My Favourite Drug Poems
The Suicide Kid
Famous poet, Charles Bukowski was a heavy drinker. His poetry is built of crisp Hemmingway-esq sentences about life on skid row – “poetry with balls,” as he once said.
“The Suicide Kid” is about the dance between suicide and alcoholism. The narrator wants to end his life so he goes to the worst bars “hoping to get killed” but instead he is greeted by patrons who buy him drinks. This raises the question, was he serious about wanting to die? Or was it easier for this tough-as-boots lush to go looking for death than admit his own loneliness?
The anger and sense of self-destruction is shown in the short, sharp lines. And the narrator’s drunkeness is revealed by breaking the lines mid-sentence to mirror the jumbled speech of a boozehound. Whatever the deeper causes of his actions, they are hidden by these effects.
But there is a sense of humour here too. In the final lines, the narrator recognizes his own ridiculousness, ironically bemoaning the fact he’s lived to 72 which demonstrates that, not only did he fail to kill himself once, he failed to do so again and again.
I went to the worst of bars
Hoping to get
But all I could do was to
Worse, the bar patrons even
There I was trying to get
Pushed over the dark
And I ended up with
While somewhere else
Son-of-a-bitch was in a hospital
Tubes sticking out all over
As he fought like hell
Nobody would help me
The drinks kept
As the next day
Waited for me
With its steel clamps
Death doesn’t always
When you call
Not even if you
From a shining
Or from an ocean liner
Or from the best bar
On earth (or the
Only makes the gods
Ask me: I’m
“Heroin” is a poem about junk and love. For the narrator, heroin is an infatuation; a relationship that shares the comforts and anxieties of marriage. His supply chain is tenuous, “like love – it could dwindle,” a line that reveals the anxiety the narrator feels about his habit and his lover. On the other hand the “graciousness” of heroin is reflected by his partner, who “seemed not to mind who I was.” For Smith, the ups and downs of love can be found in marriage and heroin.
Sparse locations like the porch, the railroad depot and the bench outside the church conjure the open spaces of the narrator’s country home. This spaciousness mirrors the detachment of the junky, “nodding on the rock” because, when high, time seems to expand and real life seems a great distance away.
Temporal distance is also a theme; the many years the narrator spent trying “to conjure her back into the world” reveals the final loneliness of his life and the bitterness of the final lines drives that point home by implying that he would exchange his “handsome” pay in order to return to times past.
I left a message for my editor to send copies of the contracts
to my new agent,
and then I read a passage about how no one talks
about heroin anymore, and the old life came back to me,
it was early yet, I hadn’t used heroin for years,
I was one of the few rural junkies in the nation,
one of the few who tended cattle, there I was
nodding on a rock as the cows, stiff with unendurable shyness,
stumbled up to me. My wife and I would eat mashed potatoes
from the pot and lie out on the porch smoking reefer
until it got too dark to see. I bought the drugs
from my friend at the railroad repair depot
just off the main line from Norfolk, Indochinese material,
Long Bin—to Guam—to Fort Ord—to VA—then by Mr. Fixit train to me,
traveling in a nylon medic’s bag. I never trusted
the supply—like love—it could dwindle,
or simply give way,
the flexed utensil, like one of those measuring sticks
you unfold and lay across a map; anybody could step on it.
I loved the graciousness of heroin, the way everything externalized
and obvious in the daylight opened its shirt and revealed its soft pale breasts.
The world slept curled in its own foolhardiness.
And my wife came carefully over the blankets to me and seemed
not to mind who I was. We inserted words
into spaces in the rain. For years I remembered the words
and whispered them to myself, half thinking I might
conjure her back into the world. They never caught us.
We missed them on the way to Mexico, to Puebla,
where eventually the line gave out. We slept on a bench outside a church.
It was two days before she died without regaining consciousness,
as I say in the memoir they are paying me so handsomely for.
Give Me What I Need
John Cooper Clarke
British punk poet, John Cooper Clarke began performing in Manchester clubs in the late 1970s inspired by breakneck bands like the Ramones. His influence remains to this day with one of his most famous poems, “Evidently Chickentown” featuring on a dark episode of the Sopranos.
In “Give Me What I Need” Clarke reveals the tunnel vision of addiction. The narrator is trapped in a world where “imminent disaster and misery abound” and the only solution is to get what he needs.
He doesn’t care about anything else, laughter is “frivolous” and his favourite literature lies “strangled in the weed”. The pain of self pity and resentment is added to the narrator’s chaotic lifestyle and, as the negativity builds up, the more escape into drugs is inevitable.
While Charlie Smith compares Heroin to love, for Clarke it is divine, “immaculate connection” is a pun on Jesus’ “immaculate conception,” and it is the only miracle the narrator is interested in receiving.
Poetry and laughter, how frivolous the sound
Where imminent disaster and misery abound
Les Fleurs du Malcontent lie strangled in the weed
You may never know what I want, but I know what I need.
A victim by profession; blame it on the girl
With the vacant possession of the sedentary world
I believe in miracles, it’s written in the creed
Give me what I need.
The Unknown Poets of Crazy Town (extract)
Shane Levene is an artist, poet and writer who is about to publish his first novel, “Waiting for John”. His online collection “Poems of the Underclass” draws on his experience growing up in London’s slums.
Drug abuse tumbles down generations and blooms in different lives over decades; in “the Unknown Poets” Levene examines the heritage of his own addiction. His attitude is ambivalent, while the piteous states of his characters are revealed in their shocking wholeness, the narrator never looses compassion or respect because they inspired his writing.
The House of Poets is a desperate place but also one of tenderness where the narrator is exposed to the oral traditions of Ireland and the Caribbean. Their stories are the “royal blue blood” in his BIC pen, but he also inherits the “rotting throne” of their trauma. In the end, the narrator takes no superior stance, he is there too, “protruding from the mucous membrane,” just as part of the rot as anyone.
And it was a House of Poets
For poetry was in the house
But this poetry wasn’t of ink
Nor made for the page:
It was vomited up the walls
Pissed into beer cans
Shit into plastic sacks
Carved into faces
Raped into the unconscious
Exposed through open trousers
Born out of wedlock
The Black bastard child of Margaret Thatcher
The Verse of the Dead and Dying
A Degenerate Stanza of living
And I was there
Protruding from the mucous membrane
A polyp of youth
With Royal Blue Blood
A cheap BiC pen
Heir to the rotting throne.
Howl Part II (extract)
Alan Ginsberg was a revolutionary poet who was no stranger to recreational chemicals. The inspiration for this extract of his famous poem, Howl came from a peyote trip where Ginsberg witnessed an LA hotel morphing into a slavering demon. Naming it Molach, after the Biblical deity who demanded child sacrifices, Ginsberg used that image to critique the machinery of industrial capitalism. Molach, then, becomes the epitome of unchecked capitalism – insatiably greedy and callous.
Peyote, like other psychedelics, is known to illuminate the ineffable aspects of human consciousness such as love and fraternity, but it can also reveal the shadow side of modern culture in all its unchecked plundering of the Earth’s resources. Ginsberg captures this message in language that seethes with the incandescence of an Old Testament prophet.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls
and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable
dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys
sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless!
Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone
soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch
whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of
war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is
running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!
Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose
ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose
skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless
Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the
fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the
Hope you enjoyed that. It’s a departure from my usual dope stories but more will be coming soon. This was originally meant to be published in a magazine but the copyright holders demanded we pay thousands of dollars in order to share these poems. Apart from Shane over at memoirs of a heroinhead who doesn’t believe in such sillyness