Monday, October 11, 2010

Dirty Old Man Exposed At The Huntington Library

By Nancy Mattoon

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
Notes Of A Dirty Old Man.
San Francisco: City Lights, 1971.

(Courtesy Of

Thomas Gainsborough's Blue Boy, after happily living in an exclusively elegant enclave since 1922, suddenly has to cope with a rather earthy new neighbor. The Poet Laureate of the Gutter, the Bard of the Barroom, the Rimbaud of the Racetrack, Charles Bukowski is shaking up the staid environs of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanic Gardens.

How, you may well ask, does the archive of a self-proclaimed "dirty old man," who is more familiar with a quart of whiskey than a quarto of Hamlet, end up in permanent residence at a library which holds, among other treasures the original manuscript of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and seven drafts of Henry David Thoreau's Walden? Well the answer is, as so often in matters of real estate, "location, location, location."

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
Longshot Pomes for Broke Players
New York: 7 Poets Press, 1962.

One of approximately 200 copies.

(Courtesy Of

The Huntington Library in San Marino is just down the pike from Charles Bukowski's own personal piece of paradise, the Santa Anita Race Track. But while Bukowski opined that "there is nothing as depressing or quiet or stinky as a museum," his second or third wife, (depending on who's counting) Linda Lee Bukowski, disagreed. Rather than playing the ponies, she found nirvana by exploring the lavish gardens of the Library. While her hubby risked another bundle at the track, Linda noticed that the staff at The Huntington was strictly blue ribbon, "Every single thing they do, whether it’s botanical gardens, archiving libraries, art, landscaping or architecture, they’re the best."

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1982.
Signed & Numbered Edition of 125 copies.

(Courtesy Of

When Bukowski met his maker in 1994, there were plenty of libraries that would have paid a pretty penny for the papers he left behind, estimated to be worth well into the six figures. But Linda Lee Bukowski, "didn't want to let the archive just sit and stagnate." She offered to donate the irreplaceable manuscripts, rare books, and ephemera to The Huntington. "Some people look at me like I'm nuts for not selling," she said. Donating instead, she notes, "has given me a great deal of joy." Bukowski's widow was actually responsible for obtaining much of the material, according to Sue Hodson, the Huntington's curator of literary manuscripts, "She acquired a lot of things he never had or no longer had, including early pieces in little mimeographed poetry magazines that are almost impossible to find."

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
The Movie: "Barfly."
New York: Ecco, 2002.

(Courtesy Harper Collins Books.)

Beginning in October 2010, The Huntington will host the most comprehensive exhibition on the writer ever undertaken, Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge. Among the rare books on view will be first editions of his works, including Ham on Rye (1982), the autobiographical novel about his brutal childhood and young adulthood; Factotum (1975), the fictional account of his succession of low-end jobs; and Barfly (1984), the screenplay he wrote for the 1987 film starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. Corrected typescripts of poems and of the novels Pulp (1984) and Hollywood (1989) will also be included in the show.

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail.
Eureka, California: Hearse Press, 1960
One of 200 copies of Bukowski's first chapbook.
Extremely rare in any condition.
(Courtesy Of Collecting

In addition to the manuscripts, there will be original drawings by Bukowski, correspondence and fan mail, and large-format printings of his poems produced by the Black Sparrow Press and other fine printing houses. Scarce, important "little magazines," which were the first to publish Bukowski’s works, including such publications as Wormwood Review, The Outsider, The Limberlost Review, and Runcible Spoon will also be on view for the first time in a formal exhibit. And Linda Lee Bukowski is graciously lending a number of iconic items, including Bukowski’s manual typewriter, an original oil portrait by John Register, and very scarce early books, including Flower, Fist & Bestial Wail (1960) and It Catches My Heart in Its Hand (1963).

Oui, September 1981.
(Courtesy Of

But no Bukowski exhibit would be complete without a few more unusual items. These are represented by skin magazines, such as Oui, which Bukowski admitted in a 1986 interview were his first source of real income from writing, "I started out...selling to the porno mags. What I used to do was, write a good story and throw in some goddamn sex. It worked. I only got one story rejected--it had too much sex! They draw a fine line. 'Bukowski,' the editor wrote me, 'nobody on earth screws that many women in a week and a half!' It was my own true story. The guy was haunted by jealousy. The porno mags... paid $230 to $290 a story. I could write one in a night with no problem." And what other author's exhibit would include hand-annotated racing forms outlining his patented betting system for picking the winners at Santa Anita?

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
Das Liebesleben der HyƤne.
Frankfurt: Zweitausendeins, 1980.
translated by Carl Weissner.
(Courtesy Of

Charles Bukowski's writing was infused with the loneliness, isolation, and rootlessness he found at the core of his native Los Angeles. He captured the lives of those who, like himself, worked at an endless series of menial, soul-crushing, dead-end jobs. His stories are peopled with drunks, drug addicts, petty criminals, low-lifes, and hookers. Many of his characters have been ground down, mangled, and spit out by the machinery of life. The are the "losers" most Americans turn away from in disgust. Bukowski lived with them on the fringes, and found the beauty in their mere survival. He wrote about them in the language of the streets: unaffected, slangy, elemental, often profane, visceral, graphic, vulgar, sometimes stomach-churning, but always honest. He once said he worked to keep his writing "raw, easy, and simple" in order to stay true to "the hard clean line that says it."

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
Mockingbird Wish Me Luck.
Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1972
This is one of 100 copies which were signed and numbered.
(Courtesy Of Collecting

Because of his writing style, his subject matter, his persona, and his lifestyle, Bukowski was ignored by the literary establishment. Not one of his poems could be found in The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry (1973), despite the fact that a poem by another poet, which included a direct quote from Bukowski's Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, was. John Dullaghan, the director of "Born Into This," a documentary on Bukowski who assisted with research for the Huntington exhibit said, "He didn't like academia. He resented it, he didn't feel like they embraced him."

BUKOWSKI, Charles.
All the Assholes in the World and Mine.
Sacramento: Open Skull Press, 1966.
One of approximately 400 copies.
The story of Bukowski's hemorrhoid operation.
(Courtesy Of Collecting

Dullaghan thinks Bukowski would find his posh new home at the San Marino Library to be a good joke, "He wasn't the typical Huntington type of person, but to be included in this, he would have just been tickled." Curator Sue Hodson and the writer's widow, Linda, agree: "Bukowski was such a raw writer and street poet and the Huntington has this staid image," says Hodson. "Linda and I laugh about this quite a bit. Even if it's not an intuitive match, we think it will work very well."


1 comment:

  1. Very nice description in your blog post! I went to see it last Sunday and just loved it! A bit about it is here:


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