It's been awhile, but I'm back on track with my old pal Charles Bukowski. I like to revisit every hipster's favorite literary curmudgeon occasionally just to keep a feel for his raw, fire-from-every-direction style.
Like a mad house painter untrained and unleashed with a cheap spray gun, he could make a mess, but in the end you figured out it was all by design. The house would come out in various hues, scratched up, bleeding paint in inappropriate places, but it looked good for some strange reason.
It looked, well, original.
Buk transferred his Pollock-like instincts to paper via his "typer," working fast. Close was always good enough if the story, often a flimsy retelling of a drunken night, held up.
The more juxtaposition the better, it seemed. His wrote raggedy, lean and to-the-point prose. It looked deceptively easy (his imitators know otherwise). Occasionally, it sang. Always, it entertained through its sure audacity.
In the old days, I imagine the academics hated Bukowski, and likely still do. I knew a U.S. Cultural History prof a few years ago who wasn't familiar with him. Hadn't even heard the name. That guy, a tenured old PSU ivory towerist, did know his Kerouac, however.
Bukowski wasn't clean or striving toward some autonomously over-wrought emotion. (Neither was Kerouac, by the way, who needed more initial editing). He didn't layer on the introspection like the cleansed and acceptable New Yorker heroes--Updike or Roth for instance--who were good but part of a breed--ingrates of the tony, big-magazine school.
Bukowski started off off-Broadway in tiny spaces, to use a theatre analogy. He stayed there for years, and then, rather than moving to Broadway like an unknown actor getting a big break, somebody came to him and offered to knock down the walls separating all those small rooms.
He was so far out of the mainstream that the river took a new direction, in other words. All it took was a visionary with deep pockets to make it so--and that was John Martin and his Black Sparrow Press.
Bukowski was a natural-born self-marketer. All he had to do was be himself and write funny, wry stories. Easy, until you try it and hear the silence.
Bukowski made a lot of money late in his lifetime, when early on it appeared he'd be a dismal failure. He sorted and carried mail for a dozen years for godsake!
Those experiences came together in Post Office, the writer's first novel.
He drank, but perhaps not as much as he pretended to--after all many drunken tales are pure fabrications after the fact. Whatever his real habits, the lifestyle and his openness to experience allowed him the opportunity to write.
The point, Bukowski's objective, was to make fiction real at a very fundamental level.
Like any good writer, he put to paper what he felt, and more importantly he didn't quit and worked hard at his craft.
Like any good storyteller, he didn't let his politics, if he had any (he was an instinctive anarchist but wouldn't have talked about it), get in the way.
There is a lesson to be learned therein.