An Introduction to the Poetry of Douglas Goodwin By Jay Dougherty (Interview with Goodwin here.) When poet Douglas Goodwin appeared on the small press poetry scene in the 80s, his raw, evocative, often unapologetically angry verse caught the attention of many, including Charles Bukowski, who wrote a foreword for Goodwin’s Half Memory of a Distant Life, a chapbook published in 1987 by Clock Radio Press. "When I first read the poetry of Douglas Goodwin,” Bukowski wrote in the foreword, “I was immediately taken. The stuff boiled with the agony of life, and the daring to go on with it anyhow. Courage is infective. So is wild, raging humor. Goodwin has these things. And he lays the lines down clear and clean; there is no posing, no posturing, no poetic gimmickry." Those words, of course, could be used to describe Bukowski’s own poetry, so it’s no wonder that Bukowski would be attracted to the work of a poet with such qualities. But rather than talk about those qualities, it’s better to read them. Here’s a piece from Goodwin called “Why Are You So Fat?”; it’s included in the long out-of-print Half Memory: WHY ARE YOU SO FAT? Wife smoked and drank hard cider while I got another headache on a smoggy sunday afternoon with the neighbors’ children screaming and banging on the wall. And the tape recorder had to be returned for warranty work because it was fucked up and wife’s Smith Corona typewriter was fucked up also again because everything we buy turns out to be a piece of shit, especially if it was made by resentful, incompetent, hung-over Americans. And I went outside, intending to walk down to the parking lot to make sure no one was climbing around on our cars or dumping garbage on our cars or writing “WASH ME” in the dust on my rear window again, when a slightly demented, dirty little white-trash child squinted up at me through greasy glasses and asked, in a dizzy, semi-retarded voice, “Why are you so fat?” And I regarded the little child without sympathy, calculating the possible consequences of heaving him over the railing to the parking lot below. There was no doubt that Goodwin was influenced by Bukowski. “Why Are You So Fat?”, for example, shows some of the same markings that made Bukowski’s work so appealing to so many: an outsider point of view that shows disgust with, or contempt for, mainstream society; the elevation of sordid detail into poetic form; and, ultimately, relief from despair through humor, however sardonically conveyed. But there was a quality in Goodwin’s work that set him apart, as well—that made his followers, Bukowski among them, wonder whether, at last, there was a young poet who was taking the license that Bukowski had given to his legions of fans and imitators and using it to nudge the boundaries just a bit, moving in a direction that Bukowski seemed headed toward in his early poetry but that he abandoned in his later verse. That direction had something to do with taking the inspiration of anger that had propelled many of Bukowski’s earlier works and extending it with lines laden with a level of disgust and antipathy that Bukowski himself seldom expressed. Witness these lines from “The High Powered Rifle Fantasy,” for example, again from Half Life: She runs down the stairs like a little Dutch dinosaur, prancing to answer the door in her clogs. She has many different sorts of shoes, different styles. She answers the door and it’s the same person that it always is: her boyfriend. Her boyfriend stands awkwardly yet hungrily in the doorway as she ushers him inside with familiar words about her job and about his job, words about jobs. He’s over for dinner and a little screwing as usual. They’ll saunter upstairs, discreetly, at ten o’clock leaving plenty of time for the cock and cunt thing and a hard-earned rest to prepare for another sparklingly busy day of necessary and truly important and gratifying work. The poem continues for several more stanzas, piling detail upon detail in a biting, simmering diatribe that leaves the reader as much aghast at the level of the poet’s invective as it does at the ostensible subject of the poem: I’ve read her mail. I’ve scoured her room, looking for a journal or a notebook or anything in which a young woman might express her innermost feelings. I found nothing. She saves letters. They could have all been written by the same person. Cordial, newsy, distant, semi-literate, and boring. Letters to save in a box, to have and to hold. Birthday cards, notes from Mom, from Dad, from a sister in Norman, Oklahoma, from brothers and from high school friends, from college friends who are living and eating and sleeping and fucking in places like El Paso, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Fayetteville, Arkansas. Goodwin, in his best poetry, was on fire, writing a kind of verse that, in many ways, felt like it was picking up where Bukowski left off. Bukowski himself, in an unpublished letter to Goodwin (Bukowski 1-9-86), expresses discomfort with the level of anger in some of Goodwin’s work: “Your rage,” says Bukowski, “is not as close to humor as I’d prefer it but you’re often right on the mark and when you hit [the] target, it don’t matter too much how you get there as long as it hits.” Goodwin's railing against the stultification of the status quo, tradition, and the notion of success embedded in the American dream was familiar fodder to Bukowski and his fans, but Goodwin was pushing the boundaries of the level of acceptable reactive anger in poetry just a little bit further than Bukowski did. "Welcome to a new voice," Bukowski wrote in his foreword to Half Life. "The ranks have been thin for some long time." Indeed, to those with an ear to the ground in the small press literary scene of the 80s, Goodwin’s vituperative verse was uniquely biting, sometimes unsettling, but rarely forgettable. Take these lines, for example, from “Bitter Pill” (Half Memory): I’m sick of articles and clauses grammatical asterisks and salaries and the careful garbage of mercenary words; wielding nothing, meaning nothing, changing nothing, challenging nothing, changing nothing. I’m sick of it all: the wife at home, home, the job, the car, crashing into parking spaces, buying food. I arrive on time. I forego all tiny pleasures. I get nearly enough sleep. I watch the hours pass. I do my job. In all this late arriving compromise of the shared bed and the shared life I have almost half-memory, half memory of a distant life. Goodwin, Unfinished What’s sad is that Douglas Goodwin seems to have largely disappeared from the poetry stage. His verse of the 80s and early 90s stands as a tantalizing prelude to what followers hoped would mature into a body of work that took the baton from Bukowski and ran with it to an arena not yet fully explored. The good news, though, is that Goodwin did leave us with a body of poetry that should be attractive to any fan of Bukowski, evidence not only of Bukowski’s ability to influence a new generation of writers but also of the prospect that one day, some writer can and will break visibly above the level of Bukowski imitator and emerge as the next bard worthy of the international fame and recognition that Bukowski enjoyed in his later years. Douglas Goodwin’s Poetry Collections Goodwin’s poetry is represented in four collections that I know of. All are out of print. Please respond to this essay if you know of any that I did not include. Hung Like a Hebrew National. Earth Books. 1986. Half Memory of a Distant Life. Clock Radio Press. 1987. Sisyphus Lives. Apemantus Press. 1990. Slamming It Down. Earth Rose Press. 1993. Bukowski and Goodwin Correspondence Douglas Goodwin and Charles Bukowski corresponded in the 80s, if not a bit beyond. Three of Bukowski’s letters to Goodwin appear in Bukowski’s Reach for the Sun, Selected Letters 1978–1994, Volume 3, originally published by Black Sparrow Press. In the days to come, I intend to examine that correspondence, along with previously unpublished letters from Bukowski to Goodwin that Douglas sent me back in the 80s. I will update this essay with my results. One very interesting letter includes a poem of Goodwin’s that Bukowski rewrote for him. The original Goodwin poem was called “Twisted Living,” and Bukowski pared it down, calling the resulting version “I know what love is.” “He didn’t add anything,” Goodwin wrote to me. “He just subtracted.” ------------------ P.S. Also, in the coming days, I will make available Goodwin's out-of-print Half Memory of a Distant Life in the PoetryCircle Resources section. If you're reading this and are not a member of PoetryCircle, become one. You'll need to be registered to download the volume. © 2013 by Jay Dougherty. All rights reserved.