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Gritty and revealing biography of an off the beaten track writer

April 30, 2014

There are numerous writers who dominated what was called the Beat Generation. Some of these included Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. They wrote phenomenal material about a plethora of topics, mostly relating to their intense lifestyles within the backdrop of a rapidly changing social situation. Kerouac wrote his famous “On the Road” about his adventures travelling across the country, giving a great deal of attention to the random encounters he had with a multitude of interesting characters. His other material covers a lot of soul searching topics and more interesting people. Alan Ginsberg wrote poetry about the insane world he saw around him, and his attempts to fit in, or not fit in, whatever the case may be. “Burroughs Naked Lunch” showed the raw and edgy lifestyle he lead, and the incredible array of suffering he saw in the people who live on the fringe in America.

These writers created a new style and use of the English language. It questioned all conventionality, and became a new freer style of reality meets the surrealist potential, mind-blowing prose and poetry. Most of the writers were predominantly centered in New York City, or at least spent a lot of time there at one point or another, discussing their world views and encouraging each other’s writing. They had a group with which they could associate and communicate. Not all of the writers of that time and thereafter had that luxury.

Today’s book is a biography on a man who was based in Los Angeles, Calif., and who took his own path, isolated on the fringe of the fringe, buried deep in dingy barrooms and the seediest of conditions in a beehive of a city in an intense time period. “Charles Bukowski – Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life” by Howard Sounes gives us a wonderfully clear view into the life of this American author, poet and self-proclaimed bard, who used his writing to exorcise himself of demons garnered at a very young age. Perhaps new demons arose which followed him throughout his life. Peace and serenity do not seem to be a big part of Mr. Bukowski’s tale. The mind can be a minefield, and Bukowski stomped through his personal suffering with wit, humor, intense agony, mystifying pugnacity and staunch rebellion to the norms of the world he had forced on him, and which he stubbornly refused to accept. Though he did eventually and ultimately accept his world in his own way.

Howard Sounes wrote “Charles Bukowski – Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life” in 1998. It is published and distributed by Grove Press out of New York City. The accolades and appreciation Sounes received for writing this revealing and well-researched biography are many and meaningful. Bukowski has a great following, and this book brought his message to his people in a clear, concise, hilarious and seriously intended manner. The life of the anti-hero barfly is laid out in an easy to follow, thoughtful and crescendo building style. Actually there seem to have been many crescendos throughout Bukowski’s edge-of-the-road life, and Sounes does not miss a beat in his formidable presentation. This book is well worth the read for all Bukowski fans, and would be a great place to start for anyone who is interested in finding a new gritty author to amuse and astonish.

Charles Bukowski was born in Andernach, Germany on Aug. 16, 1920. He was the only child of an American soldier and a German mother. At the age of three, he came with his family to the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. He had a brutal childhood, being beaten senseless by his insane father and developed the most intense case of acne, all over his body, because he repressed all emotions in the face of his torturous life at home. He grew up in the toughest of conditions. He did like to write though. He attended Los Angeles City College from 1939 to 1941, then left school and moved to New York City to become a writer.

Bukowski did not have a very strong start in the writing industry and his lack of publishing success at this time caused him to give up writing in 1946 and spurred a 10-year stint of heavy drinking, which never really ceased though he became very ill, and became the basis of the legend of his life. He worked a wide range of jobs to support his writing, including dishwasher, truck driver and loader, mail carrier, guard, gas station attendant, stock boy, warehouse worker, shipping clerk, post office clerk, parking lot attendant, Red Cross orderly, and elevator operator. He also worked in a dog biscuit factory, a slaughterhouse, a cake and cookie factory, and he hung posters in New York City subways. All of these became the fodder for his writing eventually.

As Howard Sounes eloquently reveals in “Charles Bukowski – Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life,” his subject’s writing often featured grungy and raw metropolitan environments, downtrodden members of society, intensely direct language, physical and mental violence, and sexual imagery. Many of his works center on a semi-autobiographical figure named Henry Chinaski, who was the main character of the biographical movie “Barfly” in 1987 starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. His first book of poetry was published in 1959; he went on to publish more than forty-five books of poetry and prose, including “Pulp,” “Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960-1970,” and “The Last Night of the Earth Poems.” He died of leukemia in San Pedro on March 9, 1994.

If you are interested in this very off the beaten track writer, and would like to know more about him grab a copy of “Charles Bukowski – Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life” and give it a whirl. It may open your eyes and mind to a new style of writing, and a new world of understanding.

Enjoy and read on!

Kerry Wholey is a freelance writer living in Narragansett.


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