Literary icon: Bukowski at 100

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

Light some candles, raise a glass

Remembering Charles Bukowski on his 100th birthday

This Sunday, August 16, Charles Bukowski would be drinking a glass of wine and celebrating his 100th birthday, but his earthly partying came to an end in 1994 and so the rest of us will have to do the drinking and the partying for him. But, more importantly, we can reflect on the legacy that Buk, or Hank, left behind in his dozens of volumes of prose and poetry. His work is often visceral and gritty, and happily not to everyone’s taste. Time magazine once referred to him as a “laureate of American lowlife,” and indeed he mastered that subject in his writing (much of it underlined by wry humor, not to mention alcohol, sex, and cigarettes) with sensitivity and insight, and a picturesque palette of words.

Bukowski gave boisterous readings at the Sweetwater Cafe in Redondo Beach and autographed his books at Either/Or bookstore in Hermosa Beach, where his books were best sellers. He lived his last few decades with his wife Linda Lee in San Pedro.

His widow, Linda Lee, suggested some poetry for the occasion, and harbor poet and “Lummox” editor Raindog also remembers the Master who influenced him and so many others.

Let’s see what they have to say, and then let’s breathe in a couple of Bukowski’s poems, some of which seem like they could have been written yesterday, or early this morning.

—Bondo Wyszpolski

One hundred year old man

If you have not read Hank’s poetry before, or if you have read his poems, these selections should hold your attention.

Not only are they painfully prophetic in some instances (tragically so), in others he allows himself to convey such deep wisdom, hope, and the necessity of love and to love, in all its realms, always vulnerable and always on the watch.

If he was around now I think this suffering world would either kill him, or make him ever stronger. Likely stronger.

Yes, stronger.

I Love you so my dear one.

Congratulations Birthday Boy!

—Linda Lee

Raindog on Bukowski:

I’ve read Buk for about 50 years. I’d like to say that I often pull out my favorite volume but during the financial adjustment in ‘08 I sold most of my Bukowski library to make the rent. I miss them, but I had to live with my mistake. So I did. Even so, every time I read one of his poems, I find a deeper richness than I had when I read it before, say twenty years earlier. I’d say that this must be because I’m maturing, life experience either makes you stronger or it kills you and I’m still at it.

So, the reason I mention this is that Buk, well, he had this gift. Many of his poems are timeless. I mean there’s no time stamp, almost no location markers. His poetry (and stories) could be about anywhere in the world. The same losers who populate every slum and after-work dive; every horse track; every “flop” can be found in NOLO to Rangoon. Sure the language is different but what they talk about is the same. That was his draw, he could address that universal theme.



the problem, of course, isn’t the Democratic System,
it’s the
living parts which make up the Democratic System.

Bukowski at home with one of his admirers

the next person you pass on the street,
him or
her by
3 or 4 or 40 million
And you will know
why things remain non-functional
for most of

I wish I had a cure for the chess pieces
we call Humanity…

we’ve undergone any number of political

and we all remain
foolish enough to hope
that the one on the way
will cure almost

fellow citizens,
the problem never was the Democratic
System, the problem is


“the crunch”

too much
too little

too fat
too thin
or nobody.

laughter or


strangers with faces like
the backs of
armies running through
streets of blood
waving winebottles
bayoneting and fucking

or an old guy in a cheap room
with a photograph of M. Monroe.

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

Charles Bukowski, by John Van Hamersveld, 2015 (to commemorate Hank’s 95th birthday celebration, held at the Grand Annex in San Pedro)

people so tired
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place

unspoken to

watering a plant.

people are not good to each other.
people are not good to each other.
people are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.
I don’t ask them to be.

but sometimes I think about

the beads will swing
the clouds will cloud
and the killer will behead the child
like taking a bite out of an ice-cream cone.

too much
too little
too fat
too thin
or nobody

more haters than lovers.

people are not good to each other.
perhaps if they were
our deaths would not be so sad.

meanwhile I look at young girls
flowers of chance.

there must be a way.

surely there must be a way we have not yet
thought of.

who put this brain inside of me?

it cries
it demands
it says that there is a chance.

it will not say

Charles Bukowski, at home in San Pedro

“the laughing heart”

your life is your life.
don’t let it be clubbed into dank
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you
know them, take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death
in life,
and the more often you
learn to do it,
the more light there will
your life is your life.
know it while you have
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight

“the bluebird”

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be

then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do

Linda Lee and Charles Bukowski, from the 1981 film “You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski” – from Kino Marquee


of late
I’ve had this thought
that this country
has gone backwards
4 or 5 decades
and that all the
social advancement
the good feeling of
person toward
has been washed
and replaced by the same

we have
more than ever
the selfish wants of power
the disregard for the
the old
the impoverished

we are replacing want with
salvation with

we have wasted the

we have become

we have our Bomb
it is our fear
our damnation
and our

something so sad
has hold of us
the breath
and we can’t even



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