Charles Bukowski came to prominence in the late 1960s. He published antiauthoritarian and sarcastic poems in little literary, underground, and mimeographed magazines and in small-press books. Bukowski's poetry is cynically direct and brutally frank. He wrote contrary to polite ideals, and his poetry fell outside the sanctioned limits of conservative, academic poetry. Shunning literary movements, he became a hero and a model for disenfranchised American poets. The raw vigor of his poetry endeared him to legions of fans. He remains one America's most widely read poets.
The son of an American soldier and a German mother, Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr., was born in Andernach, Germany, and was brought to Los Angeles in 1922. In 1955 after prolonged alcohol abuse, he was hospitalized with a severe bleeding ulcer. After this near death experience, he began to write poetry. His first book was the slim Flower, Fist and Bestial wail (1960). In 1965 Bukowski met John Martin of Black Sparrow Press. Martin published all of Bukowski's major collections of poetry, including The Days Run Away Like wild Horses over the Hills (1969). He also published Bukowski's short stories and his novels, such as Post Office (1971). After publishing more than 60 books in a dozen languages, Bukowski died of leukemia in 1994.
Bukowski's poems are obtuse, insightful, philosophical musings composed as narrative vignettes. He was a master of phrase, cadence, and the use of common speech in poetry. Written in unmeasured lines and in irregular stanzas, his poems read smoothly. Engaging the ordinary, his poems often offer cynical observations: "It Was Just a Little While Ago" (2001) begins with the lines, "almost dawn / blackbirds on the telephone wire." The next line is simply the word, "waiting." The poet enters the banal scene and eats a forgotten sandwich, as his eyes fall upon his carelessly heaped shoes. Bukowski ends the short poem with this ironic insight, "yes, some lives were made to be / wasted." Writing was Bukowski's salvation. In his poem "Only One Cervantes" (1992), he writes, "writing has been my fountain / of youth." His poetry was always in the midst of both life and death, as well as pleasure and pain, and it was always part of both. In his poem "No More No Less" (1992), he writes, "each day is still a / hammer / a flower."
Much of Bukowski's poetry concerned the raucous exploits of the hardboiled Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's persona, and his greatest literary achievement. Chinaski is a hard-drinking writer, working-class gambler, and womanizer. While Chinaski's exploits seem real, his adventures were embellished by Bukowski to bolster the bravado of his American antihero and underground man. Through Bukowski's—and Chi-naski's—adventures the ridiculous in American society is often exposed.
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