Charles Bukowski

So, you don’t like poetry? Well, maybe Charles W. Bukowski will ring your chimes. Talk about ugly? This guy was so ugly, people actually cringed when they met him. As a teenager, his acne-ravaged face had to be “retouched” for class photos.

Friendless, he lurked on the fringes of social events. Abused by his father (beaten for years with a leather strap), he grew up filled with rage, resentment and loneliness. He started writing when he was 14, mailing hundreds of short stories and poems to publishers. For 20 years they came back and then, slowly, small presses began to accept his work. He drank and made a point of being crude and offensive in both his writing and his conversation. The only permanent job he ever had was at the post office where he was miserable. He wrote more than 45 books of poetry. A movie starring Mickey Rourke was made about his life. Bukowski hated it. Shortly before he died at the age of 74, he seemed to possess a kind of serenity. Poor all of his life, he was briefly well-off. He married a woman who actually loved him. His complexion cleared up and he developed a fondness for cats. However, he is remembered for poems that raged against wealth, self-indulgence and big government. (He also hated Mickey Mouse.) The following excerpt, from a work called “Dinasauria” is vintage Bukowski:

“Born into this

into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die

into lawyers who charge so much it is cheaper to plead guilty

into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed

into places where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes.”

Like I said, he is angry, and this poem goes on to reach a scathing indictment of what America is becoming (or has already become). The FBI kept a file on him and he was pleased. After he died, a biographical film was produced from hundreds of interviews and film clips, and there he is! Drunk, angry and reading his poetry in a wonderful belligerent growl, occasionally pausing to swig from a bottle or vomit in a corner and yelling insults at the audience. It is well worth watching. The film is entitled “Born Into This.”

— By Gary Carden

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