Two poets, centuries and continents apart, but they’re facing the same predicament. A whore has stolen their poetry and won’t return it. In lieu of payment? In addition to payment, one would think, especially in one case. Unless both whores had rich cultural lives (a possibility I guess).
Catullus, Gaius Valerius Catullus, bawdiest of the Romans; Charles Bukowski, the Shakespeare of the gutter, the laureate of the back alley, the king bum of the kingdom, beat before beat meant beatific. How strange that two poets from such different worlds (but were they?) should write poems on the same very specific theme. I wouldn’t even have thought of it.
The individual poems demonstrate surprising differences between the two men, though. The Catullus poem, No. 42, comes on with brash confidence. He’s enlisting the help of his own poetical gifts to shame her into returning his work:
Hendecasyllables, help! Come to my call,
Rally from every quarter, all of you, all
The hendecasyllables there are!
Bukowski, on the other hand, famous for his self-assurance, is scared that he has made no copies of the poems his whore has taken:
next time take my left arm or a fifty
but not my poems:
I’m not Shakespeare
Catullus’ hendecasyllabic abuse of his whore (“Give back the notebooks, rotten bitch!”) fails to produce results. At the end of No. 42 he resorts to lavishing her with false praise:
To make some headway, we shall have to try
A new line, switch the method of attack:
Say, “Pure sweet lady, please do give them back!”
Bukowski ends on a desolate note. He has no plan. His poems are gone, and so, possibly, is his chance of writing anything as good again. In a rhetorical gesture familiar to readers of Buk’s earlier work, God appears and says:
I see where I have made plenty of poets
but not so very much
I don’t think anyone could argue with that, could they?