Monday, 14 January 2013

Dave Turnbulls Remembers his MFA Poetry Prof at Iowa, Charles Bukowski

What follows is a discussion with Dave Turnbull, a former student of Infamous Poet, and Iowa Creative Writing Professor, Charles Bukowski

G'Morning Poetry: Off the top, when and where did you study with Bukowski?

Dave Turnbull: I studied with the Maestro from 1971-1973. At Iowa--in the MFA writing program. They were glorious years...

GP: For sure. So you must have some outrageous never-before-heard stories to share about your time there with "the Maestro."

DT: Oh, I sure do. He was an extraordinary and unorthodox man, as is well known.

GP: We can't wait.

DT: Well, here's a scandalous anecdote I never tire of sharing. One time the Maestro came to class and his breast pocket handkerchief was askew and Monica--one of my fellow students--was like "Maestro, your breast pocket handkerchief is askew" and Professor Bukowski was like "Oh, is it? Egad! How obscene! I should get that rectified forthwith." Needless to say, he did--he repositioned the handkerchief right then and there before our very eyes. We were all very impressed--and also intimidated!--by his radical, world-be-damned self-care.

GP: We don't quite understand.

DT: Like, you know, a lot of other profs at the time--Donny Justice, Tony the Hurts Hecht, the Big Cheevs, Stegner the Impregnator--they were so into this from-the-street, foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, rules-flouting, fight-clubbing, womanizing kind of thing. But the Maestro was different--he positively hummed with elegance.

GP: Okay, but, we heard that one time Buk just shat on a table during a particularly contentious workshop session.

DT: Professor Bukowski?! You've got that story all wrong. There was a desk-defecation incident but it involved Berryman and Snodgrass. They got into the Dean's vodka and then took some speed or something and they wanted to have a shitting contest. Berryman couldn't produce and Snodgrass prevailed--magnificently, as I recall. It was the Maestro who dutifully cleaned up the feces.

GP: He cleaned up Snodgrass's shit?

DT: Yes, he did. I recall him saying "This is a nasty business, Master Turnbull, but if not for love and tenderness then for what?"

GP: Well--did Buk ever come to class drunk? He must have.

DT: He was straight-edge, of course.

GP: Charles Bukowski?!

DT: That's right--no meat, no sex, and no booze or drugs. What a paragon of propriety and righteous comportment. Ah, he was such a disciplined prince.

GP: We find that sort of ha--

DT: Oh, and I must tell you another anecdote--an outrageous library story.

GP: Does it involve Bukowski?

DT: Yes, certainly. One night I was studying late at the library and who should come staggering upstairs naked bu--

GP: The Buk!

DT: No no! It was Robert Penn Warren.


DT: He was blotto, you know. And so there he is yelling "Yer all a bunch of worthless mindless cunts!" at the top of his lungs and then the Maestro shows up and--whispering Keats "Ode to Melancholy"--quiets him down. He and a librarian, I remember, then covered him in a blanket.

GP: Then what happened?

DT: Oh--you won't believe this but Professor Bukowski walked the drunken Penn Warren home. A friend told me that the Maestro even prepared one of his homeopathic remedies for Penn Warren. Apparently he sat up with and nursed the man all night. A staggeringly caring, selfless, whole-hearted human being--our Maestro. Wow.

GP: Well, okay--what then would you say he taught you about poetry? about the writing life?

DT: I think the Maestro taught us how to write from our souls. I remember one day he said to us--I can still see him in his freshly pressed three-piece suit, sipping his Bengal Spice tea (he could be risque!)--he said to us "My dear children, sing with the voices of angels--sing so truly that God will smile his sunlight smiles upon your splendid heads. Dear children--go forth, my teachings are complete."

He loved nothing more than to sip organic strawberry juice and sing arias from Puccini, says Dave Turnbull

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