Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

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.

The 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” 1994)

was a truly amazing man
he pretended to be
rich
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
rich too.
they had just failed at that.

so caught between my father and the bums
I had no place to go
and I went there fast and slow.
never voted Republican
never voted.

buried him
like an oddity of the earth
like a hundred thousand oddities
like millions of other oddities,
wasted.


The Great Slob (from “Septuagenarian Stew” 1994)

I was always a natural slob
I liked to lay upon the bed
in undershirt (stained, of
course) (and with cigarette
holes)
shoes off
beerbottle in hand
trying to shake off a
difficult night, say with a
woman still around
walking the floor
complaining about this and
that,
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-
self, and
they seemed to also:
always leaving
but almost
always
coming
back.


The Blackbirds are Rough Today

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
worship.

the blackbirds are rough today
like
ingrown toenails
in an overnight
jail—
wine wine whine,
the blackbirds run around and
fly around
harping about
Spanish melodies and bones.

and everywhere is
nowhere—
the dream is as bad as
flapjacks and flat tires:

why do we go on
with our minds and
pockets full of
dust
like a bad boy just out of
school—
you tell
me,
you who were a hero in some
revolution
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
beautiful wife
you tell me
why I am on fire like old dry
garbage.

we might surely have some interesting
correspondence.
it will keep the mailman busy.
and the butterflies and ants and bridges and
cemeteries
the rocket-makers and dogs and garage mechanics
will still go on a
while
until we run out of stamps
and/or
ideas.

don’t be ashamed of
anything; I guess God meant it all
like
locks on
doors.

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