Charles Bukowski, born in 1920,
began writing at a young age and was first published in the 1940s.
Then Bukowksi gave up writing for the world of work and bars,
not publishing, not writing, so the myth goes, for nearly twenty
years. Ten of those years were spent roaming from odd job to
odd roominghouse from the East coast to the West. The other ten
years, Bukowski worked for the United States Postal Service in
Los Angeles, a job that took no effort except for the strength
to show up and the patience to perform mindless operations. During
that time, his life bordered on insanity and death, two prevalent
themes in his writing. According to his own myth making, Bukowski
returned to writing the day that he quit the Postal Service,
but his bibliography shows that indeed, he had been publishing
several years before that.
Bukowksi's first generally recognized
publication date is in the 1960s, yet citations from the early
60s exist in Sanford Dorbin's early bibliography, and The Roominghouse
Madrigals prints poems from the late 40s.
fact is that Bukowski has published extensively in various small
literary publications for over thirty years. These publications
exist in small numbers and are difficult if not impossible to
find. Fortunately, John Martin of Black Sparrow Press has managed
to cull together these poems and stories over several collections,
until catching up with his contemporary writings in the 80s.
In total, there are over forty
books in print written by Bukowski. Since his death on March
9, 1994, a growing number of books deal with Bukowski as a critical
source and literary legend.
Although Bukowski was never truly associated with Jack
Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, or other
major Beat writers, his informal style and non-conforming literary
approach has endeared him to readers of the Beat genre.
My Father (from "Septuagenarian Stew"
Top of Page )
was a truly amazing man
he pretended to be
even though we lived on beans and mush and weenies
when we sat down to eat, he said,
"not everybody can eat like this."
and because he wanted to be rich
or because he actually
thought he was rich
he always voted Republican
and he voted for Hoover against Roosevelt
and he lost
and then he voted for Alf Landon against Roosevelt
and he lost again
saying, "I don't know what this world is coming to,
now we've got that god damned Red in there again
and the Russians will be in our backyard next!"
I think it was my father who
made me decide to
become a bum.
I decided that if a man like that wants to be rich
then I want to be poor.
and I became a bum.
I lived on nickles and dimes and in cheap rooms and
on park benches.
I thought maybe the bums knew something.
but I found out that most of
the bums wanted to be
they had just failed at that.
so caught between my father and
I had no place to go
and I went there fast and slow.
never voted Republican
like an oddity of the earth
like a hundred thousand oddities
like millions of other oddities,
The Great Slob (from "Septuagenarian Stew"
Top of Page )
I was always a natural slob
I liked to lay upon the bed
in undershirt (stained, of
course) (and with cigarette
beerbottle in hand
trying to shake off a
difficult night, say with a
woman still around
walking the floor
complaining about this and
and I'd work up a
belch and say, "HEY, YOU DON'T
LIKE IT? THEN GET YOUR ASS
OUT OF HERE!"
I really loved myself, I
really loved my slob-
they seemed to also:
The Blackbirds are Rough Today ( Top of Page
lonely as a dry and used orchard
spread over the earth
for use and surrender.
shot down like an ex-pug selling
dailies on the corner.
taken by tears like
an aging chorus girl
who has gotten her last check.
a hanky is in order your lord your
the blackbirds are rough today
in an overnight
wine wine whine,
the blackbirds run around and
Spanish melodies and bones.
and everywhere is
the dream is as bad as
flapjacks and flat tires:
why do we go on
with our minds and
pockets full of
like a bad boy just out of
you who were a hero in some
you who teach children
you who drink with calmness
you who own large homes
and walk in gardens
you who have killed a man and own a
you tell me
why I am on fire like old dry
we might surely have some interesting
it will keep the mailman busy.
and the butterflies and ants and bridges and
the rocket-makers and dogs and garage mechanics
will still go on a
until we run out of stamps
don't be ashamed of
anything; I guess God meant it all
Young in New Orleans ( Top of Page
starving there, sitting around
and at night walking the streets for
the moonlight always seemed fake
to me, maybe it was,
and in the French Quarter I watched
the horses and buggies going by,
everybody sitting high in the open
carriages, the black driver, and in
back the man and the woman,
usually young and always white.
and I was always white.
and hardly charmed by the
New Orleans was a place to
I could piss away my life,
except for the rats.
the rats in my dark small room
very much resented sharing it
they were large and fearless
and stared at me with eyes
women were beyond me.
they saw something
there was one waitress
a little older than
I, she rather smiled,
lingered when she
that was plenty for
me, that was
there was something about
that city, though
it didn't let me feel guilty
that I had no feeling for the
things so many others
it let me alone.
sitting up in my bed
the llights out,
hearing the outside
lifting my cheap
bottle of wine,
letting the warmth of
as I heard the rats
moving about the
I preferred them
being crazy maybe
is not so bad
if you can be
New Orleans gave me
nobody ever called
me and the
and my youth,
even through the
it was a
of something not to