Title Play the Piano Drunk like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit
Author Charles Bukowski
Publication details Black Sparrow Press 1980
Rating (one to five stars) ***1/2
What is this collection about?
  • A collection of observations from the eyes and mind of an alcoholic writer.
  • A verbal sketchbook of sombre thoughts penned from the familiarity of a life spent drinking with fleeting lovers and acquaintances in squalid hotel rooms, dog tracks and bars.
What is distinctive about the poet or the poetry? Do you think they have a philosophy of language, for example?
  • Bukowski’s poems read like a scoundrel’s final confessions. His use of language and imagery lends the reader passage into places that for the most part, they could only recognise as rock bottom. Yet Bukowski’s energy, though grievous, is perpetual and shows no sign of collapse.
  • Bukowski exerts a language both confronting and subtle. He pulls no verbal punches in order to describe the sour smell of a woman’s underwear and at the same time composes the verse into a term of endearment. Often his words conjure up images of a misogynistic drunk spitting on women, though the way in which he crafts his verses, his use of language and his delicate observations suggest otherwise.
  • Most of the poems come in short bursts like sparks from a lighter or a shadow past the window, though the ideas and images resonate as whisky lines an empty glass and a bitter argument resounds after the lights go out.
What do you find admirable about the writing? Anything you wish to imitate in terms of ideas or process?
  • The poems in this book often outline bleak circumstance, bitter aftertaste, pessimism and the ugly side of humanity, however Bukowski writes with an honesty that washes the sin from his words and leaves in its place, a genuine voice from a source that feels, tastes and lives its poetry. This quality is commendable because it creates beautiful conflict and also engages a reader from both sides of morality… This is certainly a respectable talent.
  • Of course ones idea of morality differs from another’s, but Bukowski‘s unguarded words surely cover themes that rub many in an uncomfortable way.
  • As a writer I’d like to paint words as Bukowski does; give the darkest room light enough to clearly read the abominations of the wall, create character from air with the same gritty realism he does with his ‘drinking partners and prostitutes’.
Has it had an impact on you as a writer?
  • A positive impact from honest themes. Though Bukowski’s view and idea might not be digestible for everyone, his brutal honesty permits you to trust, allowing a reader to take away more than blood, broads and beer stains. This very much impacts on my writing and gives me courage to approach darker themes.
  • Whilst reading This book I continually found myself frustrated that Bukowski had found words so fitting, to images so honest and real. This frustration is a drive and I know there are plenty of images, with many of words that connect them left for me to pen. In identifying Bukowski’s individuality, I realize the importance of finding my own voice in my writing.
Any further comments?
  • Reading Bukowski often offers a similar sensation to that of taking a drink from a beer with a cigarette butt in it, yet other times it’s can be like tasting your grandmothers cooking. He offers a reader both ugliness and familiarity.



Bukowski, C 1980, Play the Piano Drunk like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit, Black Sparrow Press, California.

(First published June 5th 1979)


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