One dirty old man: Bukowski exhibit opens

By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"He sat naked and drunk in a room of summer night, running the blade of the knife under his fingernails, smiling, thinking of all the letters he had received telling him that the way he lived and wrote about that - it had kept them going when all seemed truly hopeless."

Words like that could come from none other than the mind of the late great Charles Bukowski: poet, loving father, alcoholic.

Bukowski aficionados will be able to get a historic glimpse into the poet's life when the documentary "Bukowski: Born Into This" premieres at the Loft Cinema on Friday.

On the same day, the UA Poetry Center will whet your whistle with a display of Bukowski's books assembled by creative writing grad student Theresa Sotto, the Poetry Center's summer library assistant.

"There are fun things about his writing," said Charlotte M. Cardon, a Tucson writer who met Bukowski when he visited Tucson in June 1967.

According to Sotto, the display will consist of rare and older books by Bukowski, including a signed copy of "It Catches My Heart in Its Hands" (1963) and "Crucifix in a Death Hand" (1965), two of Bukowski's first books of poetry. Publishing house Loujon Press took a chance on Bukowski and released them while he was an unknown poet.

Years later, Bukowski met his next publisher John Martin, a book collector who sold much of his collection to start Black Sparrow Press, which published "At Terror Street and Agony Way" (1968).

"That's apparently where he lives," Sotto joked. "For a small press company, [Black Sparrow] did very well."

Sotto said many of the books for the display were selected for their visual appeal, including "The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship," a nonfiction journal that has illustrations by eccentric comic book artist Robert Crumb.

In addition to being able to flip through some of Bukowski's newer books, visitors will also be able to listen to recordings of Bukowski reading his work.

Known for his love of the drink, the poet has become quite the icon to both sober and frequently intoxicated writers everywhere. But like most poets, Bukowski's career had a modest beginning.

Founded in New Orleans in 1962 by Jon Webb and his wife Gypsy Lou, Loujon Press was an independent printing business. Having seen Bukowski's poems in smaller publications, the Webbs

decided to publish books of his poetry.

"[The Webbs] knew what they were doing because you see Bukowski has become very well known, not only as a writer of poetry, but as a writer of books," said Cardon.

After printing the two books, the Webbs moved Loujon Press to Tucson, where Bukowski came to visit them in 1967.

Cardon met Bukowski while visiting the Webbs at their printing press, but does not recall ever hearing Bukowski read his poetry aloud.

According to Sotto, Bukowski only made a social visit to Tucson, but did stay at the Poetry Center's guest cottage.

Cardon said Bukowski had a real "command of words." She likes to compare him to Allen Ginsberg because Bukowski, like Ginsberg, often wrote poetry that incorporated social commentary, especially about war.

"I don't think we can call Bukowski a beat poet because he came later," she said. "He is a spin-off of the beat poets, but he is not Allen Ginsberg."

One Bukowski poem Cardon especially admires is "Lunch in Beverly Hills," an example of free verse that "makes fun of society and the impending war," Cardon said.

"It says a lot and it's rather contemporary," she said. "I always think there was a little more to Charles Bukowski. He was never mainstream."

Cardon also dwells on the fact that Bukowski was a family man and even picked his daughter up from school every day the way any normal father would.

"He had a messianic feeling that this was the life he was destined to lead," she said. "He was not terribly attractive and I do think he was a drinker."

The Charles Bukowski display will open on Friday, July 16, the same day "Bukowski: Born into This" premieres at the Loft Cinema. The Bukowski display will be in the Poetry Center Conference Room. Admission is free. The Poetry Center is located at 1600 E. First St. (on the southeast corner of First Street and Cherry Aue).