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The Written Image: Poet on the Edge

The work of the late German American poet, novelist, and short story writer Charles Bukowski—frequenter of the racetrack and the barroom, champion of the outcast and the down-and-out—has found a temporary home on display at the Huntington Library, a private, nonprofit research and educational institution in San Marino, California, outside the poet’s adopted city of Los Angeles.

Among the documents and ephemera currently on view in Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge, the first exhibition of the writer’s papers, are photographs, letters, special editions of his books, rare copies of magazines in which his work was published, and pen-and-ink drawings, such as the one above (left), which has been reproduced in silk screen from the Black Sparrow Press edition of Bukowski’s poetry collection Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit (1979). The typewritten letter (right), penned in 1990 to John Martin, the poet’s publisher at Black Sparrow, also displays a quintessential Bukowski line drawing—a man with closed eyes and a bottle of something strong by his side. The author’s typewriter will be on display too. “Bukowski is one of the most original voices in twentieth-century American literature,” says Huntington literary-manuscripts curator Sara Hodson, who designed the exhibition. “He wrote for common people because he came from common people, and that’s what you will experience when you come to this exhibition.” The Huntington, which offers free admission on the first Thursday of each month, will feature Poet on the Edge through February 11.

Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Reader Comments

  • judithvanpraag says...

    Anyone object to the title of this comment?
    Thanks to the P&W article I knew about the show and visited the Huntington Library on my way down south. Couldn't help but wonder what the old Buk would think of his arrival; arrivé at last, or more in line with the previous commentator: power to the people?

    From the correspondence on display in the exhibit it was clear that Bukowski had an extraordinary relationship with his publisher, craved and received and thrived on the attention from his readership. Just like any of us, intoxicated or not.

    To listen and see him read about reading at a university drives home the message that Bukowski indeed wrote for the common man while he knew how to reach The Other.

    Loved reading about his love for classical music and how that was triggered, not by upbringing, or a music teacher in school, but by hearing something that grabbed him from the next listening booth over at his fave music store and how with the help of the store's owner he made his way through the whole classical collection.

    Have enjoyed Bukowski's voice since I laid hands on his work in the 80's, and have renewed interest in reading his whole oeuvre thanks to this show.

    Wish it could/ would/ will travel, or at least that the Huntington Library will digitalize the whole lot. Got to love that institution!

  • liamsr says...

    While in my mind he will always look a little like Mickey Rourke, or Matt Dillon, his voice will always be the rough sound of the bookies or wino's at the track. I am disappointed that this exhibition is so far from me that I could never attend. I hope that those of you who can attend do.
    God Bless the Common Man.

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City Guide

by Carolyn Kellogg

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From F. Scott Fitzgerald to Nathanael West, Joan Didion to Raymond Chandler, many writers have been inspired by Los Angeles. In this installment of City Guides, Carolyn Kellogg, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and Jacket Copy blogger, visits her favorite haunts made famous by writers of both past and present.

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