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Reading Bukowski

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Now that I have read Charles Bukowski, I’m doomed.

I’m doomed because I fear I will never get enough of Charles Bukowski. I’m doomed because nothing but Charles Bukowski can feed this hunger for his words.

Bukowski’s fans call him Buk. I can’t call him Buk. I think there are laws against a person of my lowly estate calling Bukowski “Buk.” I’ve only read two of his books (and currently in the middle of another novel and a book of poetry), so I am unworthy of calling him Buk. You should probably only call him Buk if you read him before he died, and maybe only if you read him before the movie Barfly came out. Certainly, you should not call him Buk if you’ve only read two of his novels.

I read “Pulp” first, and loved it. I read “Hollywood” next and loved it, too. Bukowski writes with a clarity and a crispness rivaled only by Hemingway, but Bukowski’s rhythms are more intoxicating. I would argue, too, that his descriptions and characterizations are more vivid. There is a lilting numbness to his prose style that warms like a bottle good red wine, or even bad red wine — like, frankly, a whole bottle of it, or maybe it’s the afterglow of good sex. It’s an ambiance and a mood that was amazingly captured in Barfly, which I rented from Netflix a few weeks ago.

It is an aura I found myself craving like an addict for a needle last week. Even though money was tight, I had to buy some Bukowski. I had to read some Bukowski. One book wouldn’t do. I had to buy two. I had to buy a novel and I had to buy some poetry. I bought “Ham on Rye” and “Love is a Dog from Hell.”

These are not the books Tony Pierce told me I should buy.

> b&n should have “notes of a dirty old man” – excellent
> “women” – excellent
> maybe they’ll have “post office” excellent

> they might even have The Bukowski Reader, which takes a lot from “post
> office” but also has a lot of poems in there. pretty good.

> his poetry collections from the 80s are really good. even if you dont like poetry >

But Pierce and I had exchanged e-mails while I was at work, and I had left this particular e-mail at work, so when I went the store, my senile old mind failed me again, and I got “Ham on Rye.”

I bought “Ham on Rye” because of the way it opened.

The first thing I remember is being under something. It was a table. I saw a table leg, I saw the legs of people, and a portion of the tablecloth hanging down. It was dark under there. I liked being under there. It must have been in Germany. I must have been between one and two years old. It was 1922. I felt good under the table. Nobody seemed to know that I was there. There was sunlight upon the rug and on the legs of the people. I liked the sunlight. The legs of the people were not interesting, not like the tablecloth which hung down, not like the table leg, not like the sunlight.

The cadence lulls you into submission and Bukowski begins his dark tale of growing up in Los Angeles during the depression, raised by a cruel father and indifferent mother. It is hard to stop reading, even as Bukowski goes from one lurid event to the next.

I have not read the books Pierce has recommended — not yet. And he didn’t like the books I read first, the books that caused me to fall in love with Bukowski.

hollywood is decent, he wrote it late in life and in a slightly different
> style than he normally wrote. it’s good to watch “barfly” after you read
> it
> since thats the movie that came from that experience.

> pulp was his last book and its terrible.

Ken Layne liked Hollywood, but also recommends books I haven’t read yet.

If you like that one (“Pulp”), try “Women,” “Hollywood” & “Post Office.” They’re all great, and he makes the writing seem easy, tossed off, but they’re really well crafted.

As for poetry, “Love is a Dog” is not from the ’80s as Pierce recommends. It is from 1977. I’m about 30 poems into it and they all seem to be about who Bukowski was fucking or drinking with on any particular day. Not all the poems are wonderful. Few of the poems seem like poems at all. Many are just observations — observations wonderfully drawn, but not so well done they are worth repeating.

But I bought the book because I loved the opening poem, Sandra. I loved this stanza most of all:

Sandra leans out of
her chair
leans toward

Ask me why I love that line so much, and I’m not sure I can tell you. I think it is like a good joke, where the ending is a twist, a surprise, unexpected, but strangly logical. Who would think of somebody leaning toward Glendale? But can a telling detail get more specific?

Bukowski is my new drug. I won’t stop until there is no more Bukowski to read, and then I may start from the beginning again.

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About Howard Owens

  • Yet before i have not read any of his books. After, finished reading of this article i am very much interested to read bukowski books.


  • brandon

    SUCH AS* not suck. nothing about him sucks.

  • brandon

    women, post office, factotum, ham on rye. they are all really really good. i suggest reading those first before anything else. women was my first bukowski read. I always look forward to the last few paragraphs suck as the arcade boxing match at the end of Rye or the stray cat at the end of women. hes an inspirational writer, indeed. he makes it seem very reachable.

  • My favorite Bukowski ios “Poems written before jumping out of an 8 story window,’ Litmus Press, Salt Lake City, 1974.

    It can still be ordered from Tsunami Press,

    It costs $179, but when you really love a poet, you sell everything you have to get closer.

  • Okay. You’ve convinced me. I’m jumping on the Bukowski bandwagon and reading “Pulp.” Any writer who can inspire such a post deserves to be investigated.

  • Oh, God. I did a short piece on Bukowski a few days ago. You can read it here. http://blogs.salon.com/0001097/2002/11/21.html Please excuse me if I seem a bit confrontational on the blog–it’s what the readers want, after all.

  • I’ve been a Bukowski (RIP) fan since I was 18 (that’s when he found me), so I’ve been reading him for about 10 years. He is my literary idol. I am so taken by him and who he was, that I now work for the post office. I recommend the City Lights books first (Notes of a Dirty Old Man, the Most Beautiful Woman in Town, and Tales of Ordinary Madness). And get his books used, don’t pay full price. He wouldn’t.