Absence of the Hero

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Overview

One of the most irreverent figures of twentieth-century literature, Charles Bukowski was an extremely prolific author; after publishing over 50 books, many significant stories and essays remain uncollected or unpublished. Absence of the Hero is an anthology of this scattered body of work, most of it unseen in decades. Beginning with his early magazine fiction from the late 1940s, Absence of the Hero takes the reader on a countercultural journey through the literary battles of the '50s, the psychedelic upheaval of...

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Overview

One of the most irreverent figures of twentieth-century literature, Charles Bukowski was an extremely prolific author; after publishing over 50 books, many significant stories and essays remain uncollected or unpublished. Absence of the Hero is an anthology of this scattered body of work, most of it unseen in decades. Beginning with his early magazine fiction from the late 1940s, Absence of the Hero takes the reader on a countercultural journey through the literary battles of the '50s, the psychedelic upheaval of the '60s, the narcissistic pleasures of the '70s, and the Reaganite dystopia of the '80s. Along the way Bukowski furnishes tales of his infamous public readings, reviews of his own work, hilarious installments of his newspaper column, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man," and a number of newly discovered, previously unpublished gems. Yet the book also demonstrates the other Bukowski-an astute if offbeat literary critic. From his own "Manifesto" to his idiosyncratic evaluations of Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, LeRoi Jones, and Louis Zukofsky, Absence of the Hero Reveals the intellectual hidden beneath his gruff exterior.

Absence of the Hero is a Major Addition to the Bukowski Canon, Essential for Fans yet Suitable for New Readers as an Introduction to the Wide Range of his Work.

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Editorial Reviews

Paul Maher Jr.
Like a brass-rail Existentialist or a skid-row Transcendentalist, [Bukowski] is candid, unblinking, leaving it to his readers to cast their own judgment about his mishaps, his drinking, his sexual appetite or his own pessimism. He is Ralph Waldo Emerson as a Dirty Old Man, not lounging in the grape-arbor of Concord, Massachusetts, but bent-over a table in an L.A. flophouse scribbling in pencil to the strains of Sibelius.
Phawker
Penthouse
The pieces range over nearly half a century, and include a story about a baseball player seized by a sudden bout of existential paralysis, along with early, graphically sexual (and masterfully comic) stories published in such smut mags as Candid Press.
Midwest Book Review
An absolute must for fans of Charles Bukowski's work, Absence of a Hero is also a welcome addition to public and college library literary studies shelves.
San Francisco Chronicle
Charles Bukowski, the late poet best known for his odes to sex, booze and general skid-row squalor, turns reflective in much of "Absence of the Hero: Uncollected Stories and Essays, Vol. 2: 1946-1992". In one piece, titled "He Beats His Women," Bukowski touches on a visit to these parts: 'The only time I read in San Francisco, 800 people arrived and 100 of those arrived with buckets of garbage to throw at me. At 2 bucks a head, that garbage didn't smell too bad.'
Johnson Cummins
When Bukowski sat down at his trusted Underwood typewriter to 'play the piano,' it was the only time in his life he felt immortal, with every word painstakingly chosen and direct from the gut. If you haven't had the pleasure of digging into one of his already published works, these easily digestible stories are a perfect starting point.
The Montreal Mirror
The Globe and Mail
Even after he published more than 50 books, Bukowski (1920-1994) left behind dozens of unpublished stories and essays. U.S. American literature scholar Calonne, who also edited Vol. 1 of Bukowski's unpublished works, provides an informative and informed introduction and a useful set of notes.
Adam Perry
But unlike 'Exit to Brooklyn' and other erotically charged American tales of urban horror and desperation, many of Bukowski's short stories actually leave one with a warm glow, whether from reluctant but real love, brilliant delineation of sociological phenomena in America or, once in a while, juicy science fiction.
Boulder Weekly
Chico News and Review
Charles Bukowski, prophet of the lost, deacon of the mean and insane. . . . InAbsence of the Hero, City Lights' second posthumous volume of uncollected stories and essays, we're given samples spanning almost his entire career. There are moments of brilliance and flickers of light. -- (Karl Travis)
From the Publisher

Portions: "...Some of the most sublime narratives Bukowski's ever produced... If Bukowski fans find their personal library lacking this spirited collection, I'd suggest they be quick to snag a copy." --East Bay Literary Examiner

"An important cornerstone... Essential reading for Bukowki fans... as well as anyone interested in the development of modern American literature."-Small Press Review

"Portions... has a preciseness of language... [and] the spark that made Bukowski a Los Angeles icon in the first place."-LA Times

"City Lights take their Bukowski uncollected stories and essays seriously and David Calonne has meticulously assembled and documented the two volumes of this series. . . . this is essential reading for every Bukophile." -- Bold Monkey

"[Bukowski] seems to be one of those rare writers who learns not by emulating a given model but by reading his own stuff as he writes and rediscovering for himself the dignity of form. . . . A low-life raconteur and a dimestore perv, Bukowski was the life of the party night after night. When you open any of his books, that party goes on."-- Said Shirazi, Fifth Wednesday Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780872865310
  • Publisher: City Lights Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 937,774
  • Product dimensions: 9.08 (w) x 6.02 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany in 1920 and brought to Los Angeles at age three. Using the city as a backdrop for his work, Bukowski wrote prolifically, publishing over fifty volumes of poetry and prose. He died in San Pedro, California on March 9, 1994. His books are widely translated and posthumous volumes continue to appear. David Calonne is the editor of a previous book of uncollected Bukowski, Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook, as well as a volume of interviews, Charles Bukowski: Sunshine Here I Am. He presently teaches at East Michigan University. David Calonne is the editor of a previous book of uncollected Bukowski, Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook, as well as a volume of interviews, Charles Bukowski: Sunshine Here I Am. He presently teaches at East Michigan University.

Biography

During the course of his long, prolific literary career, Charles Bukowski was known as a poet, novelist, short story writer, and journalist. But it is as a cult figure, an "honorary beat" who chronicled his notorious lifestyle in raw, unflinching poetry and prose, that he is best remembered. Born in the aftermath of World War I to a German mother and an American serviceman of German descent, he was brought to the U.S. at the age of three and raised in Los Angeles. By all accounts, his childhood was lonely and unhappy: His father beat him regularly, and he suffered from debilitating shyness and a severely disfiguring case of acne. By his own admission, he underwent a brief flirtation with the far right, associating as a teenager with Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. After high school, he attended Los Angeles City College for two years, studying art, literature, and journalism before dropping out.

Although two of his stories were published in small literary magazines while he was still in his early 20s, Bukowski became discouraged by his lack of immediate success and gave up writing for ten years. During this time he drifted around the country, working odd jobs; fraternizing with bums, hustlers, and whores; and drinking so excessively that he nearly died of a bleeding ulcer.

In the late 1950s, Bukowski returned to writing, churning out copious amounts of poetry and prose while supporting himself with mind-numbing clerical work in the post office. Encouraged and mentored by Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin, he finally quit his job in 1969 to concentrate on writing full time. In 1985, he married his longtime girlfriend Linda Lee Beighle. Together they moved to San Pedro, California, where Bukowski began to live a saner, more stable existence. He continued writing until his death from leukemia in 1994, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.

Bukowski mined his notorious lifestyle for an oeuvre that was largely autobiographical. In literally thousands of poems, he celebrated the skid row drunks and derelicts of his misspent youth; and, between 1971 and 1989, he penned five novels (Post Office, Factotum, Women, Ham on Rye, and Hollywood) featuring Henry Chinaski, an alcoholic, womanizing, misanthrope he identified as his literary alter ego. (He also wrote the autobiographical screenplay for the 1987 film Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.) Yet, for all the shock value of his graphic language and violent, unlovely images, Bukowski's writing retains a startling lyricism. Today, years after his death, he remains one of the 20th century's most influential and widely imitated writers.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      August 16, 1920
    2. Place of Birth:
      Andernach, Germany
    1. Date of Death:
      March 9, 1994
    2. Place of Death:
      San Pedro, California
    1. Education:
      Los Angeles City College, 2 years

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Charles Bukowski composed a sequence of six stories between 1944 and 1948, including "Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip" (1944) in Story, "20 Tanks from Kasseldown" (1946) in Portfolio III, and the quartet appearing in Matrix: "The Reason Behind Reason" (1946), "Love, Love, Love" (1946-47), "Cacoethes Scribendi" (1947), and "Hard Without Music" (1948).1 "The Reason Behind Reason"—although decorated with Bukowski's first published drawing, depicting a baseball player comically reaching out to catch a fly ball—is pervaded by an eerie sense of disquiet. The main character Chelaski is puzzled, enigmatic, muted, withdrawn; he sees no reason to perform his appointed role in the game because, like the game of life, it is an absurd one. Bukowski pays close attention to the oddly-observed disconnected small detail and demonstrates his early mastery of fictional craft: "fire on things sticking in mouths" of the spectators; "the thick veins in the red neck" of Jamison; a rhythmical, lyrical flash of erotic mystery from the girl in the grandstand with "a green skirt, and a pleat in a green skirt, shadow-like, and leaping."

Like Roquentin in Jean-Paul Sartre's La Nausée (1938), who experiences the world as "out there" and is made ill by the chestnut tree's horrible quiddity, so too Chelaski feels "different," adrift in an indifferent universe where "things don't set right" and "even the sun looked a little sick, the green of the fences too green, the sky much too high" and a weird recurring bird "skipped through the air, up and down, somewhere, very fast." The title "The Reason Behind Reason" suggests an inscrutable riddle occluded behind the reasons we invent to interpret our experience. Whatever meanings there might be are so unreasonable that they are best passed over in silence. It is the individual, questioning poet who is lost, while the crowd "all hung together in a strange understanding." This is the solitary mystical zone where nothing and nobody connect; we should remember that one of Bukowski's favorite novels was Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.2

"Cacoethes Scribendi" concerns an editor/writer who seeks an assistant for his literary magazine. Again the mood is uncanny, with strange perturbations in the atmosphere, the abstruse word choice purposely jarring: "suzerain," "diacritic," "acephalous," "zebu," "argute." The title is taken from Juvenal's Satire VII and may be translated as "an incurable endemic writer's itch," which precisely describes Bukowski himself since he was a hard-working, ceaselessly productive writer, constantly submitting poems, stories, and essays to virtually every literary magazine in the United States (and several in Europe).3 Indeed, contrary to the myth fostered by the author himself, he did not fall silent after 1948, the period of his infamous "ten-year drunk" when he claimed to have written nothing. In fact, he submitted poems to Poetry (Chicago) between 1953 and 1956 and published the poems "The Look" in Matrix in 1951, "Lay Over" in Naked Ear in 1956, "These Things" and "You Smoke a Cigarette" in Quixote 1956, "Poem for Personnel Managers" and "As the Sparrow" in Quixote 1957, and "Mine" in Wallace Berman's Semina 2 in 1957.4

"80 Airplanes Don't Put You in the Clear" (1957) is noteworthy as the first work in which the narrator is named "Hank," while in "Love, Love, Love" the main character is "Chuck" and in "The Reason Behind Reason" he is "Chelaski." Bukowski would finally settle on Henry ("Hank") Chinaski (derived from his given name Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr.) as his literary alter ego. This story marks a return to the more whimsical tone of "Aftermath" and the tale is built around D.H. Lawrence's biography: his failed attempt to found the colony of Rananim with his friends, his wife Frieda von Richthofen, and her kinship with "The Red Baron," Manfred von Richthofen. The allusion to the Red Baron returns us to Bukowski's literary beginnings; one of the first stories he invented as a child concerned the German World War I fighter pilot.5 Richard Aldington, Homer, Shakespeare, Twain, Stevenson, Huxley, Confucius, and Beethoven are all invoked during a night of playful drinking and womanizing. Wein, Weib, und Gesang—wine, women, and song, or alcohol, sex, and poetry/music—would become Bukowski's obsessive thematic holy trinity; if one exists in his narratives, the other two will surely be present.

Bukowski's transgressive sexual writing begins with "The Rapist's Story." Though it was published in Harlequin in 1957, Bukowski had actually submitted it to Story in 1952, thus predating Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955) by three years.6 It is clear from a psychoanalytic perspective that the cycle of stories about violation ("The Fiend" from 1970 is a later example) are replayings of Bukowski's own terrorized childhood at the hands of his violent father. His unpublished essay "Ah, Liberation, Liberty, Lilies on the Moon!" illustrates his compassion for the victims of child abuse as well as his sensitivity to animal cruelty. Later, in his "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" columns, he would continue to experiment with explicit erotic themes, and when he quit his position in the Los Angeles Post Office in 1970 to begin his career as professional writer, he began to consciously create increasingly sexual and violent narratives in order to successfully market his work to adult magazines.

Bukowski alternated between composing fiction and poetry, but when he wrote essays, they were most frequently devoted to literary polemics. He often seemed particularly concerned to distinguish himself as a solitary creator separate from the various "schools" of American poetry: Imagist, Confessional, Objectivist, Black Mountain, Deep Image, New York, Beat. In "Manifesto," he takes aim at the "university poets," a familiar target throughout his career. The essay is perhaps a parody (the vocabulary—"nosography," "censorious dictum," "heuristic," "steatopygous," "hierophants"—is obviously outrageous) of the genteel literary criticism of his day, which he enjoyed reading in the Kenyon Review or the Sewanee Review. In opposition to the pampered ivory tower boys, Bukowski is at pains to remind us that he lived by the Aeschylean dictum pathei mathos: through suffering comes wisdom, inspiration, creativity. In "He Beats His Women," he asserted: "The gods were good to me. They kept me under. They made me live the life. It was very difficult for me to walk out of a slaughterhouse or a factory and come home and write a poem I didn't quite mean. And many people write poems they don't quite mean. I do too, sometimes. The hard life created the hard line and by the hard line I mean the true line devoid of ornament." A more concise statement of Bukowski's poetics would be difficult to find.

In another of his essays on the writing life, "The House of Horrors," he makes sarcastic observations about poets who "are quite comfortable with tv sets, air coolers, loaded refrigerators, and apartments and houses by the sea—mostly at Venice and Santa Monica, and they sun themselves in the day, feeling and looking tragic, these male friends (?) of mine and then at night, lo, perhaps they have a bottle of wine and a watercress sandwich, followed by a wailing letter of their penury and greatness to somebody somewhere." It is a Romantic conceit, but for Bukowski many poets were mild-mannered reporters who did not honor Nietzsche's mighty apothegm in Also Sprach Zarathustra: "Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood."7 And he would agree with Charles Péguy, who remarked: "Un mot n'est pas le même dans un écrivain et dans un autre. L'un se l'arrache du ventre. L'autre le tire de la poche de son pardesssus." "A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket."

The subject matter of Bukowski's writing is very frequently writing itself: his constant effort to define the act of composing in relationship to an authentically lived life, his theories of creativity and poetics, his admiration for other writers, as well as his connections to editors. His essay "The Outsider," which appeared in 1972 in The Wormwood Review, is his tribute to Jon Edgar and Gypsy Lou Webb. Marvin Malone's Wormwood Review, Douglas Blazek's Ole, and in Germany Carl Weissner's Klactovedsedsteen—all were central in slowly establishing the readership that would launch Bukowski to world fame.8 Yet most important of all would be John Martin's Black Sparrow Press; one of Bukowski's several portraits of Martin appears in his 1981 story "East Hollywood: The New Paris." And Bukowski himself edited two little magazines: Harlequin, with his first wife Barbara Frye and later, briefly, Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns, with Neeli Cherkovski.

Indeed, Bukowski's involvement with the underground press both as contributor and editor put him in the direct line of combat during the contentious struggle for free speech during the '50s, '60s, and '70s. As early as 1957, Wallace Berman was raided by the Los Angeles vice squad.9 In 1966, Steve Richmond, who had published Bukowski in his magazines Earth and Earth Rose, had writings from his bookshop in Santa Monica confiscated.10 d.a. levy, the dynamo of the "mimeo revolution," published Bukowski's poem The Genius of the Crowd, which was seized by the police: "levy was arrested and jailed along with Jim Lowell (proprietor of the great Asphodel Bookshop, a welcoming home for new poetry for over thirty years) on charges of distributing obscene material in Cleveland."11 When John Bryan asked Bukowski to edit Renaissance 2 in September 1968, he solicited a story by Jack Micheline titled "Skinny Dynamite," about "a red-haired New York girl who liked to fuck," which resulted in Bryan's arrest.12

Thus as a creature of the underground and as an advocate of freedom of speech, Bukowski had always been in sympathy with the ideals of the counterculture. And as we see from his anti-war essay, "Peace, Baby, Is Hard Sell" (1962), at the beginning of the Sixties Bukowski was in accord with pacifism and love, although he put on the outer mask of the tough guy misanthrope to hide his essential tenderness. It should come as no surprise, then, that Bukowski would have deep links with the Beat writers. Although the nature of his connection to the Beats has been a matter of some controversy among literary historians, he read their work closely and appeared with them in many of the same publications, such as The Outsider, Evergreen Review, Beatitude, Transatlantic Review, City Lights Anthology, Klactovedsedsteen, Acid: Neue Amerikanische Szene, Unmuzzled Ox, El Corno Emplumado, Semina, Hearse, Wild Dog, Naked Ear, and Bastard Angel. And as the Sixties progressed, an increasing number of significant writers in Beat circles came to appreciate his work; Kenneth Rexroth would positively review Bukowski's It Catches My Heart in Its Hands in the New York Times on July 5, 1964.13

Bukowski had corresponded with Harold Norse and his tribute to him,"The Old Pro," appeared in 1966 in Ole, an important "mimeo revolution" publication edited by Douglas Blazek. The two poets met when Norse moved to Venice, California in January 1969.14 Bukowski reviewed Allen Ginsberg's Empty Mirror in Ole in 1967 and at the beginning of 1968 encountered Neal Cassady ("Dean Moriarty" in Jack Kerouac's On the Road), who became the subject of one of his "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" columns.15 In 1969, Bukowski would appear with Norse and Philip Lamantia in Penguin Poets 13. City Lights published Erections, Ejaculations and Other Tales of Ordinary Madness in 1972 and Lawrence Ferlinghetti sponsored Bukowski's first reading in San Francisco at the City Lights Poets' Theater in September 1972 and also reprinted Notes of a Dirty Old Man in 1973 following its initial appearance in 1969 under the Essex House imprint.16 And in November 1974, Bukowski read with Ferlinghetti, Snyder, and Ginsberg at the Santa Cruz
Poetry Festival.17

Thus Bukowski's writings derive their power not only from his boisterous, energetic, autobiographical voice, but from the fact that they are vivid chronicles of the Sixties counterculture. For example, Gregory Corso is affectionately portrayed in "I Just Write Poetry So I Can Go to Bed with Girls." Jack Micheline becomes a lively "Duke" in a "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" column from 1973, while d.a. levy, who committed suicide in 1967, was the subject of two essays: "The Deliberate Mashing of the Sun" and an article in The Serif, the literary magazine of Kent State University. Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) is the subject of one of his "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" columns, while Robert Creeley is pilloried in the Literary Times essay "Examining My Peers." It is clear then—his own many disavowals to the contrary—that Bukowski's career was in many ways inextricably bound to the Beats.

One area of common ground with the Beats was Bukowski's development of his own style of "spontaneous prose composition," which sought to depict everything about the human body and imagination normally ignored, shunned, and rejected as "vulgar." In "The Absence of the Hero," Bukowski struggled to record violent, scatological, fascinating, grotesque images as they emerged unbidden in convulsive patterns from the depths of the unconscious. Here the words seem to be energetically thrown upon the page randomly but nevertheless they fall into a vital pattern. He records discrete perceptions, even notating the passage of time—"3:24 a.m."—in diary-like fashion as if to catch the very movement of fragmented consciousness through time. The story also illustrates Bukowski's alternating use of lines of capital and lowercase letters, the use of jagged line spacing, lists of capitalized sentences—all as if he is attempting to paint or draw with words. He experimented frequently in his prose with punctuation, type size, ellipses, idiosyncratic spellings, and repetitions—some of his narratives were entirely composed in lower case, thus transporting into prose some of e.e. cummings' poetic typographical playfulness.

This emphasis on the appearance of the text—he often illustrated his stories, poems, and letters with cartoons and drawings, while his early stories were actually combinations of words and illustrations—shows that Bukowski frequently strove to make the text itself into an image. He was actually ahead of his time, anticipating the current craze for "graphic fiction" since he obsessively joined text to image in his hand-printed stories from the mid- to late '40s.18 As we see in "East Hollywood: The New Paris," Bukowski devoted a serious amount of time to his drawing and painting, and many of the deluxe editions of his work are accompanied by original art. So too the text of "The Absence of the Hero" reveals that Bukowski was a kind of Action Writer: he tried to make words perform, act out their meaning in a quasi-visual way in the same fashion that Jackson Pollock performed the spontaneous act of creation by "randomly" yet accurately flinging paint on canvas.

Bukowski would develop a hard, comic, lyric realism, a toughness, but underneath an abiding sensitivity and a photographic, documentary fidelity to everyday horrors. In his "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" columns, he records the humdrum facts of city life: drivers in Los Angeles, a confrontation between Nazis and Marxists, joyous nighttime sessions with his drunken landlady and landlord. He often writes the prose equivalent of William Carlos Williams' "This is just to say," telling you precisely what is in front him without commentary. He addresses the reader directly, removing any barrier between writer and audience. And he strengthened his vulnerable, hurt self by muscling it with irony, by a subversive, mocking, irreverent sharpness of observation. Bukowski's prose became more accomplished with time and his narratives more skillful: he would begin in medias res with an outrageous opening scene to hook readers and draw them into the story, as in "The Cat in the Closet." This story is also a marvelous example of the ways he casts his alter ego as a comical, self-deprecating, helpless character lost in a universe where things just happen.

The unexpected references to Stravinsky, Mahler, Hemingway, Camus' The Stranger, Maxwell Bodenheim, and Berlioz against the backdrop of graphic sexuality and comic drunken self-abasement are typical examples of a literary device Bukowski frequently employs. These surprising, sudden allusions to cultural figures serve to "equalize" "highbrow" and "lowbrow" culture to comic effect and are a kind of "winking" by the narrator to the reader, signaling that our hapless anti-hero may be a clown, but he is smarter than he lets on. So too Bukowski seeks to entertain us by playing the fool; he gives us our existential lesson, but with a knowing smile. His characters do not grow, achieve epiphanies, or reach enlightenment. Rather, as the Buddha said in the Diamond Sutra: "I obtained not the least thing from complete, unexcelled awakening, and it is for that very reason it is called complete, unexcelled awakening."

With increasing fame, Bukowski began to give poetry readings throughout the U.S.: in California (Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco), New Mexico, Washington, Utah, Illinois, New York, and Wisconsin as well as in Vancouver, Canada, and Hamburg, Germany. He also made a rambunctious appearance on the famous television talk show hosted by Bernard Pivot in Paris, Apostrophes. And as always, life fed his art as he began to chronicle his life on the road in his poems, stories, essays, and novels. He became a "literary hustler," and he satirizes himself, and depoeticizes and deromanticizes poetry; he turns the lofty poetry reading into a ritual in honor of the god Dionysus, complete with rivers of wine and ecstatic maenads.19

The sexual revolution of the Sixties coincided with Bukowski's own raw and direct confrontation with his own sexuality. Due to his acne vulgaris and tortured childhood, Bukowski had never experienced a "normal" adolescence and he spent 1970-1977 playing catch-up for all the delights he had missed as a Southern Californian teenager. In "The Big Dope Reading," for example, we see Bukowski at the height of his powers, engaging in multiple levels of irony and self-parody. The title itself may carry a double entendre: "dope" as in marijuana, but also the Big Dope equals the Poet as Clown. Bukowski gives his readers a hilarious moment of deadpan self-parody when Chinaski quotes two of the most famous Bukowski apothegms—"Genius . . . could mean the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way" and "Endurance is more important than truth"—which are in-jokes for devoted Bukowskians. Here too there are complex moments when he is at once parodying erotic writing, himself, and the convolutions of sexual/romantic "relationships" (he would have been allergic to such a psychobabble word). Bukowski often plays at the "meaning" of "relationships" in a teasing, Zen way which recalls Jacques Lacan's gnomic apothegm: "There is no sexual relationship." He stripped himself down to show his vulnerability, his wounds, trying to recover through love what was lost in his childhood yet, at the same time, poking fun at the effort to find salvation through love and sex.20 Yet Bukowski is also of course really a romantic who could write of falling in love in his June 24, 1974 "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" column: "I walked about and it felt as if the sun were inside of me." And as one of his favorite poets, e.e. cummings, wrote: "unlove is the heavenless hell and homeless home . . . lovers alone wear sunlight."21

Bukowski's "defense mechanism" to ward off psychic anguish is of course laughter. Wit, an unerring sense of comic timing, and a driving inexorable energy power his writings; his beloved Renaissance brothers in manic extravagance were François Rabelais and Giovanni Boccaccio.22 He could also be sardonic, which was in perfect accord with the Zeitgeist: black humor would mark the counterculture of the '60s and '70s. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and Eraserhead (1978) were among his favorite films—humor and madness in close and delicate counterpoint.23 So too, Bukowski's writing is poised between despair and lyricism, moving forward with a vigorous power that virtually always redeems his writings from nihilism. His admiration for the genius of Robert Crumb (who illustrated several Bukowski works) shows that for Bukowski there is a nexus between pain, laughter, and quasi-German-Expressionist extreme states of emotion.

After he tendered his resignation at the post office at age 50, Bukowski demonstrated that he could be a practical working writer and he maximized his productivity by reassembling his plots in differing contexts. He not only recycled favorite narratives in stories and novels, but he even recast them in both story and poem: "Fooling Marie" exists in both forms. Furthermore, sections from Post Office, Factotum, and Women all appeared initially in his "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" column in the LA Free Press as separate stories. Chapter 30 from Women appeared in two installments and in comparing the story and novel versions, one can see how much he altered and revised; in this case, many splendid passages were left on the cutting-room floor as he shaped his prose into novel form. This method of composition made perfect sense, since Bukowski's fiction had always been episodic, constructed out of brief sections strung together. His novels are in a way a series of connected brief tales, which enabled him to detach sections for submission to magazines as separate short stories as he composed them. And there was yet another mode of literary proliferation: Bukowski's work was circulated among many underground publications under an agreement with the United Press Syndicate (UPS) which allowed articles to be reprinted by all members of the organization.24

As suggested above, perhaps due to both the loosening of censorship restrictions during the '60s and '70s as well as his own desire to explore more fully the darker reaches of his imagination, Bukowski would begin to experiment more dramatically with direct portrayals of violence.25 Films such as The Wild Bunch (1969), Easy Rider (1969), and A Clockwork Orange (1971) laid the groundwork for a story such as "Christ with Barbeque Sauce," in which Bukowski used an actual newspaper account as the source for his narrative.26 In later stories such as "The Invader" (1986), Bukowski traces the sudden incursion of terror into the banalities of everyday life: tales of ordinary madness. This story also recalls his earlier apocalyptic portrayals of the human inability to fathom primal wildness in stories such as "Animal Crackers in My Soup."

Bukowski's late, lovely cycle of poems about his cats reveals them to be creatures who preserve the style, poise, and lack of pretense that are so sorely lacking in human beings. And in one of his very last essays, Bukowski asserts that most people lose their magic at a very young age. In "Playing and Being the Poet," he returns to his musings about the life of the poet: "Poetry comes from where you've lived and from what makes you create it. Most people have already entered the death process by the age of 5, and with each passing year there is less of them in the sense of being original beings with a chance to break through and out and away from the obvious and the mutilating." For Bukowski, living life poetically is in fact the only way to really live.

NOTES

1. "Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip," "Twenty Tanks from Kasseldown," and "Hard Without Music" may be found in Charles Bukowski, Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook: Uncollected Stories and Essays, 1944-1990, ed. and with an introduction by David Stephen Calonne, San Francisco: City Lights, 2008. The early stories are remarkable not only for their style and approach, but also because they encapsulate virtually all of the major themes that would preoccupy Bukowski throughout his career: his romantic and erotic quest, sense of alienation, troubled family history, discovery of alcohol, struggles to be a writer, and love of classical music.

2. See "Carson McCullers" in The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps, Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 2001, p. 35.

3. Juvenal, Satires VII, ll. 50-52: "Nam si discedas, laqueo tenet ambitiosi/consuetudo mali, tenet insanabile multos/scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde sensecit." "You can't escape [you're caught up in the noose of bad ambitious habit]; there are so many possessed by an incurable endemic writer's itch that becomes a sick obsession." Juvenal, The Sixteen Satires, trans. Peter Green, London: Penguin Books, 1998, p. 56. On literary creativity and hypergraphia, see Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block and the Creative Brain. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

4. For Bukowski and the little magazines see Abel Debritto, Who's Big in the "Littles": A Critical Study of the Impact of the Little Magazines and Small Press Publications on the Career of Charles Bukowski from 1940 to 1969. Ph.D. thesis, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, 2009.

5. Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1982, Chap. 34, p. 146.

6. Debritto, Who's Big in the Littles, p. 118. Debritto also reveals that Bukowski corresponded with Burnett from 1945 to 1955, again dispelling the myth of his dropping out of the literary world during his "ten-year drunk."

7. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983. p. 40.

8. Carl Weissner's translations led directly to Bukowski's success in Germany and Europe. For Bukowski's connection to Germany and Carl Weissner, see Jay Dougherty's interview with Bukowski, "Charles Bukowski and the Outlaw Spirit" in Charles Bukowski, Sunlight Here I Am: Interviews & Encounters 1963-1993, ed. and with an Introduction by David Stephen Calonne. Northville: Sundog Press, 2003, pp. 231-235. On Bukowski's German reception, see Horst Schmidt, The Germans Love Me For Some Reason: Charles Bukowski und Deutschland. Augsburg: MaroVerlag, 2006.

9. Maurice Berger, "Libraries Full of Tears: The Beats and the Law," in Lisa Phillips, Beat Culture and the New America 1950-1965. Paris/New York: Whitney Museum of American Art/Flammarion, 1995, pp. 122-137.

10. See Barry Miles, Charles Bukowski. London: Virgin, 2005, pp. 152-153 and Howard Sounes, Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, New York: Grove Press, 1998, pp. 83-84.

11. Steven Clay, Rodney Phillips, and Jerome Rothenberg, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing 1969-1980. New York: Granary Books, 1998, p. 48. On d.a. levy, see d.a. levy & the mimeograph revolution, eds. Larry Smith and Ingrid Swanberg, Huron, Ohio, Bottom Dog Press, 2007. For Bukowski's essay in support of Lowell, see Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook, pp. 61-62. On the underground, see Jean-Francois Bizot, 20 Trips from the Counter-culture: Graphics and Stories from the Underground Press Syndicate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2006; Diane Kruchkow and Curt Johnson, eds., Green Isle in the Sea: An Informal History of the Alternative Press, 1960-85. Highland Park: December Press, 1986; Roger Lewis, Outlaws of America: The Underground Press and its Context: Notes on a Cultural Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.

12. Jack Micheline, Sixty Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints. San Francisco: FMSBW, 1999. See Miles, p. 160; Sounes, p. 93. Micheline on Bukowski, San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets, ed. David Meltzer, pp. 226-227. San Francisco: City Lights, 2001.

13. Kenneth Rexroth, "There's Poetry in a Ragged Hitch-hiker," The New York Times, July 5, 1964. Bukowski on Rexroth, Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960-1970, ed. Seamus Cooney. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1993, p. 165, p. 330. On Bukowski and the Beats, see Jean-François Duval, Buk et Les Beats: Essai Sur La Beat Generation. Paris: Editions Michalon, 1998. English edition, trans. Alison Ardron, Bukowski and the Beats. Northville: Sun Dog Press, 2002.

14. Harold Norse on Bukowski, see Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989, pp. 420-422; 424-426; and "Laughter in Hell," in Drinking with Bukowski: Recollections of the Poet Laureate of Skid Row, ed. Daniel Weizman, New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000, pp. 91-96.

15. Bukowski's fine memoir in Open City of his meeting with Neal Cassady and Cassady's death in Mexico is anthologized in Ann Charters, The Portable Beat Reader. New York: Penguin 1992, pp. 438-444; David Kherdian, Beat Voices: An Anthology of Beat Poetry. New York: Henry Holt, 1995, pp. 120-123; and in Jeffrey H. Weinberg, ed. Writers Outside the Margin. Sudbury: Water Row Press, 1986, pp. 94-96. Charters also included another of Bukowski's "Notes" columns in The Portable Sixties Reader, New York: Penguin, 2003, pp. 436-439.

16. On Bukowski and Ferlinghetti, see Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy J. Peters, Literary San Francisco: A Pictorial History from Its Beginnings to the Present Day. San Francisco: City Lights Books and Harper and Row, 1980, p. 210, p. 221; also see Barry Silesky, Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time. New York: Warner Books, 1990, pp. 177-178; Bukowski's poem "The Bard of San Francisco" is an homage to Ferlinghetti; see onthebus Issue 14, Vol. VI, No. 2, 1997, pp. 30-32, collected in Betting on the Muse: Poems & Stories. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1996, pp. 233-235.

17. See Sounes, pp. 140-141.

18. See Debritto, p. 214, 330.

19. Bukowski remarked, "I give poetry readings—for money. Strictly survival. I don't like to do it but I quit my job last January 9 and now I've become what you'd call a literary hustler. I do things now that I wouldn't have done before. I don't like to do it at all." See Sunlight Here I Am, p. 47.

20. Bukowski's obsessive returning to the site of his traumatic wounds also recalls Lacan's conception of the unconscious. Slavoj Zizek declares that "the unconscious is not the preserve of wild drives that have to be tamed by the ego, but the site where a traumatic truth speaks out. Therein lies Lacan's version of Freud's motto Wo es war, soll ich werden (Where it was, I am to become): not 'The ego should conquer the id,' the site of the unconscious drives, but 'I should dare to approach the site of my truth.' What awaits me 'there' is not a deep Truth that I have to identify with, but an unbearable truth that I have to learn to live with." Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007, p. 3. Bukowski often uses humor to live with that unbearable truth.

21. e.e. cummings, A Selection of Poems. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965, p. 155.

22. On Rabelais see Bukowski's "he died April 9, 1553" in The Night Torn Mad with Footsteps: New Poems. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 2001, pp. 218-19. And in an interview from 1981 he explained: ". . . the Decameron, Boccaccio. That is what influenced Women a great deal. I loved his idea that sex was so ridiculous, nobody could handle it. It was not so much love with him; it was sex. Love is funnier, more ridiculous. That guy! He could really laugh at it. He must have really gotten burnt about five thousand times to write that stuff. Or maybe he was just a fag; I don't know. So, love is ridiculous because it can't last, and sex is ridiculous because it doesn't last long enough." Sunlight Here I Am, p. 179.

23. For Bukowski's favorite films, see Sunlight, p. 230. On black humor, see Morris Dickstein, Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties, New York: Basic Books, 1977, "Black Humor and History: The Early Sixties."

24. On the UPS, see Bizot, pp. 6, 226-227.

25. For a superb study of Bukowski and violence, see Alexandre Thiltges, Bukowski ou Les Contes de la Violence Ordinaire. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2006. Thiltges' monograph, unfortunately not yet translated into English, is the best single work of Bukowski scholarship to have appeared to date.

26. Bukowski had submitted the story to Curt Johnson, publisher of Candid Press, to whom he wrote a letter dated December 3, 1970: "Just glad I could curve one by you guys. That $45 check didn't bounce anyhow and allowed me to get some repairs on my old '62 Comet to get it running again so I could get around to my chickenshit poetry readings where I read half-drunk and hustle up a few more bucks. Now listening to Haydn. I gotta be crazy. Enjoyed writing the story, though. Read in the paper where they had caught some cannibals somewhere—Texas I think—and when they pulled them over this gal was just cleaning the meat off the fingers of a hand, nibbling. . . . I took it from there." Uncollected letter, Brown University Library.

absence

of the

hero

The Reason Behind Reason

chelaski, cf, .285 (AB-246 H-70) felt a little . . . felt a little . . . different out there. There are days when you feel a little different. Things don't set right. Like now, even the sun looked a little sick, the green of the fences too green, the sky much too high, and the leather of his glove too much like . . . leather.

He took a few steps forward and beat his fist into his glove, trying to shake everything. Did he have a headache or what? He felt potential, as if he were about to scream or to leap up or to do something that shouldn't be done.

Chelaski was a bit frightened and looked over at Donovan, LF, .296 (AB-230 H-68) but Donovan looked very comfortable. He studied Donovan carefully, trying to draw strength from him. His face was very brown, and Chelaski had never noticed the pot belly before. Such an ugly bulge, so unselfconscious. Even Donovan's legs seemed thick, tree-like, and Chelaski stared straight ahead again, feeling worse.

What was wrong?

The batter connected and it was an outfield fly . . . to Donovan. Donovan moved forward a few steps, moved his arms leisurely, and caught the ball. Chelaski had watched the ball in its long, slow arc through sun and sky. It had seemed pleasant enough, but somehow unrelated, unattached to anything. The next man hit an infield single that he didn't have to handle. One out. One on. What was the inning? He turned to look at the scoreboard and saw the crowd. His eyes didn't focus on them. They were just bits of movement, cloth, and sound.

What did they want done?

It ran through his mind again: what did they want done?

Suddenly he was terrified and didn't know the reason. His breath came hard and the saliva ran in his mouth; he felt dizzy, airy.

There was Donovan . . . standing. He looked again at the crowd and saw everyone, everything, all together and separately. Glasses, neckties; women wearing skirts, men wearing pants; there was lipstick . . . and fire on things sticking in mouths . . . cigarettes. And they all hung together in a strange understanding.

And then it came . . . an outfield fly . . . to him. An easy one. He was worried. He studied the ball fiercely and it almost seemed to stop its movement in air. It just hung there and the crowd shouted and the sun shone and the sky was blue. And Donovan's eyes were watching him, and Donovan's eyes were watching. Was Donovan against him? What did Donovan really want?

The ball came into his glove. It entered his glove and he felt the strong pressure and pleasant push of the catch. He threw the ball to second, holding the runner on first. It was a good throw and Chelaski was amazed; it had seemed is if the ball had gone there because it was supposed to. His terror left a little; he was getting away with it.

The next man was out, short to first, and Chelaski began the long trot to the dugout. It was good to be running. He passed several opposing players but they didn't look at him. It bothered him a little, and the bother hung there in a little knob as he followed Donovan's set neck into the dugout. When Chelaski got down there, he felt somehow naked, or spotted, or something, and in an effort to act as if he were all right, he walked up to Hull and grinned down on him.

"Do you want me to kiss you? I could make you forget," he said to Hull.

Hull was hitting .189 and had been benched for Jamison, the college kid. Hull looked up at Chelaski. It was a look of absolute unrecognition. Hull didn't even answer; he got up and walked to the water cooler. Chelaski quickly moved up to the railing, with his back to the bench.

Corpenson singled. Donovan hit into a double play and trotted back down the first base line, lifting his legs high, his stockings showing, somehow all full of color.

Chelaski walked to the plate. There was the umpire, the catcher, the pitcher, the fielders, the audience. Everything waiting, everything waiting. Outside, perhaps, a man was holding up a bank; or, a streetcar full of people sitting, was turning a corner; but here it was different: it was settled, expected . . . not like that, outside: the streetcar, the holdup. Here it was . . . different, caught up, demanded.

He swung and missed the first pitch and people shouted. The catcher yelled something and tossed the ball back. A bird skipped through the air, up and down, going somewhere, very fast. Chelaski spit and stared at the birthmark on the ground. The ground was very dry. Ball one.

The next one came on the outside, where he liked them. He swung the bat swiftly, automatically, and the crowed screamed. It was a long drive, deep over the centerfielder's head. Chelaski watched it bounce against the wall by the flagpole. The crowd screamed louder than ever; it screamed louder than Chelaski had heard it all season. Then Jamison, who was on deck, began yelling at him.

"Run! Run! Run!" he shouted.

Chelaski turned and looked at Jamison. His eyes were extremely wide and burned like two flashes, cups of hot, driven things. His face was contorted, the lips turned out, and Chelaski noticed especially the thick veins in the red neck.

"Run! Run! Run!" Jamison shouted.

A cushion came out of the stands. Then another one. The crowd was so loud he could no longer hear Jamison. What was probably the same bird came flying back, hopping up and down, only a little faster. The centerfielder had fielded the ball. The noise was almost unbearable. Chelaski was hit by a cushion and he turned to look at the crowd. When he did, many of them leaped up and down, waving their arms. Cushions, hats, bottles, everything came down. For a moment Chelaski's eye caught sight of a girl in a green skirt. He couldn't make out her face, or her blouse or her coat. He saw a green skirt, and a pleat in a green skirt, shadow-like and leaping. Then he was hit by another cushion. It stung, cut, felt warm. For a moment he was angry.

The throw came into the second baseman, who relayed it to first for the out. The noise was volcanic, stifling, maddening. Jamison had Chelaski by the arm, pulling him from the batter's box. He noticed Jamison's face, streaked with shots of red and white, looking thick, as if several layers of skin had been added.

Chelaski walked to the dugout as the noise continued. The team was taking to the field, Hull replacing him in the outfield.

It was cold in the dugout, dark in the dugout. He saw the water bucket with the towel over its side. He walked down in there, saw somebody's hands slide nervously on the bench, somebody's legs cross.

Then Chelaski was standing in front of the manager, Hastings. He didn't look at Hastings; just looked at his shirt below the V of the neck.

Then he looked up. He saw that Hastings was trying to speak but couldn't get it out.

Chelaski turned quickly and ran down the runway that led to the locker room. When he got there, he stood a moment looking at all the green lockers.

Outside, the crowd was still shouting and some of the reporters were making their way down to Chelaski to ask him what was wrong.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xi

The Reason Behind Reason 1

Love, Love, Love 5

Cacoethes Scribendi 8

The Rapist's Story 13

80 Airplanes Don't Put You in the Clear 25

Manifesto 32

Peace, Baby, is Hard Sell 34

Examining my Peers 39

If I Could Only be Asleep 42

The Old Pro 44

Review of Ginsberg/Zukofsky 49

Bukowski on Bukowski 56

Notes of a Dirty Old Man 59

The Absence of the Hero 64

Christ with Barbecue Sauce 68

Ah, Liberation, Liberty, Lilies on the Moon! 75

The Cat in the Closet 78

Notes of a Dirty Old Man 87

Sound and Passion 92

I Just Write Poetry so I can go to bed with Girls 99

The House of Horrors 112

Untitled Essay on D. A. Levy 115

Henry Miller Lives in Pacific Palisades and I Live on Skid Row, Still Writing about Sex 117

A Foreword to these Poems 126

The Outsider 129

Vern's Wife 140

Notes of a Dirty Old Man 144

Notes of a Dirty Old Man 149

He Beats his Women 154

Notes of a Dirty Old Man 157

Notes of a Dirty Old Man 162

Notes of a Dirty Old Man: "Notes of a Dirty Old Driver of a Light Blue 1967 Volkswagen TRV 491" 166

The Big Dope Reading 171

East Hollywood: The New Paris 188

The Gambler 211

The Ladies Man of East Hollywood 221

The Bully 245

The Invader 255

Playing and Being the Poet 271

Sources 274

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