Charles Bukowski Essay - Bukowski, Charles (Vol. 2)

Bukowski, Charles (Vol. 2)

Bukowski, Charles 1920–

German-born American poet who tends toward hysterical and ferocious verse. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

Some have likened the muscular music of Charles Bukowski to that of the early Sandburg, but the skidrow-mission stiff-greasy spoon-rented room bard is the only one of his kind. He cannot be classified or yoked with any other poet, living or dead.

And poet he is. One who can make words dance and roar like an earthquake or whisper softly like a Spring breeze freshening the fetid air of the streets where men past caring sleep fitfully in flophouse cubicles.

Jack Conroy, "A Skidrow Poet," in American Book Collector, February, 1966, p. 5.

[Bukowski] is still out there on the West Coast, writing poems and stories about his five decades of drinking, screwing, horse-playing, and drifting around, proving defiantly that even at the edge of the abyss language persists. "A legend in his own time," the cover of his new collection of stories [Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions and General Tales of Ordinary Madness] calls him, and that seems fair….

But Bukowski is more fun to read than that. He writes as an unregenerate lowbrow contemptuous of our claims to superior being. Politics is bullshit, since work is as brutalizing and unrewarding in a liberal order as in any totalitarian one; artists and intellectuals are mostly fakes, smugly enjoying the blessings of the society they carp at; the radical young are spiritless asses, insulated by drugs and their own endless cant from any authentic experience of mind or body; most women are whores, though honest whores are good and desirable; no life finally works, but the best one possible involves plenty of six-packs, enough money to go to the track, and a willing woman of any age and shape in a good old-fashioned garter belt and high heels.

He makes literature out of the unfashionable and unideological tastes and biases of an average Wallace voter. And that sense of life is worth hearing about when it takes the form not of socko sex-and-schmerz but of blunt, unembarrassed explanation of how it feels to be Bukowski, mad but only north-north-west, among pretentious and lifeless claims to originality and fervor….

For all his dedication to the old role of the macho artist, the boozing, tough-talking phallus we knew and loved so well, Bukowski has a bit of the softy, the man of sentiment, the gull in him, happily for his art; he knows as well as we do that history has passed him by and that his loss is ours too, and in some of these sad and funny stories his status as a relic isn't wholly without its sanctity.

Thomas R. Edwards, "News from Elsewhere," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1972 by NYREV, Inc.), October 5, 1972, pp. 21-3.