Not too long ago, I discovered a stack of about 50 copies of Ham and Rye, by Charles Bukowski, sitting in one of the local bookstores that is located in our downtown area in Portland, Maine. No, this great American writer did not all of a sudden find a surge of hidden popularity, here along the rocky coastline of Maine, but rather his classic novel was required reading at one of the local universities and so this bookstore had found it necessary to stockpile one of “Hank’s” more important works of fiction.
Still, since that great day of discovery, I have found a new fascination with the big boozer, which has been spurred on by two DVD’s of his movies (Barfly and Factotem), along with a lengthy biography (Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life by Howard Sounes) and several readings of his poetry, which have come my way courtesy of “You Tube”.
All in all, it is a fascinating record and literary achievement by one of America’s most loved and eccentric authors. I suppose now the late Mr. Bukowski is reaching that stage in his literary career, where he will be become more of a standard fare among college students and scholars.
From what little I have sampled of his poetry, I have found it to be quite humorous and profound all at the same time. In fact there are some great links on You Tube to various people reading his poems. There are even some video clips of Bukowski reading his own poetry. Here’s one of him reading, “Bluebird”, (audio only). And here’s another link to the poem, “The Tragedy of the Leaves”. Both of these come from You Tube.
But unfortunately there was a very dark side to “Henry” or “Hank” as he was often called. The two films barely scratched the surface, but Howard Sounes, travels far into the alcoholic and sometimes violent world of Bukowski, for it seems that not only did the poet have a problem with alcohol, he also had a problem of violent fights and feuds with some of his female acquaintances, especially when he was in an inebriated state. Some of these altercations left Bukowski in the slammer for a few days
His life story is something else. Born in Germany, Charles immigrated to America with his parents, eventually finding a home in the L.A. area. As a teenager he had an extreme case of acne that is hard to fathom and so his main solace became the public library in Los Angeles. From a childhood spent coming of age during the height of the depression Charles developed a wit, an attitude and a style that would eventually make him a much read poet and novelist, known the world over. From what I have read and that is not very much his literary efforts are well worth the time invested.