Bukowski, Charles 1920–1994
Bukowski, Charles 1920–1994
PERSONAL: Born August 16, 1920, in Andernach, Germany; died of leukemia, March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, CA; immigrated to the United States, 1922; married Barbara Fry, October, 1955 (divorced); married Linda Lee Beighle (a health-food proprietor); children: (with Frances Smith) Marina Louise. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College, 1939–41. Hobbies and other interests: Playing the horses, symphony music.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as an unskilled laborer, beginning 1941, in various positions, including dishwasher, truck driver and loader, mail carrier, guard, gas station attendant, stock boy, warehouse worker, shipping clerk, post office clerk, parking lot attendant, Red Cross orderly, and elevator operator; also worked in dog biscuit factory, slaughterhouse, cake and cookie factory, and hung posters in New York subways. Former editor of Harlequin and Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns; columnist ("Notes of a Dirty Old Man"), Open City and L.A. Free Press.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1974; Loujon Press Award; Silver Reel Award, San Francisco Festival of the Arts, for documentary film.
Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, Hearse Press (Eureka, CA), 1959.
Longshot Poems for Broke Players, 7 Poets Press (New York, NY), 1961.
Run with the Hunted, Midwest Poetry Chapbooks (Chicago, IL), 1962.
Poems and Drawings, EPOS (Crescent City, FL), 1962.
It Catches My Heart in Its Hands: New and Selected Poems, 1955–1963, Loujon Press (New Orleans, LA), 1963.
Grip the Walls, Wormwood Review Press (Stockton, CA), 1964.
Cold Dogs in the Courtyard, Literary Times (Chicago, IL), 1965.
Crucifix in a Deathhand: New Poems, 1963–1965, Loujon Press (New Orleans, LA), 1965.
The Genius of the Crowd, 7 Flowers Press (Cleveland, OH), 1966.
True Story, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1966.
On Going out to Get the Mail, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1966.
To Kiss the Worms Goodnight, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1966.
The Girls, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1966.
The Flower Lover, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1966.
Night's Work, Wormwood Review Press, 1966.
2 by Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1967.
The Curtains Are Waving, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1967.
At Terror Street and Agony Way, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1968.
Poems Written before Jumping out of an Eight-Story Window, Litmus (Salt Lake City, UT), 1968.
If We Take …, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1969.
The Days Run away like Wild Horses over the Hills, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1969, reprinted, 1993.
Another Academy, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1970.
Fire Station, Capricorn Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1970.
Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1972.
Me and Your Sometimes Love Poems, Kisskill Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1972.
While the Music Played, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1973.
Love Poems to Marina, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1973.
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems, 1955–1973, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1974.
Chilled Green, Alternative Press, 1975.
Africa, Paris, Greece, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1975.
Weather Report, Pomegranate Press, 1975.
Winter, No Mountain, 1975.
Tough Company, bound with The Last Poem by Diane Wakoski, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1975.
Scarlet, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1976.
Maybe Tomorrow, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1977.
Love Is a Dog from Hell: Poems, 1974–1977, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1977.
Legs, Hips, and Behind, Wormwood Review Press, 1979.
Play the Piano Drunk like a Percussion Instrument until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1979.
A Love Poem, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1979.
Dangling in the Tournefortia, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1981.
The Last Generation, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1982.
Sparks, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1983.
War All the Time: Poems 1981–1984, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1984.
The Roominghouse Madrigals: Early Selected Poems, 1946–1966, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1988.
Beauti-ful and Other Long Poems, Wormwood Books and Magazines, 1988.
People Poems: 1982–1991, Wormwood Books and Magazines, 1991.
The Last Night of the Earth Poems, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1992.
(With Kenneth Price), Heat Wave, Black Sparrow Graphic Arts (Santa Rosa, CA), 1995.
Bone Palace Ballet: New Poems, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1997.
The Captain Is out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship, illustrated by Robert Crumb, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1998.
What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk through the Fire, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1999.
Open All Night: New Poems, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2000.
The Night Torn Mad with Footsteps: New Poems, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2001.
Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way: New Poems, Ecco (New York, NY), 2003.
The Flash of Lightning behind the Mountain: New Poems, Ecco (New York, NY), 2004.
Slouching Toward Nirvana: New Poems, Ecco (New York, NY), 2005.
Post Office, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1971.
Factotum, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1975.
Women, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1978.
Ham on Rye, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1982, reprinted, with an introduction by Roddy Doyle, Canongate (Edinburgh, Great Britain), 2001.
Horsemeat, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1982.
Hollywood, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1989.
Pulp, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1994.
Notes of a Dirty Old Man, Essex House (North Hollywood, CA), 1969, 2nd edition, 1973.
Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1972, abridged edition published as Life and Death in the Charity Ward, London Magazine Editions (London, England), 1974, selections edited by Gail Ghiarello published as Tales of Ordinary Mad-ness and The Most Beautiful Woman in Town, and Other Stories, two volumes, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1983.
South of No North: Stories of the Buried Life, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1973.
Bring Me Your Love, illustrated by R. Crumb, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1983.
Hot Water Music, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1983.
There's No Business, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1984.
Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts, Mimeo Press (Bensenville, IL), 1966.
All the Assholes in the World and Mine, Open Skull Press (Bensenville, IL), 1966.
A Bukowski Sampler, edited by Douglas Blazek, Quixote Press (Madison, WI), 1969.
(Compiler, with Neeli Cherry and Paul Vangelisti) Anthology of L.A. Poets, Laugh Literary (Los Angeles, CA), 1972.
Art, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1977.
What They Want, Neville (Santa Barbara, CA), 1977.
We'll Take Them, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1978.
You Kissed Lilly, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1978.
Shakespeare Never Did This, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1979.
(With Al Purdy) The Bukowski/Purdy Letters: A Decade of Dialogue, 1964–1974, edited by Seamus Cooney, Paget Press (Ontario, Canada), 1983.
Under the Influence: A Charles Bukowski Checklist, Water Row Press (Sudbury, MA), 1984.
You Get so Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1986.
(Author of preface) Jack Micheline, River of Red Wine, Water Row Press (Sudbury, MA), 1986.
Barfly (screenplay based on Bukowski's life), Cannon Group, 1987, published as The Movie "Barfly": An Original Screenplay by Charles Bukowski for a Film by Barbet Schroeder, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1987.
A Visitor Complains of My Disenfranchise (limited edition), Illuminati, 1987.
Bukowski at Bellevue (video cassette of poetry reading; broadcast on EZTV, West Hollywood, CA, 1988), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1988.
Septuagenarian Stew: Stories and Poems, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1990.
(Author of preface) John Fante, Ask the Dust, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1993.
Run with the Hunted: A Charles Bukowski Reader, edited by John Martin, Harper Collins (New York, NY), 1993.
Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960–1970 (autobiography), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1994.
(Author of foreword) Steve Richmond, Hitler Painted Roses, Sun Dog Press (Northville, MI), 1994.
Confession of a Coward, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1995.
(Editor) Seamus Cooney, Living on Luck: Selected Letters, 1960s–1970s, Volume 2, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1995.
Betting on the Muse: Poems & Stories, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1996.
Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, 1978–1994, edited by Seamus Cooney, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1999.
(With Fernada Pivano) Charles Bukowski: Laughing with the Gods (interview), Sun Dog Press (Northville, MI), 2000.
Beerspit Night and Cursing: The Correspondence of Charles Bukowski and Sheri Martinelli, 1960–1967, edited by Steven Moore, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2001.
Sunlight Here I Am: Interviews and Encounters, 1963–1993, edited by David Stephen Calonne, Sun Dog Press (Northville, MI), 2003.
Also author of the short story "The Copulating Mermaids of Venice, California." Work represented in anthologies, including Penguin Modern Poets 13, 1969, Six Poets, 1979, and Notes from the Underground, edited by John Bryan. Also author of a one-hour documentary film, produced by KCET public television, Los Angeles. A collection of Bukowski's papers is housed at the University of California—Santa Barbara.
ADAPTATIONS: Stories from Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness were adapted by Marco Ferreri, Sergio Amidei, and Anthony Foutz into the film Tales of Ordinary Madness, Fred Baker, 1983; a film adaptation of Love Is a Dog from Hell was produced in 1988; The Works of Charles Bukowski, based upon more than thirty of his works published by Black Sparrow Press, was staged by California State University in Los Angeles, 1988; Crazy Love, based on The Copulating Mermaids of Venice, California, was filmed in 1989.
SIDELIGHTS: Charles Bukowski was a prolific underground writer who depicted in his poetry and prose the depraved metropolitan environments of the downtrod-den in American society. A cult hero, Bukowski relied on experience, emotion, and imagination in his works, often using direct language and violent and sexual imagery. While some critics found his style offensive, others claimed that Bukowski satirized the machismo attitude through his routine use of sex, alcohol abuse, and violence. "Without trying to make himself look good, much less heroic, Bukowski writes with a nothing-to-lose truthfulness which sets him apart from most other 'autobiographical' novelists and poets," commented Stephen Kessler in the San Francisco Review of Books, adding: "Firmly in the American tradition of the maverick, Bukowski writes with no apologies from the frayed edge of society, beyond or beneath respectability, revealing nasty and alarming under-views." Michael Lally, writing in Village Voice, maintained that "Bukowski is … a phenomenon. He has established himself as a writer with a consistent and insistent style based on what he projects as his 'personality,' the result of hard, intense living."
Bukowski had "a sandblasted face, warts on his eyelids and a dominating nose that looks as if it were assembled in a junkyard from Studebaker hoods and Buick fenders," described Paul Ciotti in the Los Angeles Times Magazine. "Yet his voice is so soft and bemused that it's hard to take him seriously when he says: 'I don't like people. I don't even like myself. There must be something wrong with me.'" Born in Germany, Bukowski was brought to the United States at the age of two. His father believed in firm discipline and often beat Bukowski for the smallest offenses. A slight child, Bukowski was also bullied by boys his own age, and was frequently rejected by girls because of his bad complexion. "When Bukowski was thirteen," wrote Ciotti, "one of [his friends] invited him to his father's wine cellar and served him his first drink of alcohol. 'It was magic,' Bukowski would later write. 'Why hadn't someone told me?'"
In 1939, Bukowski began attending Los Angeles City College, dropping out at the beginning of World War II and moving to New York to become a writer. The next few years were spent writing and traveling and collecting numerous rejection slips. By 1946 Bukowski had decided to give up his writing aspirations and went on a drinking binge that took him all over the world and lasted for approximately ten years. Ending up near death, Bukowski's life changed and he started writing again. "If a writer must sample life at its most elemental, then surely Bukowski qualifies as a laureate of poetic preparedness," observed Bob Graalman in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Bukowski's many jobs over the years included stock boy, dishwasher, postal clerk, and factory worker. He did not begin his professional writing career until the age of thirty-five, and like other contemporaries, Bukowski began by publishing in underground newspapers, especially in his local papers, Open City and the L.A. Free Press. "It is tempting to make correlations between [Bukowski's] emergence in Los Angeles literary circles and the arrival of the 1960s, when poets were still shaking hands with Allen Ginsberg and other poets of his generation while younger activist poets tapped on their shoulders, begging for an introduction," explained Graalman. "Bukowski cultivated his obvious link to both eras—the blackness and despair of the 1950s with the rebellious cry of the 1960s for freedom."
"Published by small, underground presses and ephemeral mimeographed little magazines," described Jay Dougherty in Contemporary Novelists, "Bukowski has gained popularity, in a sense, through word of mouth." Many of his fans regarded him as one of the best of the Meat School poets, who are known for their tough and direct masculine writing. "The main character in his poems and short stories, which are largely autobiographical, is usually a down-and-out writer [Henry Chinaski] who spends his time working at marginal jobs (and getting fired from them), getting drunk and making love with a succession of bimbos and floozies," related Ciotti. "Otherwise, he hangs out with fellow losers—whores, pimps, alcoholics, drifters, the people who lose their rent money at the race track, leave notes of goodbye on dressers and have flat tires on the freeway at 3 a.m."
After his first book of poetry was published in 1959, Bukowski wrote more than forty others. Ciotti maintained: "Right from the beginning, Bukowski knew that if a poet wants to be read, he has to be noticed first. 'So,' he once said, 'I got my act up. I wrote vile (but interesting) stuff that made people hate me, that made them curious about this Bukowski. I threw bodies off my porch into the night. I sneered at hippies. I was in and out of drunk tanks. A lady accused me of rape.'"
Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, Bukowski's first book of poetry, covers the major interests and themes that occupy many of his works, the most important being "the sense of a desolate, abandoned world," as R.R. Cuscaden pointed out in the Outsider. In addition to this sense of desolation, Bukowski also filled his free verse with all the absurdities of life, especially in relation to death. "Bukowski's world, scored and grooved by the impersonal instruments of civilized industrial society, by twentieth-century knowledge and experience, re-mains essentially a world in which meditation and analysis have little part," asserted John William Corrington in Northwest Review. Among the subjects which are used to describe this bleak world are drinking, sex, gambling, and music. The actual style of these numerous poems, however, has its virtues, including "a crisp, hard voice; an excellent ear and eye for measuring out the lengths of lines; and an avoidance of metaphor where a lively anecdote will do the same dramatic work," maintained Ken Tucker in Village Voice. It Catches My Heart in Its Hands, published in 1963, collects poetry written by Bukowski between the years of 1955 and 1963. "Individual poems merge to form together a body of work unrivalled in kind and very nearly unequalled in quality by Bukowski's contemporaries," stated Corrington. The poems touch on topics that were familiar to Bukowski, such as rerolling cigarette butts, the horse that came in, a hundred-dollar call girl, and a rumpled hitchhiker on his way to nowhere. It Catches My Heart in Its Hands contains poems which "are energetic, tough, and unnerving," related Dabney Stuart in Poetry. Kenneth Rexroth asserted in the New York Times Book Review that Bukowski "belongs in the small company of poets of real, not literary, alienation."
Subsequent works, such as Dangling in the Tournefortia, addressed subjects similar to those in his first collection. "Low-life bard of Los Angeles, Mr. Bukowski has nothing new for us here," observed Peter Schjeldahl in the New York Times Book Review, "simply more and still more accounts in free verse of his follies with alcohol and women and of fellow losers hitting bottom and somehow discovering new ways to continue falling." Despite the subject matter, though, Schjeldahl found himself enjoying the poems in Dangling in the Tournefortia. "Bukowski writes well," he continued, "with earpleasing cadences, wit and perfect clarity, which are all the more beguiling for issuing from a stumblebum persona. His grace with words gives a comic gleam to even his meanest revelations." William Logan, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, concluded: "Life here has almost entirely mastered art."
Similar to his poetry in subject matter, Bukowski's short stories also deal with sex, violence, and the absurdities of life. In his first collection of short stories, Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness, Bukowski "writes as an unregenerate lowbrow contemptuous of our claims to superior being," stated Thomas R. Edwards in the New York Review of Books. On the other hand, Peter Ackroyd maintained in the Spectator, "A dull character finally emerges, and it is a dullness which spreads through these stories like a stain." Edwards, however, concluded that "in some of these sad and funny stories [Bukowski's] status as a relic isn't wholly without its sanctity."
The protagonists in the stories in Hot Water Music, published in 1983, live in cheap hotels and are often struggling underground writers, similar to Bukowski himself. Bukowski's main autobiographical figure is Henry Chinaski, who appears in a few of these stories and in many of his novels. Among the semi-autobiographical stories in this collection are two which deal with events following the funeral of Bukowski's father. The other stories deal with numerous violent acts, including a jealous wife shooting her husband over an old infidelity, a drunk bank manager molesting young children, a former stripper mutilating the man she is seducing, and a young man who gets over his impotence by raping a neighbor in his apartment elevator. "Lives of quiet desperation explode in apparently random and unmotivated acts of bizarre violence," described Michael F. Harper in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, adding: "There is certainly a raw power in these stories, but Bukowski's hard-boiled fatalism seems to me the flip side of the humanism he denies and therefore just as false as the sentimentality he ridicules." Erling Friis-Baastad, writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, concluded, "In his best work, Bukowski comes close to making us comprehend, if not the sense of it all, then at least its intensity. He cannot forget, and he will not let us forget, that every morning at 3 a.m. broken people lie 'in their beds, trying in vain to sleep, and deserving that rest, if they could find it.'"
Bukowski continued his examination of "broken people" in such novels as Post Office and Ham on Rye. In Post Office, Henry Chinaski is very similar to ex-postman Bukowski; he is a remorseless drunk and womanizer who spends a lot of time at the race track. Chinaski also has to deal with his monotonous and strenuous job, as well as a number of harassing supervisors. Eventually marrying a rich nymphomaniac from Texas, Chinaski is inevitably dumped for another man and finds himself back at the post office. "Bukowski's loser's string of anecdotes, convulsively funny and also sad, is unflagging entertainment but in the end doesn't add up to more than the sum of its parts, somehow missing the novelist's alchemy," stated a Times Literary Supplement contributor. But Valentine Cunningham, also writing in the Times Literary Supplement, saw the novel as a success: "Pressed in by Post Office bureaucrats, their mean-minded regulations and their heaps of paperwork, the misfit [Chinaski] looks frequently like an angel of light. His refusal to play respectability ball with the cajoling, abusive, never-take-no-for-an-answer loops who own the mailboxes he attends … can make even this ribald mess of a wretch seem a shining haven of sanity in the prevailing Los Angeles grimnesses."
Ham on Rye, published in 1982, once again features Henry Chinaski as its protagonist. Bukowski travels into new territory with this novel, describing his/Chinaski's childhood and adolescent years. The first part of the book is dominated by Chinaski's brutal and domineering father, focusing more on Henry as he moves into his lonely and isolated adolescent years. Following high school, Chinaski holds a job and attends college for a short period of time before beginning his "real" life of cheap hotels, sleazy bars, and the track. It is also at this time that Henry starts to send stories to magazines and accumulate a number of rejection slips. "Particularly striking is Bukowski's uncharacteristic restraint: the prose is hard and exact, the writer's impulse towards egocentricity repressed," commented David Montrose in the Times Literary Supplement. Ben Reuven, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, described the "first-person reminiscences" in Ham on Rye as being "taut, vivid, intense, sometimes poignant, [and] often hilarious," concluding that Bukowski's "prose has never been more vigorous or more powerful."
Continuing the examination of his younger years, Bukowski wrote the screenplay for the movie Barfly, which was released in 1987, starring Mickey Rourke. The movie focuses on three days in the life of Bukowski at the age of twenty-four. As the lead character, Henry Chinaski, Rourke spends most of these three days in a seedy bar, where he meets the first real love of his life, Wanda, played by Faye Dunaway. While this new romance is developing, a beautiful literary editor takes an interest in Chinaski's writings and tries to seduce him with success. Chinaski must then choose between the two women. "At first Barfly seems merely a slice of particularly wretched life," observed David Ansen in Newsweek. "But under its seedy surface emerges a cunning comedy—and a touching love story." Vincent Canby, writing in the New York Times, saw the film as dealing "in the continuing revelation of character in a succession of horrifying, buoyant, crazy confrontations of barflies, bartenders, police and other representatives of the world of the sober." Michael Wilmington concluded in the Los Angeles Times: "Whatever its flaws, [Barfly] does something more films should do: It opens up territory, opens up a human being. The worst of it has the edge of coughed-up whimsy and barroom bragging. But the best has the shock of truth and the harsh sweet kiss of dreams."
Bukowski's experiences with the making of Barfly became the basis of his novel Hollywood. Chinaski is now an old man, married to Sarah, a shrewd woman apt to interrupt him during his many repetitious stories. The couple is off hard liquor, but are faithful drinkers of good red wine, and their life is a peaceful one until a filmmaker asks Chinaski to write a screenplay based upon his previous lifestyle; he agrees, figuring that this new venture will leave him enough time to spend at the track. Entering the world of show business, Chinaski finds himself mingling with famous stars, but must also deal with a number of other things, including a tax man (who advises him to spend his advance money before the government can get it). As the project progresses, its funding becomes shaky, the producer threatens to dismember parts of his body if the movie is not made, there are many rewrites, and Chinaski is hit with a terrible sadness. The movie is about what he used to be—a poetic barfly—and covers a time in his life when he feels he did his best writing. An old man now, Chinaski can watch his life being acted out at the movies, but he cannot jump back into it; he is now a successful man leading a respectable life. "The words often jar and Bukowski is better when he lets his dialogue do his griping for him. But this is still a superb snapshot of what filmmaking at the fag-end of the Hollywood dream is all about," said Toby Moore in Times Literary Supplement. Gary Dretzka, writing in the Chicago Tribune, asserted that "Bukowski offers an often insightful and continually outrageous view of how some movies get made." Dretzka went on to advise: "Have some fun: Read this book, then go out and rent the Barfly video. Grab a beer and offer a toast to Charles Bukowski … survivor."
Like Dretzka, Kessler also believed in Bukowski's survival abilities, concluding that he "is a soulful poet whose art is an ongoing testimony to perseverance. It's not the drinking and f—ing and gambling and fighting and shitting that make his books valuable, but the meticulous attention to the most mundane experience, the crusty compassion for his fellow losers, the implicit conviction that by frankly telling the unglamorous facts of hopelessness some stamina and courage can be cultivated."
Pulp, published posthumously, is the novel Bukowski worked on just prior to his death in 1994 from leukemia. It is a send-up, Bukowski-style, of the pulp detective novel. His protagonist, not surprisingly a Bukowski-like character, is Nicky Belane, who sometimes wonders if he is Harry Martel. Like any good pulp detective, Belane has a series of clients including Lady Death (looking for Celine, who has been spotted in Los Angeles bookstores), John Barton (looking for the Red Sparrow, which is a play on Bukowski's publisher John Martin of Black Sparrow Press), and a host of others, whose stories come together in the final pages. George Stade commented in the New York Times Book Review, "It does not, of course, take much to send up the hard-boiled detective novel…. The conventions … seem to mock themselves, if you stand back a bit. But Pulp does more than stand back from itself." Daniel Woodreli, writing in Washington Post Book World, also found Bukowski's reworking of a time-honored form refreshing: "The hard-boiled form as a framework is nicely utilized, with snappy dialogue that is always off-center, and oddly very honest." He continued, "[Bukowski] treats it with a kind of poignant ridicule that somehow works. Pulp is comic and bizarre and sad without a trace of self-pity."
Dick Lochte, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, called Pulp "a whimsical and oddly charming (a word not often used in describing Bukowski's work) spoof." Chicago Tribune contributor John Litweller similarly offered high praise: "Thriller novel realism never got 'down' like Bukowski's writing usually did. The result is more fun than an ordinary parody." Stade found deeper significance in the novel beyond its form, stating that "as parody, Pulp does not cut very deep. As a farewell to readers, as a gesture of rapprochement with death, as Bukowski's send-up and send-off of himself, this bio-parable cuts as deep as you would want." Litweller concluded, "Maybe some readers hung up on the young, low-life Bukowski will be disappointed…. For the rest of us, it's masterly stuff from the old master in his old age."
Run with the Hunted is an anthology of Bukowski's stories and poetry, placed chronologically in the periods in which they were set (not published). It provides a solid overview of Bukowski's work and—given its autobiographical nature—his life. "An effective primer for the uninitiated, or a refresher for past readers who, incredibly, have managed to forget," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. Benjamin Segedin, writing in Booklist, wrote of Bukowski's works: "Less celebrations of self-destruction than honest self-portraiture, they reveal him in all his ugliness as an outsider on the verge of respectability." Segedin continued, "Here is a collection of blunt, hard-edged angry stuff as uncompromising as you will ever hope to find." Elizabeth Young in New Statesman & Society at once lauded and criticized the anthology, saying, "From the vast vat of Bukowski homebrew, John Martin has distilled a cut-glass decanter of one-hundred-proof literary perfection…. [He] has done Bukowski a great service—and a sort of disservice too. After such a brilliantly constructed anthology, who is going to read all the books?" Bukowski's previously unpublished work, introduced posthumously by Black Sparrow Press in Betting on the Muse: Poems & Stories, shows him to have continued in the same vein with the character Henry Chinaski, as well as with the verse that made him, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the "original take-no-prisoners poet." Ray Olson, writing for Booklist, found his stories and poems to be "effortlessly, magnetically readable, especially if you are susceptible to their bargain-basement existentialist charm."
Bukowski's life via his letters is chronicled in Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960–1970. "The honesty, humor and lack of pretension in these letters make them a must for Bukowski fans and an engaging read for anyone interested in literary lives," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Segedin, in Booklist, spoke for occasional readers and fans alike, finding Bukowski "perversely intriguing, attracting the kind of attention one usually reserves for grisly train wrecks." Screams from the Balcony was followed by Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, 1978–1994, which covered the last years of the poet's life. In letters to his publishers, editors, friends, and fellow poets, Bukowski railed against critics, praised the writers who first inspired him, and wrote a great deal about three of his favorite subjects: drinking, women, and the racetrack. "Above all, however, they reveal a man dedicated to his craft," noted William Gargan in Library Journal.
Still more new work was published posthumously with the poetry collections What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk through the Fire and Open All Night: New Poems. Reviewing the former, Booklist contributor Olson maintained: "If Bukowski's stuff appeals to you at all, [What Matters Most] should be gratifying as all getout." Open All Night was judged somewhat less than the poet's best work by Olson in another Booklist article, but while he noted that "there are better books for one's first taste of Bukowski," he added that "this one will do fine for connoisseurs." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented similarly: "Nobody will be converted to Bukowski by these verses, but that's hardly the point: like William Burroughs or Jim Morrison, Bukowski in death retains the tenacious (and mostly youthful) fan base he gathered in life."
An intimate look into Bukowski's last days is provided by The Captain Is out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship, a collection of journal entries from the poet's last years. It begins with his usual celebrations and ruminations on gambling, women, and drinking, but takes on "tragic overtones" as the writer comes to terms with his diagnosis of leukemia, reported Gerald Locklin in Review of Contemporary Fiction. "These reflections approaching endgame reveal the complex humanity of a too-often caricatured figure who beat seemingly prohibitive odds to achieve the destiny he came to embrace as a world-class writer of uncompromising novels, stories, and poems." Booklist contributor Mike Tribby also recommended The Captain Is out as a fine portrait of the "cranky, sardonic, insightful master of gritty expression whose roaring public appearances of the '60s triggered the rebirth of poetry as performance."
Although Bukowski once toiled in obscurity, his memory and his works have continued to reach a wide audience. For example, in 2004, a documentary about the author titled Bukowski: Born Into This, was made by John Dullaghan. The film followed upon a steady stream of published works and correspondence by the author, including Beerspit Night and Cursing: The Correspondence of Charles Bukowski and Sheri Martinelli, 1960–1967. Published in 2001, the volume presents Bukowski's correspondence with the New York editor that he never met face-to-face. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the letters "wacky, outrageous, often oddly intellectual" and said the volume was required reading for Bukowski fans. In 2003 and 2004 two new volumes of Bukowski's previously unpublished poems were made available. In a review of Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way: New Poems, Booklist contributor Olson called the poems "the most purely enjoyable entries in the Bukowski canon." In another review in Booklist of The Flash of Lightning behind the Mountain: New Poems, Olson pointed out that most of the poems seem to have been written very late in Bukowski's life, including a poem about his hospitalization for leukemia. Olson also noted that the poet "rouses the impulse to feel for him, not just laugh with him. This is mellow Buk. Fancy that!"
In an article in Interview, Mickey Rourke, who starred in the film Barfly, recalled visiting Bukowski in his San Pedro home and learning about the writer's commitment to his art. Rourke was a little surprised that Bukowski lived in such a nice place because of the writer's reputation. But, when Rourke was shown where Bukowski wrote, he was more amazed to find the room literally torn apart. "The floorboards were sticking up, the walls were destroyed," recalled Rourke. "So you've got this pristine house and then you see this tiny little room, which we've all lived in at some point, and it was truly like a shanty. Some people see Charles as a mad genius, but there was also a regimented discipline to him because in doing that to his room, he constructed a place where he could be creative."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Brewer, Gay, Charles Bukowski, Twayne (New York, NY), 1997.
Cherkovski, Neeli, Bukowski: A Life, Steerforth Press (South Royalton, VT), 1997.
Christy, Jim, The Buk Book: Musings on Charles Bukowski, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 2, 1974, Volume 5, 1976, Volume 9, 1978, Volume 41, 1987, Volume 82, 1994.
Contemporary Novelists, 4th edition, edited by D.L. Kirkpatrick, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Dorbin, Sanford, A Bibliography of Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1969.
Fox, Hugh, Charles Bukowski: A Critical and Bibliographical Study, Abyss Publications, 1969.
Harrison, Russell, Against the American Dream: Essays on Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1994.
Richmond, Steve, Spinning off Bukowski, Sun Dog Press (Northville, MI), 1996.
Sherman, Jory, Bukowski: Friendship, Fame, and Bestial Myth, Blue Horse Press, 1982.
Weinberg, Jeffrey, editor, A Charles Bukowski Checklist, Water Row Press, 1987.
Booklist, February 15, 1993, p. 1010; January 15, 1994, Benjamin Segedin, review of Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters, 1960–1970, p. 893; May 15, 1996, p. 1563; May 15, 1998, Mike Tribby, review of The Captain Is out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship, p. 1587; December 15, 1999, Ray Olsen, review of What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk through the Fire, p. 752; December 1, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Open All Night: New Poems, p. 689; January 1, 2003, Ray Olson, review of Sifting through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way, p. 836; December 1, 2003, Ray Olson, review of The Flash of Lightning behind the Mountain: New Poems, p. 635.
Bookwatch, July, 1998, review of The Captain Is out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship, p. 1.
Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1989; August 28, 1994, George Litweller, review of Pulp, p. 6.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 21, 1984.
Interview, June, 2004, Mickey Rourke, brief article, p. 28.
Kliatt, January, 1998, review of Bone Palace Ballet, p. 21.
Library Journal, July, 1999, William Gargan, review of Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, 1978–1994, p. 89; January, 2003, Rochelle Ratner, review of Sifting through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way, p. 114.
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Los Angeles Times Magazine, March 22, 1987, pp. 12-14, 17-19, 23.
New Statesman & Society, June 17, 1994, p. 37.
Newsweek, October 26, 1987, David Ansen, review of Barfly, p. 86.
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Northwest Review, fall, 1963, pp. 123-129.
Outsider, spring, 1963, R.R. Cuscaden, pp. 62-65.
People, November 16, 1987, pp. 79-80.
Poetry, July, 1964, pp. 258-264; May, 2001, David Yezzi, review of Open All Night: New Poems, p. 105.
Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1993, p. 34; December 20, 1993, p. 62; April 29, 1996, p. 66; April 20, 1998, review of The Captain Is out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship, p. 60; December 6, 1999, review of What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk through the Fire, p. 74; November 20, 2000, review of Open All Night: New Poems, p. 65; May 28, 2001, review of Beerspit Night and Cursing: The Correspondence of Charles Bukowski and Sheri Martinelli, p. 63.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1985, pp. 56-59; fall, 1998, Gerald Locklin, review of The Captain Is out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship, p. 237.
San Francisco Review of Books, January-February, 1983, Stephen Kessler, p. 11.
Spectator, November 30, 1974.
Times (London, England), March 3, 1988; July 8, 1989.
Times Literary Supplement, April 5, 1974, p. 375; June 20, 1980, p. 706; September 4, 1981, p. 1000; November 12, 1982, p. 1251; December 3, 1982, p. 1344; May 4, 1984, p. 486; August 11, 1989, p. 877; September 7, 1990, p. 956.
Village Voice, March 26, 1964, pp. 11-12; February 20, 1978, pp. 89-90; March 23, 1982, pp. 42-43.
Washington Post, November 20, 1987.
Washington Post Book World, July 14, 1994, Daniel Woodreli, review of Pulp, p. 2.
Books and Writers, http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (February 20, 2001), "Charles Bukowski."
Bukowski: Born Into This (documentary), Magnolia Pictures, 2004.
Chicago Tribune, March 11, 1994, p. 12.
Entertainment Weekly, March 25, 1994, p. 49.
Facts on File, March 17, 1994, p. 196.
Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1994, p. 1, 24.
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Time, March 21, 1994, p. 26.
Times (London, England), March 11, 1994, p. 23.
Variety, March 14, 1994, p. 67.
Washington Post, March 11, 1994, p. B5.