By chance and coincidence, after watching the movie Barfly, I learned that the story was based on the life of Charles “Hank” Bukowski. I started to get interested when I read some of his poetry and became a fan of his writing. Alcohol seemed to be the fuel and inspiration for most of his works. His poetry has always inspired and motivated me and has definitely had a big influence on the way that I write.
Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-American poet, novelist, and short story writer.
His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambiance of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column Notes of a Dirty Old Man in the LA underground newspaper Open City.
Bukowski published extensively in small literary magazines and with small presses beginning in the early 1940s and continuing on through the early 1990s. As noted by one reviewer, “Bukowski continued to be, thanks to his antics and deliberate clownish performances, the king of the underground and the epitome of the littles in the ensuing decades, stressing his loyalty to those small press editors who had first championed his work and consolidating his presence in new ventures such as the New York Quarterly, Chiron Review, or Slipstream.” Some of these works include his Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window, published by his friend and fellow poet Charles Potts, and better known works such as Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame. These poems and stories were later republished by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press as collected volumes of his work.
In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”. Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal … [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.”
Since his death in 1994, Bukowski has been the subject of a number of critical articles and books about both his life and writings, despite his work having received relatively little attention from academic critics in the United States during his lifetime. In contrast, Bukowski enjoyed extraordinary fame in Europe, especially in Germany, the place of his birth.
Charles’ father Henry Bukowski was German-American and a sergeant in the United States Army serving in Germany after Germany’s defeat in 1918. Afterwards, Henry Bukowski became a building contractor, set to make great financial gains in the aftermath of the war. However, given the crippling postwar reparations being required of Germany, which led to a stagnant economy and high levels of inflation, Henry Bukowski was unable to make a living, so he decided to move the family to the United States. On April 23, 1923, they sailed from Bremerhaven to Baltimore, Maryland, where they settled.
The family moved to Mid-City, Los Angeles, USA in 1930, the city where Charles Bukowski’s father and grandfather had previously worked and lived. Young Charles spoke English with a strong German accent and was taunted by his childhood playmates with the epithet “Heini,” German diminutive of Heinrich, in his early youth. In the 1930s, the poet’s father was often unemployed. In the autobiographical Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski says that, with his mother’s acquiescence, his father was frequently abusive, both physically and mentally, beating his son for the smallest imagined offense. During his youth, Bukowski was shy and socially withdrawn, a condition exacerbated during his teen years by an extreme case of acne. Neighborhood children ridiculed his German accent and the clothing his parents made him wear. In Bukowski: Born Into This, a 2003 film, Bukowski states that his father beat him with a razor strop three times a week from the ages of six to 11 years. He says that it helped his writing, as he came to understand undeserved pain. The depression bolstered his rage as he grew, and gave him much of his voice and material for his writings.
In his early teen years, Bukowski had an epiphany when he was introduced to alcohol by his loyal friend William “Baldy” Mullinax, depicted as “Eli LaCrosse” in Ham on Rye, son of an alcoholic surgeon. “This [alcohol] is going to help me for a very long time,” he later wrote, describing a method (drinking) he could use to come to more amicable terms with his own life. After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Bukowski attended Los Angeles City College for two years, taking courses in art, journalism, and literature, before quitting at the start of World War II. He then moved to New York to begin a career as a financially pinched blue-collar worker with dreams of becoming a writer.
By 1960, Bukowski had returned to the post office in Los Angeles where he began work as a letter filing clerk, a position he held for more than a decade. In 1962, he was distraught over the death of Jane Cooney Baker, his first serious girlfriend. Bukowski turned his inner devastation into a series of poems and stories lamenting her death. In 1964 a daughter, Marina Louise Bukowski, was born to Bukowski and his live-in girlfriend Frances Smith, whom he referred to as a “white-haired hippie”, “shack-job”, and “old snaggle-tooth”.
E.V. Griffith, editor of Hearse Press, published Bukowski’s first separately printed publication, a broadside titled “His Wife, the Painter,” in June 1960. This event was followed by Hearse Press’s publication of “Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail,” Bukowski’s first chapbook of poems, in October, 1960.
In 1969 Bukowski accepted an offer from legendary Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin and quit his post office job to dedicate himself to full-time writing. He was then 49 years old. As he explained in a letter at the time, “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” Less than one month after leaving the postal service he finished his first novel, Post Office. As a measure of respect for Martin’s financial support and faith in a relatively unknown writer, Bukowski published almost all of his subsequent major works with Black Sparrow Press, which became a highly successful enterprise owing to Martin’s business acumen and editorial skills. An avid supporter of small independent presses, Bukowski continued to submit poems and short stories to innumerable small publications throughout his career.
Bukowski embarked on a series of love affairs and one-night trysts. One of these relationships was with Linda King, a poet and sculptress. Critic Robert Peters reported seeing the poet as actor in Linda King’s play Only a Tenant, in which she and Bukowski stage-read the first act at the Pasadena Museum of the Artist. This was a one-off performance of what was a shambolic work. His other affairs were with a recording executive and a twenty-three-year-old redhead; he wrote a book of poetry as a tribute to his love for the latter, titled, “Scarlet” (Black Sparrow Press, 1976). His various affairs and relationships provided material for his stories and poems. Another important relationship was with “Tanya”, pseudonym of “Amber O’Neil” (also a pseudonym), described in Bukowski’s “Women” as a pen-pal that evolved into a week-end tryst at Bukowski’s residence in Los Angeles in the 1970s. “Amber O’Neil” later self-published a chapbook about the affair entitled “Blowing My Hero”.
In 1976, Bukowski met Linda Lee Beighle, a health food restaurant owner, rock-and-roll groupie, aspiring actress, heiress to a small Philadelphia “Main Line” fortune and devotee of Meher Baba. Two years later Bukowski moved from the East Hollywood area, where he had lived for most of his life, to the harborside community of San Pedro, the southernmost district of the City of Los Angeles. Beighle followed him and they lived together intermittently over the next two years. They were eventually married by Manly Palmer Hall, a Canadian-born author, mystic, and spiritual teacher in 1985. Beighle is referred to as “Sara” in Bukowski’s novels Women and Hollywood.
In May, 1978, he returned to Germany and gave a live poetry reading of his work before an audience in Hamburg. This was released as a double 12″ L.P. stereo record titled “CHARLES BUKOWSKI ‘Hello. It’s good to be back.'” His last international performance was in October 1979 in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was released on DVD as There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here. In March 1980 he gave his last reading at the Sweetwater club in Redondo Beach, which was released as Hostage on audio CD and The Last Straw on DVD. In 2010 the unedited versions of both The Last Straw and Riot were released as One Tough Mother on DVD.
In the 1980s and 1990s, cartoonist Robert Crumb illustrated a number of Bukowski’s stories, including the collection The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship and the story “Bring Me Your Love.”
In the 1980s, he collaborated with illustrator Robert Crumb on a series of comic books, with Bukowski supplying the writing and Crumb providing the artwork.
Bukowski has been published in Beloit Poetry Journal.
Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, aged 73, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp. The funeral rites, orchestrated by his widow, were conducted by Buddhist monks. He is interred at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes. An account of the proceedings can be found in Gerald Locklin’s book Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet. His gravestone reads: “Don’t Try”, a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, advising aspiring writers and poets about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explained the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington: “Somebody at one of these places […] asked me: ‘What do you do? How do you write, create?’ You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or, if you like its looks, you make a pet out of it.”
Bukowski was an atheist.
Bukowski’s work was subject to controversy throughout his career, and Hugh Fox claimed that his sexism in poetry, at least in part, translated into his life. In 1969, Fox published the first critical study of Bukowski in The North American Review, and mentioned Bukowski’s attitude toward women: “When women are around, he has to play Man. In a way it’s the same kind of ‘pose’ he plays at in his poetry—Bogart, Eric Von Stroheim. Whenever my wife Lucia would come with me to visit him he’d play the Man role, but one night she couldn’t come I got to Buk’s place and found a whole different guy—easy to get along with, relaxed, accessible.”
In June 2006, Bukowski’s literary archive was donated by his widow to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Copies of all editions of his work published by the Black Sparrow Press are held at Western Michigan University, which purchased the archive of the publishing house after its closure in 2003.
Ecco Press continues to release new collections of his poetry, culled from the thousands of works published in small literary magazines. According to Ecco Press, the 2007 release The People Look Like Flowers at Last will be his final posthumous release, as now all his once-unpublished work has been made available.
Bukowski often spoke of Los Angeles as his favorite subject. In a 1974 interview he said, “You live in a town all your life, and you get to know every bitch on the street corner and half of them you have already messed around with. You’ve got the layout of the whole land. You have a picture of where you are…. Since I was raised in L.A., I’ve always had the geographical and spiritual feeling of being here. I’ve had time to learn this city. I can’t see any other place than L.A.”
Bukowski also performed live readings of his works, beginning in 1962 on radio station KPFK in Los Angeles and increasing in frequency through the 1970s. Drinking was often a featured part of the readings, along with a combative banter with the audience. Bukowski could also be generous, for example, after a sold-out show at Amazingrace Coffeehouse in Evanston, Illinois on Nov. 18, 1975, he signed and illustrated over 100 copies of his poem “Winter,” published by No Mountains Poetry Project. By the late 1970s, Bukowski’s income was sufficient to give up live readings.
One critic has described Bukowski’s fiction as a “detailed depiction of a certain taboo male fantasy: the uninhibited bachelor, slobby, anti-social, and utterly free”, an image he tried to live up to with sometimes riotous public poetry readings and boorish party behavior.A few critics and commentators also supported the idea that Bukowski was a cynic, as a man and a writer. Bukowski denied being a cynic, stating: “I’ve always been accused of being a cynic. I think cynicism is sour grapes. I think cynicism is a weakness.”
Over half of Bukowski’s collections have been published posthumously. Posthumous collections have been known to have been ‘John Martinized’, with the poems having been highly tampered and edited, at a level which was not present during Bukowski’s lifetime.
One example of a popular poem, “Roll the Dice” (when comparing the original manuscript to “What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire”), themes such as alcoholism are removed. The creative editing present includes changing lines from “against total rejection and the highest of odds” to “despite rejection and the worst odds”.
Check him out(or not):
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, interweb, poetpas