Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Rushing Fury' in Every Syllable

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Rushing Fury' in Every Syllable

Article excerpt

SCREAMS FROM THE BALCONY Selected Letters 1960-1970 By Charles Bukowski Edited by Seamus Cooney 361 pages, Black Sparrow, $15 paper

HENRY CHARLES BUKOWSKI ("Hank" to his friends) refuses to die, even though almost everybody else has.

Of course, we are speaking figuratively. But that's how the tortured, 73-year-old poet and novelist has spoken and written most of his life: in a crazed, metaphoric howl of anguish. Fueled by beer and by a rage that wastes no ink on the Big Questions, Bukowski slashes his way like a modern Celine through the dull horror of everyday. His subject first and always is the numbness of soul that lets regular people - the dead - punish misfits such as Bukowski who dare to wring the juice from life.

Bukowski (portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the 1987 film "Barfly") has written more than 45 books and many, many letters. Hunkered in a fleabag Los Angeles apartment with his booze and his "typer," he railed against the drudgery of the post-office job that he held for many years and against the equally fatal drudgery outside. His spelling, spacing and punctuation in the letters are awful; sometimes, he draws or paints in the margins; he is, frequently, drunk. Still, as much in the letters as elsewhere, Bukowski's writing is spare and clean and lovely in its ferocity. "It's not so much savage," he wrote to an early booster of his work, "as it is discarding the whole facade of knowledge and education and looking as directly as you can into your own sun."

Disfigured by acne as a youth, Bukowski endured a lonely adolescence and abusive father for years before he left home. (His 1982 novel, "Ham on Rye," provides a wrenching account of those times. "Hank," the 1991 biography by Bukowski pal Neeli Cherkovski, tells the rest.) Bukowski survived on the fringes of society by taking odd jobs. He gambled at the horse races. He fought in bars. He womanized. He wrote.

The letters are full of daily details that show a writer's battle to pound his words into a society stiff with fear of the charged existence that Bukowski stood for. …

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