One cannot come to terms with the poetry of Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr., without acknowledging the fact that his is an extremely personal and autobiographical poetry; the terror and agony are not merely “felt-life” but life as Bukowski knew it. His survival was a thing of wonder. As Gerald Locklin notes, he “not only survived problems that would kill most men [but] survived with enough voice and talent left to write about it.” He was a practicing alcoholic whose life revolved around the racetrack, women, and writing.
Born Heinrich Karl Bukowski to a German mother and an American soldier father on August 16, 1920, in Andernach, Germany, Bukowski came to the United States in 1922 with his family. They settled in Los Angeles, later the milieu for much of Bukowski’s work. His father, a milkman, was a harsh and often violent man who struggled with his own powerlessness by wielding a razor strap. The resultant hostility and animosity is evident in many of the younger Bukowski’s poems. Coupled with a blood disease that left his face badly pockmarked, Bukowski was predisposed to a life on the fringes of society.
At about the age of sixteen, partly to escape and partly because of a desire to become a writer, Bukowski began to haunt the public library, seeking literary models. His own self-directed reading was far more important in shaping his literary credo than the two years he spent at Los Angeles City College. He was drawn to the works of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, John Fante, Fyodor Dostoevski, Ivan Turgenev, and the early Ernest Hemingway; in later years, he was attracted by Franz Kafka and Albert Camus. Just as the creative writing class in which he had enrolled...
(The entire section is 692 words.)