Friday, October 22, 2010

Hang Out with Charles Bukowski at The Huntington: His Retrospective 'Poet on the Edge' Is Intoxicating

Charles Bukowski has a new address: his retrospective is going on now through Valentines' Day, 2011, in one of the poshest places So Cal's got: The Huntington Library in San Marino.

LA's beloved barfly poet has come a long way from his birth in Andernach, Germany in 1920. He's grown bigger than his countless soul-slaughtering, dead-end American jobs, his crummy rooming houses, his old bungalow on DeLongpre (now designated an Official Historic Landmark). He's now more significant than even his well-designed final resting place in Rancho Palos Verdes with its headstone that sports his famous phrase "Don't try." The essential Charles Bukowski has ended up in the same building as the Gutenberg Bible. The marriage of outsider writer and elite institution manages not to be a mismatch. Hank's weathered face looks damn good hanging on the huge banners at the main entry. He looks even better sharing a banner above the Library entrance with a stray white cat he took in, wrote about, and lost.  
The long walk to view the memorabilia of the influential barfly. All Photographs © S.X. Rosenstock 

Bukowski featured at the main entrance of The Huntington in San Marino, CA

I started, and later ended, my visit to The Huntington Library in their gift shop. I buzzed through my holiday shopping and it isn't even Halloween yet: everyone on my list is getting a Bukowski schwag bag this year.  Books. T-shirts. Caps. Mouse Pads. Magnets. DVDs. (Maybe you'll spring for the $150 sterling silver, rhodium-plated pendants with 'what matters most is how well you walk through the fire" engraved along the rings, hanging on 16" snake chains, complete with velveteen pouches.)

Superb Bukowski books, DVDs, t-shirts, caps, buttons, magnets, mouse pads at The Huntington's Gift Store

I noted the grand entrance to the actual Library, walked calmly in, then rushed past Chaucer and Shakespeare. I spied Bukowski's photo next to a grouping of Isherwood, Auden, Spender. These are the poster boys for the twentieth century. (I used to see Christopher Isherwood frequently in a market near my old apartment; in my dreams his shopping cart always includes Fetzer Zinfandel.) Bukowski's photo on this section faces a death mask of William Blake. Samuel Taylor Coleridge waits off to one side, thrown open to reveal "This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison," which lets loose the hard truth about what good use Bukowski made of bad, worse, and worst circumstances: "sometimes/ Tis well to be bereft of promis'd good . . .   ." 

Located just past groupings of historical figures, Bukowski's two-room party zone in the West Hall contains just his stuff. He loved the rat-a-tat sound and the mechanistic feel of accomplishing his poems on a manual typewriter; he didn't write longhand. The initial exhibit features one of Hank's "typers," flanked by a wine-stained goblet, a holder for his glasses, and two pens in a vinyl pouch. He insisted on only classical music and loved KUSC,  CLICK to link to,  so that's playing. My faves:

          5. Ken Price's serigraphs for "Heat Wave" from Black Sparrow Press
          4. Picking up a weird white cone to hear Bukowski reading his poems
          3. All the horse racing stuff
          2. Bukowski's poem "the bluebird"
          1. Bukowski's poem "democracy" 

I ate lunch at the self-serve cafe, drank a Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut in the poet's honor, wrote some lines, listened to non-classical music on my Shuffle, then toured the main gallery with "democracy" in mind. The faces painted by Romney, Reynolds, Gainsborough made me wish "I had a cure for the chess pieces/we call Humanity." Bukowski tells it to every face: "the problem is you."

The problem I am hopped back to Bukowski's rooms a last time, then bundled up my purchases, and drove home with gifts for others and something for myself—several little notebooks stamped with Bukowski's lines: "My idea of life is the next page, the next paragraph, the next sentence." 

Self-Portrait: S.X. Rosenstock as Lunch at The Huntington's self-serve Cafe: Ham on Wheat, Brut, a draft of Flight Lines

Upcoming Charles Bukowski-related Event at The Huntington: 

John Dullaghan's documentary film about Charles Bukowski, "Born Into This," will be screened for free at The Huntington on Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, at 7:30 p.m. with a Q & A after the film. No reservations are necessary for this event. 

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