Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Celebrity Grave: Charles Bukowski, Poet
Henry Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was an American poet, novelist, and short story writer. Bukowski's writing was heavily influenced by the geography and atmosphere of his home city of Los Angeles, and is marked by an emphasis on the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. A prolific author, Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, eventually having over 60 books in print. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a "laureate of American lowlife."
Bukowski died of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro, California, at the age of 73, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp. The funeral rites, orchestrated by his widow, were conducted by Buddhist monks. An account of the proceedings can be found in Gerald Locklin's book Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet.
His gravestone reads: "Don't Try," a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, advising aspiring writers and poets about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explains the phrase in a 1963 letter to John William Corrington as follows: 'Somebody at one of these places ... asked me: "What do you do? How do you write, create?" You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.'
In 2007 and 2008, there was a movement to save Bukowski's bungalow at 5124 De Longpre Ave. from destruction. The campaign was spearheaded by preservationist Lauren Everett. Oddly, the campaign was derided by some Bukowski fans who took exception to having their hero so recognized, claiming that such recognition lessened his 'outsider' status. (Likewise, a succesful bus tour of Bukowski's former residences, places of work and other sites connected to him is generally lambasted by these same fans who object to the commercialization of his memory.) The cause was covered extensively in the local and international press, including a feature in Beatdom magazine, and was ultimately successful, with the bungalow listed as a Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monument called Bukowski Court.