Each Year The LUMMOX Journal publishes a special issue in August, devoted to Charles Bukowski (1920 - 1994). The following is from the 1998 special issue. You can purchase this issue for $2 (USA) or $4 (World) by sending a check or money order (made out to LUMMOX) to PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733-5301, USA.
A Death in the Family (an essay)
When I got the news, I felt sick. No I felt worse than sick; it was more like getting punched in the gut and getting the wind knocked out of you. I had that awful sinking feeling that you get when the news is bad, real bad. That same feeling you get when you hear the words:
“Well, I’m sorry, but this just isn’t working out..”
Followed by either “we’re thru” or “you’re thru”, and if you give a rat’s ass about it, it feels like the floor has just dropped out from under you.
I was nursing a smashed finger, unable to work and needing the money. So, I was already feeling pretty blue, when I got the news. Some cow dropped the bombshell on me over the phone, when I said I was blue.
“I suppose you’re all bummed out because Bukowski died;” she said offhandedly.
Floor begins to vaporize at my feet. I drop like a rock.
“You mean you didn’t hear? Where you been, with your head up your ass? Ha ha ha ha ha!”
“Wha wha when?”
“Two days ago, March ninth, cancer.”
I hung up, stunned. Two days ago!?! That was when I smashed my finger! No wonder it hurt so much! Hold on, son, don’t be losing your mind that fast! Geeze!
Bukowski, dead. Gawdy.
Burroughs was still alive; Ginsberg was still alive, though barely; Ferlinghetti, too. Shit!
It wasn’t fair!
It wasn’t fair because I was just getting to know him, the old man. My timing always sucks! God Damn!
The news was slowly beginning to sink into all the little cracks and crevices and it was about to dawn on me what this meant. I had just begun to write again after a long hiatus, when I began to have little contacts with him and his wife. I had been, however, a fan and reader of his work since Notes of a Dirty Old Man had first appeared in Open City in 68’ or 69’.
Bukowski. Dead. I don’t know. It was hard to accept. It was like the death of John Lennon. It was more profound than the death of Frank Zappa, though that one hit me pretty hard, too. But these are musicians; 80% of their attraction is a cult-of-personality phenomenon. It’s different for writers, especially poets, because with words it’s fully based on the readers interpretation of them. There is no interaction between writer and reader. It’s totally different when you hear the writer read the words. I find it very difficult to not “hear” the writer the next time I read him/her again.
People don’t seem to get this. Most seem to think that it is the performance of the poem that brings it to life not the poem itself. Certainly, a poem can be enhanced by a good performance, but this shouldn’t be the only criteria.
To write a poem that stands on its own merit, unaided by inflection or emphasis, by facial expression or gesticulation, that is where the work is!
I liked Bukowski because, not only did his words stand on their own, they were ready, willing and able to kick some ass, if need be.
Once, I bought a recording of a reading that Bukowski gave up at the City Lights Theater, in 1971 or 2, I think it was. Anyway, I actually heard him read several of my favorite poems (at the time) like Style, for example. To this day, I can’t read that poem without hearing his drunken 1972 voice.
Another time, I saw him read at a club in Redondo Beach called Sweetwater. I think this was when he stopped giving readings. It was good that he stopped. Much more, and Bukowski might have come to an untimely end and our grieving would have started in the post-Disco era (an even crueler joke)! He did not seem to be a happy man. He tried to incite the mob so he and his wife could slip out the back door in the ensuing fracas!
By the end of the reading, idol or not, I was ready to join the mob, which shocked me, because, MY GOD!, it was Bukowski, for Christ’s sake! My ‘mentor’, my guardian angel of in/sanity!
I knew nothing much of the man, beyond the fact of his drunkenness, and his main character: Hank Chinaski, until just before his death. I knew from the back covers of his books that he was born in 1920, in Germany; that he was becoming more and more widely read; that he’d worked in the post office; that he’d lived in L.A. most of his life and now lived in San Pedro (a city next to the L.A. harbor).
He looked like a tough, old S.O.B.; hanging off a rail car, or leaning up against a wall somewhere near “Heartattack and Vine” (to borrow from my man, Tom Waits). He scared me. After that reading, he scared me even more! I decided to “worship from afar” and just keep reading.
When I moved to San Pedro, I began to see him around town, occasionally. In a restaurant with his wife; at the post office a few times; at the local coffeehouse, or down the street at the used bookstore. They through a birthday party for him, his last, as it turns out, down there. I didn’t go. I couldn’t. I’d have to cross the line and actually get to know the guy. I mean, what do you say to a guy you’ve grown up with, without sounding corny? I knew we’d never get along. I’d heard tales of his not-so-Ordinary Madness. There was enough evidence that the old boy was capable of the unexpected... Christ, it was even recorded on film!
So, I stayed on my side of the line.
Then, I heard he was sick, some kind of cancer -- I’d seen him in the coffeehouse one afternoon, looking rather thin and tired, a sure sign of Chemotherapy. I regretted that I had not crossed the line when I had the opportunity. I resolved that I would cross the line now. I had to reach out to him and let him know that he had touched me in a way that I could never fully understand. This was my thinking at this time.
Without thinking about doing it, I wrote a poem for him. It was called The Old Dog. It wasn’t written with the thought that it would ever be seen by his eyes; it was written merely out of my own respect for his presence in my life.
After I wrote it, I needed to find a way to share it with him... I knew that I must find a way. It was suggested that I send it to the local paper in San Pedro, a bi-weekly affair that “covered the waterfront” and points west.
At first, the Editor was reluctant to print it. “We don’t print poetry.” He stated grimly. “But, we do print letters..”
So, it became part of a Letters to the Editor section and two weeks later was seen by God, Bukowski and the rest of the freakin’ harbor area.
I had signed the letter: “Raindog, the dishwashin’ poet”; not as a ploy to gain advantage (Bukowski always had a soft spot in his heart for the guy at the bottom of the ladder -- and even though he was living the good life up in the hills above San Pedro, he could still recall those “boxcar” days before), merely as a statement of my status. I really was a dishwashin’ poet. This caught the old man’s eye and he let it be known through the grapevine that the poem was good. He offered to sign a book, if I’d like (as if there was a choice)! In it, he offered me the following advice:
“The hardest part is the first part, stay with it. Hank”
He was so right about that. It’s not really that profound... it’s just so obvious. So, freakin’ obvious.
Today, it still holds true. I wish he’d have told me how long the first part is.
THE OLD DOG When the day comes when the final bell ends his last round when the needle scratches the last groove and the last exacta is run then they can have him. When the last cunt-induced sleepless night is over when the last drop of wine is drained when the last hangover fades then it won’t matter where he’s gone. But until that time let him raise a palsied paw to the sky and howl at the moon for all he’s worth. So what if the swaggering blowhard has been replaced by a staggering old pup. Leave him alone and he’ll still amaze us with that one last perfect gesture. RD Armstrong copyright 1998EYES LIKE THE SKY (excerpt) By Charles Bukowski All Rights Reserved
This Crucifix in a Deathhand by Bukowski that I have purchased for $1,200 is in perfect mint condition 32 years after the summer it was published, and though I love the beautiful hand-printed letterpress words so black and clearly stamped into the beautiful spotless paper and the goreous artistic paper, I will still read it with a frothy beer in my hand slightly stained with grease from the machine shop where I am grinding away my life and on its pages here and there let fall a drop or 2 of the beer and leave a machine-grease-and-sweat-stained fingerprint or 2, to prove that there is still a man trapped and sweating and struggling to survive in this world who in the wonder of the excitement of the genius still so alive on these pages leaves the trace of his life on them. Fred Voss copyright 1998
Xmas Buk Blues I chug the third pint of mad dog as magritte’s train chugs around the room suspended on notes of a haydn symphony dali eggs & melting watches drip toward the sun rising lucifer curls his mustache & scratches his red balls the obese woman I picked up in the wino dive farts while I shadow box with hemingway & fante disbelieving & indifferent to miracles on 34th or a wonderful (or even mediocre) life or death. Catfish McDaris copyright 1998
every time i walk into a junk shop & see an old typewriter i think of bukowski & his typer his sub machine i can almost feel the way his mornings wd go maybe a puking session to clear the pipes then a little hair of the dog & by that time he’s got a poem or at least the first few lines some thing abt a whore he picked up in a bar in bed she’s got a nice shiny ass & inside the night runs deep & pretty soon he’s flying he owns the wine the sun light & the alphabet’s cunt Todd Moore copyright 1998
A professor from a local university came by to see me yesterday. He didn’t look like Dorothy Healey but his wife, a Peruvian poetess, did look pretty good. The object was that he was tired of the same insensible gatherings of so-called NEW POETRY. Poetry is still the biggest snob-racket in the Arts with little poet groups battling for power [some things never change, eh?]. I do suppose that the biggest snob outfit ever invented was the old BLACK MOUNTAIN group. And Creeley is still feared in and out of the universities - feared and revered - more than any other poet . Then we have the academics, who like Creeley, write very carefully. In essence, the generally accepted poetry today has a kind of glass outside to it, slick and sliding, and sunned down inside there is a joining of word to word in a rather metalic inhuman summation or semi-secret angle. This is a poetry for millionares and fat men of leisure so it does get backing and it does survive because the secret is in that those who belong really belong and to hell with the rest. But the poetry is dull, very dull, so dull that the dullness is taken for hidden meaning - the meaning is hidden, all right, so well hidden that there isn’t any meaning. But if YOU can’t find it, you lack soul, sensitivity and so forth, so you BETTER FIND IT OR YOU DON’T BELONG. And if you don’t find it, KEEP QUIET.
Which gets us back to the professor and his question: who to put in a book of truly new poetry? I’d say nobody. Forget the book. The odds are almost in. If you want to read some decent strong human stuff without fakery I’d say Al Purdy, the Canadian, but what’s a Canadian, really? Just somebody way out on a limb of some kind of tree, hardly there, screaming beautiful fire songs into his home-mixed wine. Time, if we have it, will tell us about it, will tell us about him.
So professor, I am sorry I could not help you. It would have made some kind of rose in my buttonhole (EARTH ROSE?) we are at a loss, and that includes the Creeleys, you, me, Johnson, Dorothy Healey, C. Clay, Powell, Hem’s last shotgun, the grand sadness of my little daughter running across the floor toward me. Everybody feels this godwigwawful loss of soul and direction more and more, and we are trying to build more and more toward some type of Christ before Catasrophe, but no Gandhi or EARLY Castro has stepped forth. Only Dorothy Healey with eyes like the sky. And she’s a dirty communist.
So, the fix. Lowell turned down some kind of garden party invite from Johnson. This was good. This was a beginning. But unfortunately Robert Lowell writes well. Too well. He is caught between a kind of glass-type poetry and a hard reality and does not know what to do - hence he mixes both and dies both ways. Lowell would like very well to be a human being but is deballed in his own poetic conceptions. Ginsberg, meanwhile turns gigantic extrovert handsprings across our sight, realizing the gap and trying to fill it. At least he knows what is wrong - he simply lacks the artistry to fulfill it.
So professor, thank you for calling. Many strange people knock at my door. Too many strange ones.
I don’t know what’s to become of us. We need a lot of luck, and mine’s been bad lately. And the sun is getting nearer and, Life, as ugly as it seems, does seem worth 3 or 4 more days. Think we’ll make it?
Love is a Dog from Hell
The invitation to a private screening and apres party came in the mail, then a phone call from Linda Bukowski.
"You and Cathy are the only non-Hollywood people we're inviting," she said.
Hot-Cha, I thought. I was still doing my rock band, "The Dead Beats" and I thought I could bring along some cassettes, and shake hands with the tape in my palm.
"My God," Cathy said, "You're not really going to pull a stunt like that, are you? Don't you have any self respect?"
I went off to my room to dupe some tapes.
When the big night came, I was ready to rock. My sport coat was bulging with cassettes and write-ups on the band. We went early and sat in the middle of the theater reading a bio on the young Belgian director who had made a film based on Hank's short stories. Hank and Linda were nowhere to be seen, but I spotted Ginger from Gilligan's Island. She was wearing a skin tight black leather mini-skirt and bustier top. She looked great, her wig had been tightened up, same day-glo copper hair--time had stood still.
Suddenly a murmur came over the crowd. Hank and Linda had just arrived with Sean and Madonna in tow. Madonna was wearing a black velvet Gaucho outfit with a little black hat rimmed with dangling "beaner balls." Sean and Madonna both looked tiny. I had heard so much about how bad he was, and I was surprised at his size. He looked pissed-off all the time. His mouth was a tight little slit. They sat in the back in an area that had been roped off with a large red velvet sausage. I saw Hank pull out a polished chrome hip flask and take a drink, then he tried to pass it to Madonna. She held up her hand and wrinkled her nose.
"Love is a Dog from Hell" was a surprisingly good film. It was Hank's work crossed with the sensibilities of a moody European, and it worked. Everyone filed out, and we watched Hank and Linda and Sean and Madonna get into her white Cadillac stretch limo. I was right next to Ginger again, and I could smell the perfume in her hair, and see her up close. I had jerked off to her many times in my dorm room at USC, and here I was standing right next to her. She had incredibly great legs for an older broad.
We arrived at "Helena's" on the edge of Koreatown. It was a ramshackle dive in a shitty neighborhood just west of the civic center. There were armies of car park valets ready to take on the endless stream of Benzes, BMWs and limos. Linda said, "Helena's is Hollywood's hippest club." The owner was Jack Nicholson's long time housekeeper. He had bankrolled the whole deal, and installed his friends as regulars, which instantly put the place on the map. If you had targeted the building with a cruise missile on a Saturday night, 80% of young Hollywood would have been wiped off the map...
(excerpt) -- Mike Meloan copyright 1998
This page was posted on June 21, 1998 and last updated: 6-21-98
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