Celebrating Charles Bukowski, ‘poet laureate of L.A. lowlife’
Charles Bukowski, “poet laureate of L.A. lowlife,” became one of the best-known poets in America. (Richard Robinson / Black Sparrow Press)
Charles Bukowski was called many things: “poet laureate of L.A. lowlife,” “the enfant terrible of the Meat School poets,” “the prophet of the underemployed” and “a flamboyant provincial.” Those comments are all from our own reporters.
The L.A. Times was slow to warm to Bukowski’s charms. Even in 1985, when he was one of America’s bestselling poets, we were still describing him as “A low-life drifter from out of the ’40s whose gnarled face is to ugliness and abuse what Paul Bunyan’s body was to size and strength.”
Two years later, when Mickey Rourke starred in the semi-biographical film “Barfly” based on Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical novels, the Los Angeles cultural establishment finally, grudgingly, came around.
Bukowski was born in Germany on Aug. 16, 1920. His family soon moved to Los Angeles, where he grew up with an abusive father. He was an outcast in school. He started drinking. He moved around the country, living on the margins, during World War II and after. He wound up back in Los Angeles as unlikely a candidate for becoming a poet, much less an acclaimed one, as you might find.
Of course, that was part of his appeal. Plainspoken poetry set in the streets and bars, peopled by shady characters — including his hard-drinking, big-hearted, angry, gambling, womanizing self. One of our readers, upset by seeing him written about in print, called him “an X-rated Oscar the Grouch,” which might actually not be all that insulting after all.
To celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the poet laureate of L.A. lowlife, here are 18 things he wrote and said and did –