Charles Bukowski lived his life as many things. He spent time working for the Post Office, chasing women, and he loved the horse races. Bukowski had a spirit that would find normalcy in the sad and beauty in the savage. Charles Bukowski’s work was powerful and hurtful, but it could also reassure at the same time. I feel like one of the best gifts from his work is that you are not alone, someone else has been alone and crazy before.
Buke was born in Germany on August 4th 1920. His parents immigrated to the States in 1923 and would end up in Orange County, California. Charles wrote his first short story about a WWI pilot in 1936. A particularly jarring event came shortly after he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1939, his father read his short stories and manuscripts and threw them out onto the front lawn. Obviously Mr. Bukowski didn’t appreciate his son’s work. Shortly after this however with the help of his mother he got an apartment and was published for the first time. He would soon drop out of college and hit the road to see the country. Quite a few stories about this time appear in my favorite Bukowski collection, Notes of a Dirty Old Man. He has a story about spending a freezing night on the streets of NY outside of Yankee Stadium that will just leave you cold.
Bukowski was a working writer almost his entire life. He had many jobs he hated and plugged away at day after day. Then he’d go home and was a diligent writer. He had many wild night of sex and plenty of drunken disorderliness, but he always wrote. He was a journalist for an underground Los Angeles paper, wrote over 1,400 poems, 3 novels, and numerous essays.
Bukowski is the hero of the down trodden, the guy that looks at all the shit life can be, unfair, hard, beautiful. His poetry is amazing and sets him apart for his contemporaries. I prefer his articles and essays though and would recommend anyone interested in his work to start there for the real feel. His poetry was very real and had an everyday sense to it. Poetry can often circumvent the normal of the day in and day out in favor of flowery words and lofty philosophy, Bukowski hit hard even in his poetry. I’ll leave you with a goldfish bowl and a mother’s sad smile. Thank you for reading and please look out for more work from the Mid-American Culture staff.
A Smile To Remember
we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.
my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: ‘Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?’
and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw
one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother