Charles Bukowski, Poet: Nuns, Touts, Losers, Grocery Clerks, and Me

Charles Bukowski, Poet: Nuns, Touts, Losers, Grocery Clerks, and Me
Jack Micheline
Gouache on paper with felt tip pen

This portrait of writer Charles Bukowski (1920–1994) by fellow Beat poet, artist Jack Micheline (1929–1998), features Bukowski’s signed self-portrait peeking over his own painted arm. Micheline’s bold script refers to two Bukowski’s poems, “The Loser” published in 1960, and “Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks and You” published in 1964. Bukowski, born in the Weimar Republic, moved with his parents to Los Angeles in the 1930s where he grew up, he claimed, to taunts of his schoolmates and his father’s lashing razor strop. He studied art, literature, and journalism at Los Angeles City College before moving to New York in the hope of living the life of a writer. In 1944 Bukowski was arrested for draft evasion, perhaps partially implicated due to his German heritage and accent, only to be classified as unfit for the U. S. military after psychological testing. He returned to Los Angeles and joined the postal service.

One constant in his life was heavy drinking. His health suffered as a result, and hospitalization nurtured his prolificacy as a poet, as did the instability and transient nature of his romantic relationships. His work celebrated bohemian masculinity, indulging the raucous life he lived. He was published in bourgeoning alternative journals and literary efforts. In 1969, accepting an offer from Black Sparrow Press, Bukowski was able to see his major works published and become a full-time writer at the age of forty-nine. In the 1970s he toured and presented readings of his works, recordings of which were issued as LPs.

Jack Micheline was a street poet in Greenwich Village, living on the edge, adopting the beat of the Harlem music scene of the 1950s, writing about life in the street and alley. After a reading at the Half Note in the West Village he won the Revolt in Literature Award bestowed by monumental jazz bassist Charles Mingus, writer and personality Jean Shepard, and jazz historian Nat Hentoff. Micheline’s first book, River of Red Wine, with an introduction by his neighbor Jack Kerouac, was published in 1957. He moved to San Francisco where he was to spend the rest of his life. His output of more than twenty books, belies his ambitions as painter. A trip to Mexico City sponsored by his friend abstract expressionist master Franz Kline brought him to embark on a vividly-hued primitivism of pared down form

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Charles Bukowski, Poet: Nuns, Touts, Losers, Grocery Clerks, and Me