Charles Bukowski Essay - Bukowski, Charles (Vol. 9)

Bukowski, Charles (Vol. 9)

Bukowski, Charles 1920–

Bukowski is a prolific American writer whose poetry reflects his life as a society dropout. He began to write poetry at the age of thirty-five, after having worked as an unskilled laborer in factories and slaughterhouses. Bukowski is, according to Jack Conroy, "the greasy-spoon, rented room bard." A strength of his work is his ability to record and define his life-style, without self-pity, in direct and affecting language. In Bukowski's best poems, says Norman Moser, he "wraps his guts around a tree, then calmly walks off." (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

I can't think of any other poet who comes on so raw and punky and who is so brilliant and eloquent….

[How] should I react to this man, to this poetry. Should I put up my fists and fuck you him back. After all, how many poets alive use street language? How many make me laugh out loud? Then how many can give me the chills, too?

I love his poems because I can understand them. I love them because they're not intellectual games, crossword puzzles for the literature crowd. I love them because they make me say yes, yes.

Ira Kamin, "The Recorded Poet," in Pacific Sun Literary Quarterly, May 15, 1975, p. 15.

Most first person voices in fiction are artful; Charles Bukowski's is no exception. For "Factotum" he speaks in the name of Henry Chinaski, having pared away all the excrescences of the hype, all literary mannerism, to present himself flat out from his opening sentences plucky but woebegone, a careerist of lousy odd jobs and one night stands in the backwaters of our great American cities. "I arrived in New Orleans in the rain at five o'clock in the morning," Bukowski writes. "I sat around in the bus station for awhile but the people depressed me so I took my suitcase and went out in the rain and began walking…."

Compare this style to the goosed up prose of Bukowski's "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" … and you have the difference between put on and voice, between callow journalism written as self-advertisement and sensitive, moving, amusing narrative.

The rain that falls in these opening pages dampens all of Chinaski's adventures in this hard luck narrative…. [There's] a scene that reoccurs in … various milieus: either he's given his final check after being "terminated," or else he walks out because no human being should have to debase and humiliate himself and waste his precious time on earth to eat.

A few years back in more prosperous times Bukowski may have passed for a crank. With a sizable percentage of the population more or less permanently unemployed he seems more like a prophet.

Bukowski owes something to Henry Miller, but just as much (like early Miller) to Dreiser, and the factualness of Defoe, and Twain. He can be accused of a lot of things, reductionism, I suppose, because he shows us what losers we all are, but in "Factotum" he also records quotidian tolls of courage, disenfranchisement and disgruntlement in simple language.

Not since Orwell has the condition of being down and out been so well recorded in the first person. (p. 16)

Richard Elman, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 8, 1976.

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. He sees himself as what he appears to be—a tough, old, funky, ugly, macho, cynical bastard, with just an occasional hint of compassion, usually reserved for himself:

            I keep searching the streets for that
            blood-wine battleship she drives
            with a weak battery, and the doors
            hanging from broken hinges.
 
            I drive around the streets
            an inch away from weeping,
            ashamed of my sentimentality and
            possible love.
 
            a confused old man driving in the rain
            wondering where the good luck
            went.

Since his first books appeared in the early 1960s, Bukowski has been writing out of Los Angeles, his home since he left Germany at the age of two. He writes of babes and bimbos and booze and all that Mickey Spillane-Ernest Hemingway hybrid stuff that is the basis of the images so many old-time tough guys had of themselves. It is also the basis for much of the criticism leveled at Bukowski for being sexist ("you boys can keep your virgins/give me hot old women in high heels/with asses that forgot to get old"; "I should have kicked that redhead/in the ass/where her brains and her bread and/butter are/at …").

Despite what some criticize as prose in Bukowski's poetry, there is in much of his work a poetic sensibility that, though arrogantly smart-ass and self-protective as well as self-promotional (he's the granddaddy of "punk" sensibility for sure), is also sometimes poignant, emotionally revealing, uniquely "American."… (pp. 89-90)

Michael Lally, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © by The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), February 20, 1978.