Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ulin on Bukowski

David Ulin, book review editor of the Los Angeles Times, takes a hard look at Charles Bukowski's poetry and legacy today. His critical review of the latest posthumously published volume, The Pleasures of the Damned, also touches on John Fante, one of Bukowski's heroes and author of Ask the Dust, which David calls a superlative novel. By contrast, Bukowksi is "a hit-or-miss talent, capable of his own brand of small epiphany but often stultifyingly banal."

In his view, Bukowski's current sacred-cow status in Los Angeles's literary scene is built on his generosity to young writers and a garrison mentality born of uncertainty and feelings of insignificance among local writers. David believes that the city has outgrown that mentality--and Bukowski.

I share David's assessment of Bukowksi's talent but am happy I included Post Office (and Fante's Full of Life) in my course on Los Angeles this semester. As David notes, both men were "trying to articulate a vision of Los Angeles as an urban landscape, not exotic but mundane, where we not so much reinvent ourselves as remain unreconciled." For our purposes, it makes sense to acknowledge that effort, even if the results were uneven.


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