Bukowski considered

BukIn this week's New Yorker, New York Sun book critic Adam Kirsch takes a leisurely look at the life and work of the late Los Angeles poet Charles Bukowski. His popularity is acknowledged, but ultimately Buk is dismissed as "easy to love, especially for novice readers with little experience of the genuine challenges of poetry; [but] for more demanding readers, he remains so hard to admire." Excerpts:

John Martin, the founder of Black Sparrow Press, who was responsible for launching Bukowski’s career, has explained that "he is not a mainstream author and he will never have a mainstream public." This is an odd thing to say about a poet who has sold millions of books and has been translated into more than a dozen languages—a commercial success of a kind hardly known in American poetry since the pre-modernist days of popular balladeers like Edgar A. Guest. Yet the sense of not being part of the mainstream, at least as the Norton anthology and most other authorities define it, is integral to Bukowski’s appeal. He is one of those writers whom each new reader discovers with a transgressive thrill....

Bukowski is best read as a very skillful genre writer. He bears the same relation to poetry as Zane Grey does to fiction, or Ayn Rand to philosophy—a highly colored, morally uncomplicated cartoon of the real thing. He has two of the supreme merits of genre writing, consistency and abundance: once you have been enticed into Bukowski’s world, you have the comfort of knowing that you won’t have to leave it anytime soon, since there will always be another book to read....

He became wealthy and famous, a friend of celebrities like Sean Penn and Madonna, the subject of biographies and documentaries. In his late poems, his delight in driving a BMW and hobnobbing with Norman Mailer is so genuine that it becomes infectious. His escape from poverty and menial labor, solely through the passion and popularity of his writing, is like a fairy tale. "I laid down my guts," as he put it, "and the gods finally answered."

In the New Yorker's way, the piece will likely vanish from the website after this week. [* I'm reminded of the unofficial New Yorker database at]

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