The narrator then tells the readers that the grandmother used to release gas numerous times, “4 or 5 times”, and at the most inappropriate times, when the dinner was being served. The narrator further describes the suffering of the family who in the eyes of a six year old, were made to endure the bad smelling air because the grandmother was his father’s mother and had the authority and rank of a wise elder. The grandmother would offhandedly joke about gas and others’s suffering, whimsically saying, “I’ll bury you all”. The last stanza describes the end to the torturous dinners with grandmother leaving to catch a red train to Pasadena and narrator’s father fanning a newspaper saying “It’s all that damned sauerkraut she eats”.
Critical Analysis of Gas-
Charles Bukowski was a prolific underground writer who used his poetry and prose to depict the depravity of urban life and the downtrodden in American society. A cult hero, Bukowski relied on experience, imagination, emotion and humour in his work, using direct, violent language and imagery. “Gas”, like many of his great works is humorous and realistic, describing a very relatable character of the grandmother with intestinal gas problems and a non-caring attitude regarding the same. From a larger angle view, the poem can be seen as the portrayal of a society (the family) suffering under the stubbornness of the supposedly authoritative figures (grandmother) and the repercussions of the pre-assumed order-rank hierarchy.
Tone of Gas-
Gas, like numerous other works of Charles, is a very simplistic yet magnificent poem. The tone of the poem is simple, the language realistic in its aim of portraying a six year old’s experience and raw in its humour. The belly tickling effect of the poem is achieved mainly through the exaggerated description of both grandmother’s intestinal gas problems and the resulting suffering of the family.
Conclusion- Michael Lally in Village Voice maintained that “Bukowski is….a phenomenon. He has established himself as a writer with a consistent and insistent style based on what he projects as his ‘personality’, the result of hard, intense living.” Though many critics get offended by Charles’s raw style of writing, no one can deny the humorous magnificence present in most of his work, “Gas” being one of those poems. The poem covers a wide range of themes, from a shorter angle view : funny Sunday dinners with a flatulent grandmother, to a longer angle view : a society suffering at the hands of the authoritative figure.
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