Happy 101st Birthday Charles Bukowski

Today is the 101st birthday of the alt poet cult hero Charles Bukowski. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Charles Bukowski
AKA: Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr.
DATE OF BIRTH: 16-Aug-1920
PLACE OF BIRTH: Andernach, Germany
DATE OF DEATH: 9-Mar-1994
CAUSE OF DEATH: Cancer – Leukemia
REMAINS: Buried, Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
FATHER: Henry Charles Bukowski (d. 4-Dec-1958)
MOTHER: Katharina Fett (d. 24-Dec-1956)
WIFE: Barbara Frye (m. 29-Oct-1955, div. 18-Mar-1958)
GIRLFRIEND: Frances Smith
DAUGHTER: Marina Louise Bukowski Stone (b. 7-Sep-1964)
WIFE: Linda Lee Beighle (m. 18-Aug-1985)
GIRLFRIEND: Jane Cooney Baker (d. 22-Jan-1962)
HIGH SCHOOL: Los Angeles High School, Los Angeles, CA (1939)
UNIVERSITY: Los Angeles City College (1939-41 and 1956-57)

BEST KNOWN FOR: Charles Bukowski was a prolific underground writer who used his poetry and prose to depict the depravity of urban life and the downtrodden in American society.

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, abuse Bukowski detailed in his autobiographical coming-of-age novel, Ham on Rye (1982). 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 13,” 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, embarking on a ten-year binge that took him across the country. Ending up near death in Los Angeles, Bukowski started writing again, though he would continue to drink and cultivate his reputation as a hard-living poet. He did not begin his professional writing career until the age of thirty-five, and like other contemporaries, began by publishing in underground newspapers, especially in local papers such as Open City and the L.A. Free Press. “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.” “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.”

Bukowski wrote more than forty books of poetry, prose and novels. Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail (1959), Bukowski’s first book of poetry, covers the major interests and themes that occupy many of his works, especially “the sense of a desolate, abandoned world,” R. R. Cuscaden pointed out in the Outsider. In addition to desolation, Bukowski’s free verse tackles the absurdities of life, especially in relation to death. “Bukowski’s world, scored and grooved by the impersonal instruments of civilized industrial society, by 20th-century knowledge and experience, remains essentially a world in which meditation and analysis have little part,” asserted John William Corrington in Northwest Review. The subject matter of this world is drinking, sex, gambling, and music; the Bukowski style, however, is “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 the Village Voice. It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963) collects poetry written 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. Over the course of thirty years, Bukowski published an astonishing number of collections of poetry and prose, as well as many novels. Kenneth Rexroth asserted in the New York Times Book Review that Bukowski “belongs in the small company of poets of real, not literary, alienation.”

Though Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994, his posthumous career has proven to be just as prolific. Due in part to the unique relationship he had with his publisher, John Martin, the editor of Black Sparrow Books, Bukowski’s massive output continues to make an appearance in book form every other year or so. Posthumous works, such as The People Look Like Flowers At Last: New Poems (2008), address subjects similar to those in his first collection. Reviewing the posthumously-published Slouching Toward Nirvana (2005) for the New Yorker, critic Adam Kirsch related an interview in which Bukowski described his readership as “the defeated, the demented and the damned,” adding that the “mixture of boast and complaint exactly mirrors the coyness of Bukowski’s poetry, which is at once misanthropic and comradely, aggressively vulgar and clandestinely sensitive.” Kirsch continued:”Bukowski’s poems are best appreciated not as individual verbal artifacts but as ongoing installments in the tale of his true adventures, like a comic book or a movie serial. They are strongly narrative, drawing from an endless supply of anecdotes that typically involve a bar, a skid-row hotel, a horse race, a girlfriend, or any permutation thereof. Bukowski’s free verse is really a series of declarative sentences broken up into a long, narrow column, the short lines giving an impression of speed and terseness even when the language is sentimental or clichéd.” Of the volume—Bukowski’s ninth posthumous collection—Kirsch said “these ‘new poems’ are just like the old poems, perhaps a shade more repetitive, but not immediately recognizable as second-rate work or leftovers,” accounting, perhaps, for Bukowski’s continued success in the literary marketplace.

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 (1972), Bukowski “writes as an unregenerate lowbrow contemptuous of our claims to superior being,” stated Thomas R. Edwards in the New York Review of Books. The protagonists in the stories in Hot Water Music (1983) live in cheap hotels and are often struggling underground writers, similar to Bukowski himself. Bukowski’s main autobiographical figure in these stories, as well as in many of his novels, is Henry Chinaski, a thinly veiled alter-ego (Bukowski’s full name was Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr. and his friends knew him as Hank). “Lives of quiet desperation explode in apparently random and unmotivated acts of bizarre violence,” described Michael F. Harper in his Los Angeles Times Book Review piece on the book. Bukowski continued his examination of “broken people” in such novels as Post Office (1971) and Ham on Rye (1982), giving both a heavily autobiographical tilt. Ben Reuven, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, described the “first-person reminiscences” in Ham on Rye as “taut, vivid, intense, sometimes poignant, [and] often hilarious.” Continuing the examination of his younger years, Bukowski wrote the screenplay for the movie Barfly, released in 1987 and starring Mickey Rourke. The movie focuses on three days in the life of Bukowski at the age of twenty-four. 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 (1989), which traces the humorous, convoluted path from script to screen of a movie called The Dance of Jim Beam written by the novel’s protagonist, Henry Chinaski, now an old man.

Bukowski’s work has been collected and re-collected in various readers, anthologies, and selected works. Run with the Hunted (1993) is an anthology of Bukowski’s stories and poetry, placed chronologically in the periods in which they were written, not published. It provides a solid overview of Bukowski’s work and—given its autobiographical nature—his life. 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.” Bukowski’s previously unpublished work, introduced posthumously by Black Sparrow Press in Betting on the Muse: Poems & Stories (1996), gives a wider overview of 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 both Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960-1970 (1994) and Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, 1978-1994 (2002), 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. But perhaps the most intimate look into Bukowski’s life is provided by The Captain Is out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship (2002), 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.”

Post Office (1971), ISBN 978-0-06-117757-6
Factotum (1975), ISBN 978-0-06-113127-1
Women (1978), ISBN 978-0-87685-391-7
Ham on Rye (1982), ISBN 978-0-87685-559-1
Hollywood (1989), ISBN 978-0-87685-765-6
Pulp (1994), ISBN 978-0-87685-926-1

Poetry collections
Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail (1960)
It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963) (title taken from Robinson Jeffers poem, “Hellenistics”)
Crucifix in a Deathhand (1965)
At Terror Street and Agony Way (1968)
Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8-story Window (1968)
A Bukowski Sampler (1969)
The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills (1969)
Fire Station (1970)
Mockingbird Wish Me Luck (1972), ISBN 978-0-87685-139-5
Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955–1973 (1974)
Maybe Tomorrow (1977)
Love Is a Dog from Hell (1977), ISBN 978-0-87685-363-4
Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit (1979), ISBN 978-0-87685-438-9
Dangling in the Tournefortia (1981), ISBN 978-0-87685-526-3
War All the Time: Poems 1981–1984 (1984)
You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense (1986)
The Roominghouse Madrigals (1988), 978-0876857335
Septuagenarian Stew: Stories & Poems (1990)
People Poems (1991)
The Last Night of the Earth Poems (1992), ISBN 978-0-87685-865-3
Betting on the Muse: Poems and Stories (1996), ISBN 978-1-57423-002-4
Bone Palace Ballet (1998)
What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire. (1999)
Open All Night (2000)
The Night Torn Mad with Footsteps (2001)
Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way (2003), ISBN 978-0-06-052735-8
The Flash of the Lightning Behind the Mountain (2004)
Slouching Toward Nirvana (2005)
Come on In! (2006)
The People Look Like Flowers at Last (2007)
The Pleasures of the Damned: Selected Poems 1951–1993 (2007), ISBN 978-0-06-122843-8
The Continual Condition (2009)
On Cats (2015)
On Love (2016)
Storm for the Living and the Dead (2017), ISBN 978-0-06-265652-0

Short story chapbooks and collections
Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts (1965)
All the Assholes in the World and Mine (1966)
Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)
Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness (1972) ISBN 978-0-87286-061-2
South of No North (1973), ISBN 978-0-87685-190-6
Hot Water Music (1983)
Bring Me Your Love (1983)
Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983)
The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (1983)
Prying (with Jack Micheline and Catfish McDaris) (1997) ASIN: B000I92IS0
Portions from a Wine-stained Notebook: Short Stories and Essays (2008) ISBN 978-0-87286-492-4.
Absence of the Hero (2010)
More Notes of a Dirty Old Man (2011)
The Bell Tolls For No One (CityLights, 2015 edition)
On Drinking (2019)

Nonfiction books
Shakespeare Never Did This (1979); expanded (1995)
The Bukowski/Purdy Letters (1983)
Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters (1993)
Living on Luck: Selected Letters, vol. 2 (1995)
The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship (1998), ISBN 978-1-57423-059-8
Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters, vol. 3 (1999)
Beerspit Night and Cursing: The Correspondense of Charles Bukowski and Sheri Martinelli (2001)
Sunlight here I am: Interviews and encounters, 1963–1993 (2003)
On Writing Edited by Abel Debritto (2015), ISBN 978-0-06-241740-4
The Mathematics of the Breath and the Way: On Writers and Writing Edited by David Stephen Calonne (City Lights, 2018) ISBN 978-0-87286-759-8

At Terror Street and Agony Way, Open reel tape, 1968
Poetry – Charles Bukowski, Steven Richmond, LP, 1968
A Cold Turkey Press Special, LP, 1972
Totally Corrupt, The Dial-A-Poem Poets, LP, 1976
90 Minutes in Hell, LP, 1977
Hello. It’s good to be back., LP, 1978
Bukowski Reads His Poetry, LP, 1980
Voices of the Angels, LP, 1982
English As A Second Language, LP, 1983
Neighborhood Rhythms, LP, 1984
Cassette Gazette, Cassette, 1985
Hostage, LP 1985
Movable Feast #3, Cassette, 1986
The Charles Bukowski Tapes, VHS, 1987
Bukowski at Bellevue, VHS, 1988
Beat Scene Magazine #12, Flexi-disc, 1991
Hostage, CD, 1994
King of Poets, CD, 1995
70 Minutes in Hell, CD, 1997
At Terror Street and Agony Way, CD, 1998
Run with the Hunted, Cassette, 1998
Charles Bukowski: Uncensored, CD, 2000
Born Into This, DVD, 2003
Bukowski at Bellevue, DVD, 2004
Bukowski Reads His Poetry, CD, 2004
Bukowski Reads His Poetry, CD, 2004
Poems and Insults, CD, 2004
Solid Citizen, CD, 2004
12 Great Americans, CD, 2006
The Charles Bukowski Tapes, DVD, 2006
Bukowski at Baudelaire’s, mp3, 2007 (not commercially released)
Underwater Poetry Festival, CD, 2007
Hello. It’s good to be back., CD, 2008
Poetry of Charles Bukowski, CDR, 2008
There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here, DVD, 2008
The Last Straw, DVD, 2008
One Tough Mother, DVD, 2010
Bukowski at the San Francisco Museum of Art, Cassette, 2010
Bukowski at the San Francisco Museum of Art, VHS tape 2010
Thomas Schmitt film, 1978 Hamburg reading, mp4, 2015 (not commercially released)

Film and screenplays
Bukowski at Bellevue 1970 (1995) – Poetry Reading
Bukowski 1973 – Californian KCET TV Documentary
Supervan 1977 – Feature Film (Not based on Bukowski’s work but Bukowski had cameo appearance as Wet T-shirt Contest Water Boy)
There’s Gonna Be a God Damn Riot in Here – Filmed: 1979; DVD Release: 2008 – Poetry Reading
The Last Straw – Filmed: 1980; DVD Release: 2008 – Poetry Reading
Tales of Ordinary Madness – Feature Film
Poetry in Motion (film), a documentary film (1982)
Barfly 1987 – Feature Film
Crazy Love 1987 – Feature Film (Belgium)
The Ordinary Madness of Charles Bukowski (1995), (BBC documentary).
Bukowski: Born Into This 2002 – Biographical Documentary
Factotum 2005 – Feature Film
The Suicide 2006 – Short film
One Tough Mother 2010 Released on DVD – Poetry Reading
Mermaid of Venice 2011 – Short film
Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana 2013 – Short film
Sitting on a Fire Escape Eating Eggs 2015 – Short film

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