Sunday, June 12, 2011

Post Office by Charles Bukowski. A Menu with Intense Flavors. Choose one of His Dishes to Pass.

With June's book club selection, I selected the first novel of a poet. His life in Los Angeles, from 1920 when he was born to 1994 when he died, went through many social changes. These changes and the alcoholism, his bad acne scarring, his strict upbringing brought forth in him a need, a drive to write. So his writing reflects those different times and experiences. Just as Studs Terkel wrote of the people in Hard Times so has Charles Bukowski written of the people in their lowlife hard times.

This lowlife has intense flavors. No 12-course meals. During a period of his lowlife he lived on one candybar a day for the only meal a day he had. This candy bar was ironically  a bar called Payday. His first real payday was his novel, Post Office. It was the only regular payday he hung onto with the hopes of having enough steady money to continue writing.

Working at the post office began with delivering mail. But it helped him have money to drink, write and get very ill from bleeding ulcers and drinking too much. After he nearly died from this he returned to the post office to sort mail for over 11 years. Grueling grunt work.  During those years he drank and wrote every day. The people at the bars and race tracks were what he wrote about--he told their stories. He was their voice. Bukowski began also to write poetry that told a story with the raw intensity of life in the streets. 
Charles Bukowski, portrait by italian artist Graziano Origa, pen&ink+pantone, 2008
image from
Bukowski says it was his father that gave him the ability to write.  His father beat 'the shit out of him.' Bukowski says his father's beatings took away all pretense, all that was unnecessary. Pain cleared his mind. Usually the beatings occurred several times a week from when he was 5 until he was 11 or 12 years old. Bukowski comments that as the years of beatings continued he slowly over time cried or yelled less and less during the beatings.  When he finally stopped reacting to the beatings his father stopped beating him. Within a year or two later he started writing. Writing stories. Later  also writing poetry.

He wrote his first novel, Post Office, in three weeks for John Martin. Martin was a book collector who discovered  and admired Bukowski's streetwise stories in the alternative press of the 1960s. He proposed that Bukowski quit his job at the post office to write full time and he would pay him $100 a month for life. Martin remarked to Bukowski that he might consider writing a novel since novels can produce more income compared than selling stories or poetry. Bukowski found his own Payday, the novel, Post Office. Within three or four weeks after their agreement he called John Martin to come and pick up the novel.

But he had to wait five years before he could cash this Payday from the novel. During that time John Martin gave Bukowski 25% of his own income for 5 years; then Martin sold his  book collection of valuable editions for $50,000. Just as this last money was almost gone, the publishing began to make a profit. Black Sparrow press was in the black. Bukowski finally earned his PayDay, making a living as a writer.

John Martin says there is no other poet whose poetry has gone into 30 to 40 printings and no other poet who has written so much poetry. Here is just a few stanzas of Bukowski's  poem called
Dinosauria, we

born like this
into this
as the chalk faces smile
as Mrs. Death laughs
as the elevators break
as political landscapes dissolve
as the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
as the oily fish spit out their oily prey
as the sun is masked

we are
born like this
into this
into these carefully mad wars
into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
into bars where people no longer speak to each other
into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings

born into this
into hospitals which are so expensive that it is cheaper to die
into lawyers who charge so much it's cheaper to plead guilty
into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
into a  place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes...

You can get a sense of who he was from some films. There is the documentary film on his life, Bukowski: Born into this. There are poetry readings. One reading is titled Bukowski at Bellevue. Also there are two DVDs called The Charles Bukowski Tapes: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. These are film clips of Bukowski during the filming of, Barfly, which Bukowski wrote. All these films are in Netflix.

Bukowski is complex. He had to drink to face people. He wrote of so many intense human emotions but John Martin says Bukowski could not approach a stranger and wouldn't be able to engage in every day small talk.

I would encourage you to read some of his poetry if you cannot get a copy of the novel. Some say his poetry during the 1970s reflect his best voice. But his later poetry gives voice to all the frailties ... being alone, being sick, writing to Lady Death.

Survey the large Bukowski menu and choose your meal, an experience that you can relate to. If the critics are right people will still be reading Bukowski just as we continue to read Shakespeare today. Many say he is not a 'Beat' Generation poet though some label him so. Bukowski's poetry has a timeless quality. You can see that in theDinosauria, We poem. His writing flavors are intense. I am curious what flavor appeals to you and which of his dishes you are going bring to the book club table.

Here's a Link to the youtube list of Charles Bukowski Poetry Reading. Almost 300.
Also see my previous blogs posts on Charles Bukowski by searching my blog with his name in the search box.
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forestwalk/laura k said...'ve never heard his name...and i appreciate your intro to him. yes, INTENSE. which is how i like it. i sounds as though he had a really tough time...abused...his hard times...hard life...and his expression through his stories & worth the read. at least he was able to benefit from his 'payday'...before he passed that doesn't always happen.

thanks for all the info...i've jotted down his name...and will do some more research myself.

((hey...happy sunday!)

Jean said...

Yes Laura, He was fortunate to get his payday - the chance to do what he wanted to do and was good at AND get PAID FOR IT. It took John Martin to recognize his talent and believe in him for Bukowski to reach that payday. It takes only one person's belief in you to see and recognize the paydays that exist around us.

You are like John Martin. From reading and enjoying the art and friends in your blog I realized that when truth and beauty is shared I give myself the payday I need. Bukowski found his audience in different smoke-filled places. I prefer your walk in the forest with nature and the life in the forest your photographs chronicle.

Sandy said...

Great post, wonderful site you have here.
I'll be back (said terminator style, ha)..

crayzys said...

If you want to download poetry of Charles Bukowski go to: