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Charles Bukowski

1920-1994 Third Saturday Posey CafĂŠ June 15, 2013 Mike Burke


8-16-1920 April 1923 1941 Mid 1940s 1941 1944 1960 1961

1966 1967


Born in Andernach, Germany Heinrick Karl Bukowski, Jr Arrived in Baltimore, Md. Beginning of the barfly years, Worked on short stories and submitted to magazines Decided “poetry is the shortest, sweetest, bangingest way to express himself Registered for the draft, 4F for mental reasons Arrested in Philadelphia for draft dodging First chapbook published Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail Portfolio of work published the the magazine The Outsider Appeared with Miller, Bourroughs, Kerowac and others First chapbook published by Black Sparrow Press Two Poems Became staff columnist for Open City and LA Free Press Wrote 87 weekly columns Notes of a Dirty Old Man Brought his work to a much wider readership Became a minor celebrity 2




1977 1978

1980 1992

early1993 March 9, 1994 1996


First book of poems published by Black Sparrow Press At Terror Street and Agony Way Quit the post office (just before getting fired), after almost 12 years Signed with John Martin of BSP for $100 per month for life First novel published by black sparrow press office Post Office Introduced Henry Chinaski, fictional C. B. character Love is a Dog From Hell published Most popular of C.B. poetry books First book published in Germany became more widely read than in the U.S. Women Published Screenplay for Barfly The Last Night of the Earth Poems published last full length books of poems published in his lifetime diagnosed with Leukemia, died of cancer Betting on the Muse published, collection of some of his last poems addressing impending death 4

facts and discussion points


TERRIBLE CHILDHOOD Beaten unmercifully by his father. Started when C.B. was 6 or 7 and lasted until 11 or 12 when he refused to cry. Permanently alienated from his parents. Felt they didn’t love him why should he love them. Suffered a severe case of acne vulgaris, huge boils on face and neck. First thoughts of sucide.

INFLUENCES John Fante a role model for C.B. he wrote short paragraphs, short chapters in Ask The Dust about the dark, low-life side of LA. C.B. identified with the main character which motivated him to go on the road and experience life during “the Barfly” years. In addition C.B.’s style was influenced by Hemingways minimalist prose, direct with no extra words. Robison Jeffers was his favorite poet.


Before C.B started making a living wage he wrote sex short stories for Adam, Screw, Fling and Hustler. Mid to late 70’s C.B poetry and short stories more widely read than in the U.S., translated and published by Carl Weissner who became a lifelong friend and supporter. After paying rent all his life in 1980 he moved out of the seedy East Los Angeles area and bought a fancy house in San Pedro and a BMW. He had arrived! His last book, Pulp, was written during the last stages of his cancer in 1993 and published in 1994. He was not happy with it. As a writer that rarely revised, he completely rewrote it after the first draft. He was afraid it would ruin his reputation, “a lot of bad stuff in it”


What motivated Bukowski to begin writing and what fueled his prolific output?

Did he really dislike people?

What was his attitude toward women?



Bukowski with Linda Leigh


Jane Cooney Baker


Barbara Frye

10/55 married 3/58 divorced 1963 9/64 daughter, Marina born


Linda King


Liza Williams


Pamela Miller, (Cupcakes)


Linda Leigh Beighle

1976 8/85

died 1962

married Till death did they part


VARIOUS QUOTES “the way to create art is to burn and destroy ordinary concepts and to substitute them with new truths that run down from the top of the head and out from the heart” from work-fuck problems

“I was on the minds of a lot of people, it was my own fault for being such an easy writer to read” From I’m flattered

“A good book can make an almost impossible existence livable” From the luck of the word


“early on I decided to be a writer. I thought it might be the easy way out.” From the burning of the dream

“the wine does most of my writing for me. I just open a bottle and turn on the radio and it comes pouring out. I have no plan. The typewriter gives me things I don’t even know I’m working on…” From The Hunchback of east Hollywood by Aubrey Malone

I’d say one thing they, (the beatings), taught me was not to weep too much when something goes wrong. In other words, they hardened me to what I was going to go through: the bum, the road all the bad jobs and adversity. Since my early life hadn’t been soft, the rest didn’t come as such a shock.” From Charles Bukowski by Barry Miles


“After losing a week’s pay in four hours it is very difficult to come to your room and face the typewriter and fabricate a lot of lacy bullshit” From Charles Bukowski by Howard Sounes

“Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. It’s been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb.” From letter to William Packard (friend, poet, founder of New York Quarterly magazine)


about bukowski “He is not a mainstream author and he will never have a mainstream public. The kind of writing he does offends too many people. It’s too honest and too direct” From Charles Bukowski by Howard Sounes Quoting John Martin of Black Sparrow Press



selected Bukowski Poems I have included the attached poems that represent, to me, the different aspects of Bukowski’s poetry:

Poems about women, bars, horse tracks, menial jobs

Poems of humor and introspection

Poems filled with vulgarity and coarseness

Poems of love and gentleness

I have also included poems from different periods in his life as a child, a drifter, a womanizer, a celebrity, a old man. The fact that most of his poems are autobiographical, it is interesting to see how his subject matter and outlook changes. Please, if anyone has a most favorite, or most hated Bukowski poem bring it to the CafĂŠ and we can talk about it and where it fits in.


Section 1: THE LAST NIGHT OF THE EARTH POEMS (1992) The Bully


actually, I do think that my father was insane, the way he drove his car, honking, cursing at people; the way he got into violent arguments in public places over the most trivial incidents; the way he beat his only child almost daily upon the slightest provocation. of course, bullies sometimes meet their masters. I remember once entering the house and my mother told me, “your father was in a terrible

fight.” I looked for him, found him sitting on the toilet with the bathroom door open his face was a mass of bruises, welts, puffed and black eyes. he even had a broken arm in a cast. I was 13 years old. I stood looking at him. I looked for some time. then he screamed, “what the hell you staring at! what’s your problem?” I looked at him

some more, then walked off. it was to be 3 years later that I would knock him on his ass, no problem with that at all.


The Idiot

I believe the thought came to me when I was about eleven years old: I’ll become an idiot. I had noticed some in the neighborhood, those who the people called “idiots.” although looked down upon, the idiots seemed to have the more peaceful lives: nothing was expected of them. I imagined myself standing upon streetcorners, hands in pockets, and drooling a bit at the mouth. nobody would bother me. I began to put my plan into effect. I was first noticed in the school yards. my mates jibed at me, taunted me. even my father noticed: “you act like a god damned idiot!”


one of my teachers noticed, Mrs. Gredis of the long silken legs. she kept me after class. “what is it, Henry? you can tell me ...” she put her arms about me and I rested myself against her. “tell me, Henry, don’t be afraid ...” I didn’t say anything. “you can stay here as long as you want, Henry. you don’t have to talk ...” she kissed me on the forehead and I reached down and lightly touched one of her silken legs.

Mrs. Gredis was a hot number. she kept me after school almost every day. and everybody hated me but I believe that I had the most wonderful hard-ons of any eleven year old boy in the city of Los Angeles 1:4


Those Mornings

I still remember those New Orleans rats out on the balcony railings in the dark of early morning as I stood waiting my turn at the crapper. there were always two or three big ones just sitting there---sometimes they’d move quickly then stop and sit there. I looked at them and they looked at me. they showed no fear. at last the crapper door would open and out would walk one of the tenants and he always looked worse than the rats and then he’d be gone down the hallway and I’d go into the stillstinking crapper with my hangover. and almost always when I came out the rats would be gone. as soon as it got a little light they would vanish. and then the world would be

mine, I’d walk down the stairway and into it and my low-wage pitiful job while remembering the rats, how it was better for them than for me. I walked to work as the sun came up hot and the whores slept like babies.


Car Wash

got out, fellow said, “hey!” walked toward me, we shook hands, he slipped me 2 red tickets for free car washes, “find you later,” I told him, walked on through to waiting area with wife, we sat on outside bench. black fellow with a limp came up, said, “hey, man, how’s it going?” I answered, “fine, bro, you makin’ it?” “no problem,” he said, then walked off to dry down a Caddy. “these people know you?” my wife asked. “no.” “how come they talk to you?” “they like me, people have always liked me, it’s my cross.” then our car was finished, fellow flipped his rag at me, we got up, got to the car, I slipped him a buck, we got in, I started the engine, the foreman walked up, big guy with dark shades, huge guy, he smiled a big one, “good to see you, man!” I smiled back, “thanks, but it’s your party, man!” I pulled out into traffic, “they know you,” said my wife. “sure,” I said, “I’ve been there.”


Before Aids

I’m glad I got to them all, I’m glad I got so many of them in. I flipped them poked them gored them. so many high-heeled shoes under my bed it looked like a January Clearance Sale. the cheap hotel rooms, the drunken fights, the phones ringing, the walls banging I was wild red-eyed big-balled unshaven poor foul-mouthed I laughed plenty and I picked them off the barstools like ripe plums. dirty sheets bad whiskey bad breath cheap cigars 1:9

and to hell with the next morning. I always slept with my wallet under my pillow bedded down with the depressed and the crazies. I was barred from half the hotels in Los Angeles. I’m glad I got to them all, I plugged and banged and sang and some of them sang with me on those glorious 3 a.m. mornings. when the cops arrived, that was grand, we barricaded the doors and taunted them and they never waited around until noon (checking-out time) to arrest us, we weren’t that important but

I thought we were walking toward the bar, and what a place the bar was around noon, so quiet and empty, a place to begin again, to buck up with a quiet beer, looking out across at the park with the ducks over there and the tall trees over there. so, always broke but always money from somewhere, I waited getting ready to plug and bang and poke and sing again in those good old times in those very very very good old times before Aids.


Charles the Lion Hearted

he’s 95, lives in a large two story house. “they want to send me to a rest home. ‘hell,’ I tell them, ‘this IS my home!’” he speaks of his grandchildren. he’s outlived his children. he visits his wife who’s also 95. she’s in a rest home. “she looks great but she doesn’t know who I am.” 1he lives on bacon, tomatoes and breakfast cereal. he lives on a steep hill. used to take his little dog for walks. the dog died. he walks alone now, straight-backed, carrying an oak cane. he’s 6 foot two, lean, jocular, imposing. “they can’t wait for me to die, they want my house and money. I’m gonna live just to spite them.” I see him in his room upstairs 1:11

at night watching tv or reading. he was married longer than most men live. he still is only she doesn’t know she’s married. he sits up in his room on top of nine and one half decades neither asking nor giving mercy. he is an ocean of wonder, he is a shining rock. quick of mind, so quick. when death comes for him it should be ashamed. I so want to see that light burning in that upstairs window! when it goes dark it will be another world not quite so magic not quite so good when it goes dark.

blue bird

there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him, I say, stay in there, I’m not going to let anybody see you. there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke and the whores and the bartenders and the grocery clerks never know that he’s in there. there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too tough for him, I say, stay down, do you want to mess me up? you want to screw up the works? you want to blow my book sales in Europe? there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I’m too clever, I only let him out at night sometimes when everbody’s asleep. 1:13

I say, I know that you’re there, so don’t be sad. then I put him back, but he’s singing a little in there, I haven’t quite let him die. and we sleep together like that with our secret pact and it’s nice enough to make a man weep, but I don’t weep, do you?

Section II:


The Interview

I read it all. the poet went on and on talking about the value of workshops. this poet taught at a university. believed in teaching poets in prison, and teaching poets in the schools, high schools, reading his poems there, bringing the word. this poet had studied under C.and R. and O. yes, this poet always carried a notebook to capture impressions at odd moments else they would be forgotten. yes, this poet revised his stuff many times. as much as six revisions per poem. this poet had been awarded grants and prizes. during dry periods this poet hiked or rode his bicycle. the masses, said this poet, were hungry for poetry. the reason the books didn’t sell was not that the poetry itself was insufficient but that the

masses were sadly unaware of it. it was our duty to awaken the people he said, it was our responsibility, etc I dropped the magazine to the floor, got up, walked to the bathroom and had one of my best bowel movements in several years.. 2:1

my god

you know that little girl who used to play on the lawn across the street? look what happened overnight: new breasts round ass long legs long hair eyes of blue fire we can no longer think of her as before now she is 15 years full of trouble.


so you want to be a writer?

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it. unless it comes unasked out of your staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don’t do it. if you’re doing it because you want women in your bed, don’t do it. if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don’t do it. if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it, don’t do it. if you’re trying to write like somebody else, forget about it. if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently. if it never does roar out of you, do something else. if you first have to read it to your 2:4

wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend or your parents or to anybody at all, you’re not ready. don’t be like so many writers, don’t be like so many thousands of people who call themselves writers, don’t be dull and boring and pretentious, don’t be consumed with selflove. the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to

itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you. there is no other way. and there never was.

sleep over your kind. don’t add to that. don’t do it. unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don’t do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don’t do it. when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by 2:5

coming awake

yawning and stretching. putting on a clean pair of underwear and thinking. you are not in jail and you don’t have cancer. but there are probably a few people out there who would like to murder you but they probably won’t actually come and do it. you think about how you once decided to be buried near Hollywood Park so you could hear the horses pound by as you slept but lately they’ve talked about moving Hollywood Park elsewhere because the neighborhood has gotten so poor so now you must live longer until you learn where they plan to relocate. putting on your shirt and pants you remember that you are being taught in some contemporary literature courses and you fart as you walk down the stairway. strange thoughts are much like 2:6

hangovers: you feel better without them. then you wonder if there’s any coffee left as you open the front door and look out to see if your car has been stolen.


Section III: Love is a Dog from Hell: poems 1974-1977

The Retreat

this time has finished me. I feel like the German troops whipped by snow and the communists walking bent with newspapers stuffed into worn boots. my plight is just as terrible. maybe more so. victory was so close victory was there. as she stood before my mirror younger and more beautiful than any woman I had ever known combing yards and yards of red hair as I watched her. and when she came to bed she was more beautiful than ever and the love was very very good. eleven months. now she’s gone gone as they go. this time has finished me. it’s a long road back and back to where? the guy ahead of me falls. I step over him. did she get him too?



drinking German beer and trying to come up with the immortal poem at 5 p.m. in the afternoon. but, ah, I’ve told the students that the thing to do is not to try. but when the women aren’t around and the horses aren’t running what else is there to do? I’ve had a couple of sexual fantasies had lunch out mailed three letters been to the grocery store. nothing on tv. the telephone is quiet. I’ve run dental floss between my teeth. it won’t rain and I listen to the early arrivals from the 8 hour day as they drive in and park their cars behind the apartment next door. I sit drinking German beer and trying to come up with the big one and I’m not going to make it. I’m just going to keep drinking


more and more German beer and rolling smokes and by 11 p.m. I’ll be spread out on the unmade bed face up asleep under the electric light still waiting on the immortal poem.


big sloppy wounded dog hit by a car and walking toward the curbing making enormous sounds your body curled red blowing out of ass and mouth. I stare at him and drive on for how would it look for me to be holding a dying dog on a curbing in Arcadia, blood seeping into my shirt and pants and shoes? it would just look dumb. besides, I figure the 2 horse in the first race and I wanted to hook him with a 9 in the second. I figured the daily to pay around $140 so I had to let that dog die alone there just across from the shopping center with the ladies look-

ing for bargains as the first bit of snow fell upon the Sierra Madre.


the girl on the bus stop bench

I saw her when I was in the left lane going east on Sunset. she was sitting with her legs crossed reading a paperback. she was Italian or Indian or Greek and I was stopped at a red signal as now and then a wind would lift her skirt, I was directly across from her looking in, and such perfect immaculate legs I had never seen I am essentially bashful but I stared and kept staring until the person in the car behind me honked. it had never happened quite like that before. I drove around the block and parked in the supermarket lot directly across from her in my dark shades I kept staring like a schoolboy in his first excitement. I memorized her shoes her dress herstockings her face. 3:4

cars came by and blocked my view. then I saw her again. and wind flipped her skirt high along her thighs and I began rubbing myself. just before her bus came I climaxed. I smelled my sperm felt it wet against my shorts and pants. it was an ugly white bus and it took her away. I backed out of the parking lot thinking, I’m a peep-freak but at least I didn’t expose myself. I’m a peep-freak but why do they do that? why do they look like that? why do they let the wind do that? when I got home I undressed and bathed got out toweled turned on the news turned off the news and wrote this poem.

Quiet clean girls in gingham dresses

all I’ve ever known are whores, ex-prostitutes, madwomen. I see men with quiet, gentle women— I see them in the supermarkets, I see them walking down the streets together, I see them in their apartments: people at peace, living together. I know that their peace is only partial, but there is peace, often hours and days of peace. all I’ve ever known are pill freaks, alcoholics, whores, ex-prostitutes, madwomen. when one leaves another arrives worse than her predecessor. I see so many men with quiet clean girls in gingham dresses girls with faces that are not wolverine or predatory. “don’t ever bring a whore around,” I tell my few friends, “I’ll fall in love with her.” “you couldn’t stand a good woman, Bukowski.” I need a good woman. I need a good woman more than I need this typewriter, more than I need my automobile, more than I need Mozart; I need a good woman so badly that I can taste her in the air, I can feel her at my fingertips, I can see sidewalks built for her feet to walk upon, I can see pillows for her head, I can feel my waiting laughter, I can see her petting a cat, I can see her sleeping, I can see her slippers on the floor. I know that she exists but where is she upon this earth as the whores keep finding me?


Section IV: Betting on the Muse

the luck of the draw

after decades and decades of poverty as I now approach the lip of the grave, suddenly I have a home, a new car, a spa, a swimming pool, a computer. will this destroy me? well, something is bound to destroy me soon enough. the boys in the jails, the slaughterhouses, the factories, on the park benches, in the post offices, the bars would never believe me now. I have a problem believing myself. I am no different now than I was in the tiny rooms of starvation and madness. the only difference is that I am older. and I drink better wine. all the rest is nonsense, the luck of the draw. a life can change in a tenth of a second. or sometimes it can take 70 years.


12 minutes to post

as we stand there before the purple mountains in our stupid clothing, we pause, look about: nothing changes, it only solidifies, our lives crawl slowly, our wives deprecate us. then we awaken a moment— the animals are entering the track: Quick’s Sister, Perfect Raj, Vive le Torch, Miss Leuschner, Keepin’ Peace, True to Be, Lou’s Good Morning. now, it’s good for us: the lightning flash of hope, the laughter of the hidden gods. we were never meant to be what we are or where we are, we are looking for an out, some music from the sun, the girl we never found. we are betting on the miracle again there before the purple mountains as the horses parade past so much more beautiful than our lives.


the girls we followed home

the girls we once followed home are now the bag ladies, or one of them is that white-haired old crone who whacked you with her cane. the girls we once followed home sit on bedpans in nursing homes, play shuffleboard at the public park. they no longer dive into the white-capped waves, those girls we followed home, no longer rub their bodies with oil under the sun, no longer primp before the beautiful mirror, those girls we followed home, those girls we followed home have gone somewhere, some forever, and we who followed them? dead in wars, dead of heart attack, dead of yearning, thick of shoe and slow of speech, our dreams are tv dreams, the few of us, so few of us remember


in the mouth of the tiger

the rivers of hell are well peopled with the living. this is what I write tonight, a metallic taste in my mouth, my wife and 6 cats in this house, I am so sorry for them because I am not bright with life for them. I had no idea that all this would come so slowly, running up from my feet to my brain, no trumpets blaring here, no flags of victory. I can’t even find the courage to accept my fate. I once felt myself greater than any trap. nobody is. damn it, where has the music gone? and myself ? pale as mountain light. damn it, why? I would have nobody be me now.


confessions of a genius

during world war two some of the worst writing of our time appeared in books and magazines, it was truly regrettable. I lived alone and insane in tiny rooms being neither a soldier nor a writer. it is possible to be truly mad and to still exist upon scraps of life. I knew my name, was able to dress myself, was able to speak the language but I was entirely inept, without design, 4:5

I was a meaningless conglomeration of ideas. I was an idiot. the army didn’t want me, women didn’t want me and I didn’t want myself. I was a husk. yet twice I found myself with a typewriter. I wrote a short story which was accepted by a leading magazine. and I wrote another which appeared in an intercontinental journal along with Henry Miller and Camus. then I hocked the

typewriter and stopped writing. I felt that what I had written was meaningless. I went from city to city from room to room from bar to bar. the war ended and I continued existing in that manner. I read the successful writers and decided that they too were meaningless. I really didn’t begin writing again until I started living with women. they startled me

out of my stupor, dropped me splashing and thrashing into a new confusion. my work began to appear in literary magazines. people hated me for the way I wrote about women. but these people never met the women I lived with. I was only photographing in words the reality of it all. I wrote of my horrible women and my horrible jobs and the first damn thing you knew I had 4:6

half-a fame. I noticed that the sycophants and weaklings were writing poetry. so, I tried that too. it was easy. the whole game was just a matter of tossing your stuff at them. I gave readings, packed them in, I drank throughout, insulting them, tossing the crap. they hated it and loved it, they ate up my crap. and through it all I had this feeling of bored 4:7

disinterest. but then I noticed that the women I went with were getting younger, with better bodies, longer hair, more light to their eyes.

it was paying off. I no longer had to hock typewriters or work horrible jobs. I had become something to some people. others had better sense. but I was the same half-shot asshole that I had always been, I was nothing

at all but somehow I had stumbled into a lucky and easy game, a shell game, a hustle, a lark, a sunny midnight, a stance, an out, an in, and yes I’ve been there ever since.


Don’t Try (see So You Want To Be A Writer) (and ah...)

book designed by Stevie Meder artwork by Charles Bukowski photography by various artists

Charles Bukowski: Third Saturday Posey Cafe, 2013  

A poetry and discussion book commissioned by the Mike Burke and the Third Satruday Posey Cafe, Charles Bukowski Edition.

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