Charles Bukowski

by Chris Bertram on September 5, 2005

Listening to “Bob Harris Country”: last Thursday, I was really captivated by “Tom Russell”: talking about Charles Bukowski. I didn’t know anything about Bukowski, except having a vague idea that he might be something to do with the beat poets. Anyway, I was intruiged enough to go out and buy “Post Office”: , Bukowski’s grittily written account of working for the US post office as a relief postman and then as a clerk whilst being almost permanently drunk, gambling and womanizing.

bq. It began as a mistake.

A great opening line to hook you in, reminiscent of Hammett or Chandler, except this isn’t a crime story. Brilliant muscular writing about snagging with petty authority figures, trudging around delivering letters to lunatics in the pouring rain, mean and manipulative men and women, making money at the track, routine, boredom, cheating the system.

One of the best things I’ve read in a while, I don’t mind saying. Completely non-boring. I’ve now gone out and bought “Ham on Rye”: , which I’m really looking forward to, as well as a book of poems: “You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense”: . Comments to further remedy my Bukowski-related ignorance (or my Tom Russell-related ignorance for that matter) would be most welcome.



Victoria 09.05.05 at 9:57 am

I would really recommend seeing John Dullaghan’s documentary, BORN INTO THIS. It’s a fantastic view into Bukowski’s life.


John Isbell 09.05.05 at 10:01 am

Bukowski’s 25 or so books of poems are fairly interchangeable, so if you like one by all means buy more. He’s good at setting a mood, but I had difficulty finding actual moments of beauty – things I’d quote – in them. Perfect lyric moments.
There’s a lot of posthumous stuff yet to come out.


Nancy 09.05.05 at 11:05 am

I want my mail delivered competently. Why celebrate a man who goes to work drunk and doesn’t care about the importance of the mail people are sending? I don’t care how well he writes — his attitude stinks. It is no excuse that the job isn’t fun.


Charles Winder 09.05.05 at 11:22 am

But who wants to read a book about a bright and sober postman with a really great attitude who always makes his deliveries on time? Boooring.


Isaac 09.05.05 at 11:36 am

Ham on Rye is as good as his prose gets (its by far his most complete work). So keep that in mind, you may want to read the less coherent stuff first, so it won’t be a let down afterwards.

Shakespeare Never Did This is both a wonderful title and an entertaining account of an author tour.


jp 09.05.05 at 11:53 am


have you been on this planet long?



Chris 09.05.05 at 12:52 pm

After you’ve read a few things, pick up Notes of a Dirty Old Man and Tales of Ordinary Madness. Don’t ever read Women. The first two are Bukowski at his best, while Women is Bukowski writing something to get money for more booze. It’s just really forced, and reading it nearly ruined Bukowski for me.


Nancy 09.05.05 at 1:01 pm

Someone with the ability to say thing well, should also have something to say. Eloquence in a jerk doesn’t make him any less of a jerk.


Chris Bertram 09.05.05 at 1:50 pm

I didn’t respond to #3 as I thought Nancy must be someone with a bone-dry sense of humour. But I’m afraid that #8 shows that my hypothesis was mistaken.


Louis Proyect 09.05.05 at 1:58 pm

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Charles Bukowski: Born Into This

Although I had a VHS screener of the 2004 “Bukowski: Born Into This” on my shelves for over a year, I only got around to watching it last night. Since the insufferably pretentious Bono of U2 fame–a Bukowski fan–was among the interviewees for this documentary about the decidedly unglamorous writer who died of leukemia in March 1994 at the age of 73, I was leery of first-time director John Dullaghan’s intentions. As it turned out, this film is deeply moving and true to the memory of the man that Sartre called “America’s greatest poet.”



text 09.05.05 at 3:33 pm

you should read “Pulp.” Bukowski is indeed a find.

I still think Nancy is having a bit of fun with us.


radek 09.05.05 at 3:37 pm

Shorter Bukowski:
… I got up in the morning and had a beer. Then went to work for a creepy prick. At work instead of working I thought about or read Celine/Heminghway/Miller/Fante. Work was still wretched so I went to the horse races and watched the depressing people. I was one of them. Then I met a women and we got drunk and had sex. In the morning we either moved in together or she tried to rob me. Then I called in sick to work and had a beer…

It’s fun to read and well written but it gets repetative. The stuff about getting old – the book and poems, forget which – is even better. Less drunknen whoring sensationalism and more reflection about life and how it really really sucks to get old. Especially if you’ve spend your whole life drinking.

And if I gave up reading books written by jerks, there’d be like 3 authors I’d actually want to read.

As far as perfect lyric moments and stuff to quote… in, I think the Diary, there’s a part where after doing something really stupid while drunk and screwing someone over Hank stops to take care of a lost kitty. Ok, so it doesn’t seem very lyrical but that’s what makes a good writer – that he can pull stuff like this off without sounding stupid. The quote I remember off the top of my head is stolen from somewhere though, or rather I think it’s a paraphrase: ‘the difference between an artist and an intellectual is that the intellectual takes a simple thing and makes it complicated while the artist takes a complicated thing and makes it simple’


reuben 09.05.05 at 3:53 pm

Throughout history, when men and women have gathered together to speak of the great writers, those men and women who were speaking together of those great writers (often greatly) have said one thing, over and over, with one voice though often in many different accents that were sometimes hard to understand:

They cared about the importance of the mail.


Cryptic Ned 09.05.05 at 4:50 pm

Read the prose, but NOT THE POEMS. Oh god, are those poems repetitive and self-parodic.

The prose is great. Almost nobody can write captivatingly about their own life,.


Amanda 09.05.05 at 7:43 pm

Do get Tom Russell’s most recent one, Hotwalker. I assume it was covered in the Harris show. Not everyone’s cup of char but it captivates me. Then get The Man from God Knows Where, then probably The Long Way Around and then … ah, I could talk about Tom Russell all day!


Belle Waring 09.06.05 at 1:11 am

he’s a good writer in his way but he always comes across as such a misogynist asshole that I have trouble mustering up any interest. (yes, people can be both tedious misogynists and thoroughgoing misanthropes).


Chris Bertram 09.06.05 at 2:56 am

The same is true of Roth and Kundera (to name but two). I still love reading them though.


jlsb 09.06.05 at 5:16 am

Before you’ve read much more of ANY Bukowsi, I would suggest picking up a few of John Fante’s novels (at least one of which–Ask the Dust, I believe– I know to have been prefaced by Chuch Buk), or else you might be in for a letdown. Not to seem overly dismissive of the former, but everything that I consider to be especially moving in the latter’s repetoire can be found in Fante, save the posturings of a drunken, womanizing, self-promoting shitbag.


Ray 09.06.05 at 7:02 am

I don’t think Roth’s characters are misogynistic, but because he writes wholly from within the character’s perspective rather than writing about interpersonal relationships with any kind of external view (and maybe his characters are a little self-centred too), _everybody_ else in the novels is objectified. This is more obvious in his character’s dealings with women, since desire is so often his subject.


Dave D 09.06.05 at 8:30 am

As a teenager, I had a friend who was a big Bukowski fan. He was also an obsessive, and collected most of the books, which he lent me. I’m too old for them now (I’m 37) and probably wouldn’t read them again, as they seem a bit “thin” to me in retrospect.

However, there are probably about 30-50 good poems, out of God knows how many (there must be ten thousand)—all apparently spontaneous, and never re-written, which, if true, is remarkable.
There are many striking images in the poems, and, unlike commenter 2, I can remember lots of lines from them, 20 years later. It seems to me that the best books of poems are The Roominghouse Madrigals and The days run away like wild horses over the hills.

From the second, I especially liked the one that began:
The reason for the riot was we kept getting beans…

From the first, I remember this, which still seems to me quite lyrical:

Of all the iron beds in paradise/ yours was the most cruel/ and I was smoke in your mirror/ and you sluiced your hair with jade

In large portion, though, Belle is right: there’s an awful lot of macho, posing cack to wade through as well.


rcriii 09.06.05 at 10:54 am

I was first exposed to Bukowski when I saw the Movie “Love is a Dog from Hell” in 1989. It was so depressing that I never felt any interest in exploring Bukowski’s other work.

My second exposure to Bukowski was seeing one of his poems on a SF Transit bus. It was about being so down in the mouth that he could taste the street…or something.

But maybe it is time to pick up one of his books.


Tracy Hall 09.06.05 at 5:55 pm

Tom Russell:
I would strongly recommend getting both “The Man From God Knows Where” and “Hotwalker”, and listening to them in that order. They are part of an (intended) trilogy, and share enormous amounts of structure and theme – and, bluntly, this makes Hotwalker much more approachable.
(I have a review covering this parallel structure, if you’re interested)

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