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Ms. Andi's Notebook: Charles Bukowski

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Megan Anderson

on 28 April 2014

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Transcript of Ms. Andi's Notebook: Charles Bukowski

“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”
—Charles Bukowski, "Women"
1923: Born in Germany. Immigrated to Baltimore with his parents the same year.

1930: The Bukowskis relocated to Los Angeles. His father was frequently unemployed.

In "Ham on Rye" Bukowski describes his father beating him frequently with a razor strap, an experience he credits for giving him a sharp understanding of suffering and injustice.
In his teens, Bukowski developed a lifelong penchant for alcohol.

In writing and interviews, he frequently commented on the role of alcohol as both a coping mechanism and essential ingredient in his writing process.
1939: Attended Los Angeles City College and took courses in journalism and literature.

1941: Dropped out and headed to New York in pursuit of a writing career.

1943: Sent a letter to the US Draft Board stating that he would not serve America in WWII due to his "personal philosophy."

1944: Arrested by FBI for suspected draft dodging. Spent 17 days in prison. Ultimately exempted from service after failing a physical and psychological evaluation.
1947-55: On-and-off relationship with fellow alcoholic Jane Cooney Baker. FBI reports indicate that they were married.

1954: Hospitalized for severe internal hemorrhaging caused by an ulcer. At this point he began writing poetry in great volume.

1958: Re-united with before Baker before sh succumbed to drinking. Baker is mentioned frequently in Bukowski's poetry.

1960's: Bukowski's reputation began to grow amongst small literary magazines.

1961: Continued to struggle with alcoholism and depression. Attempted suicide by gassing.

1963: Awarded "Outsider of the Year" by John Webb, owner of the "Outsider" Magazine. The "Outsider" also published beat poets Allen Ginsberg, and William Borroughs.

1967-69: Wrote a weekly column called "Notes of a Dirty Old Man," for "Open City," an underground newspaper in Los Angeles.

Also in 1963: Met fellow poet FranceEYE (Frances Smith). They moved in together and had a daughter, Marina Louise, the following year.

1965: Smith moved out in spite of Bukowski's proposal of marriage.

Bukowski cited his daughter as the key reason he didn't act on suicidal thoughts again
Bukowski & his parents, 1920's
Source: http://bukowski.net/photos/
Moyamensing Debtor's Prison

In his early thirties, Bukowski had only achieved meager success as a writer of short fiction.

1947: Returned to Los Angeles where he lived from paycheck to paycheck, and bottle to bottle. At this point his writing had diminished and he did not pursue publishing for nearly a decade.
Bukowski & his parents, 1940's
Source: http://bukowski.net/photos/
A Poetic Tribute to Jane Cooney Baker

1955-57: Married to Barbara Frye, the wealthy publisher of the poetry Magazine "Harlequin." Frye courted Bukowski by mail stating that nobody would every marry her due to a spinal deformity.

1958: Returned to his previous job at the post office. He stuck with this loathed job for nearly 12 years.

1959: Bukowski's first book of poetry, "Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail," was published as a run of 200. He began submitting poetry to many literary magazines.
Bukowski's Writing Desk, 1960's.
Source: http://bukowski.net/photos/
Bukowski & his daugther Linda 1965.
Source: http://bukowski.net/photos/
[FrancEyE] recalled that [Bukowski] once physically threw a man in a wheelchair out of the house. "He was in a wheelchair ... because he had thrown himself out of a second-story window in anger from people below calling him a beatnik ... The guy just seemed to lend himself to being thrown out."
-Source: LA Times Interview, 2008

1970's: Publisher John Martin paid Bukowski one quarter of his own wage ($100/month) as patronage.

1969: Quit his job to focus on writing.

1971: Martin established Black Sparrow Press to publish Bukowski, and his first novel, "Post Office," was printed in 1971.

During this decade Bukowski gained a cult following of readers, and became a top selling poet in America and Germany. He was an underground success, but his subject matter and style didn't resonate with mainstream critics.
Rolling Stone Interview 1976
Source: Rolling Stone Online Archives
By 1979: Upgraded his Volkswagen Beetle to a BMW. Owned a house, a hot tub, and kept company with Sean Penn.

Rather than absorbing fame, Bukowski wrote sardonically about it. His work remained true to the margins of society from which he came.
1970: Met Linda King, a poet/sculptress, 20 years his junior and had a torrid, even violent, relationship that lasted into the mid-70's.

By this point Bukowski's literary infamy had earned him throngs of female fans that he didn't hesitate to enjoy.
1976: Met Linda Lee Beighle working at a health food store. She was 25 years his junior. They remained together until his death.

Late 1970's: Bukowski was making royalties in the 6-figure range.

1980's:Generated so much poetry that new collections were still being published 10 years after his death.
1994: Died of Leukemia at the age of 76. Beighle was at his side.

Bukowski's epitaph reads: "Don't Try."
We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well
that Death will tremble to take us.
-Bukowski, Life Magazine 1988
Bukowski's poetry is heavily biographical and anecdotal.

He employs free verse that breaks up sentences into short lines that mirror his abruptness.

Careens between harshness, vulgarity, humour, and sentimentality.

The fringes of society: the lower class, the despairing, the outcast, the deranged.

Urban life, especially Los Angeles at it seediest.

The human condition and the absurdities and ironies of life.

Women, love and repulsion.

The nature of writing.



Animals, especially horses and cats, to draw parallels to his own life.

Alienation from the masses.


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