Charles Bukowski may be a Los Angeles icon, but reading “The Pleasures of the Damned” — the new volume of his selected poetry edited by John Martin, his longtime benefactor at Black Sparrow Press — it’s impossible not to ask some hard questions about his status and whether it is deserved. I’ve often thought his place in this city’s literary pantheon was more a matter of opportunity than of talent; when he started writing full-bore, in the mid-1950s, few people were creating an authentic local literature, which, for better or worse, is what he did.
Back then, most L.A. writing was the work of outsiders, with a small indigenous poetry scene, leftist and oddly formal in its aesthetics, centered around such journals as Coastlines and the California Quarterly. Although Bukowski published in such venues, he stood against all that; a loner, avowedly apolitical, he focused on the small degradations of daily life. “there is a loneliness in this world so great / that you can see it in the slow movement of / the hands of a clock,” he wrote in “The Crunch,” describing “the terror of one person / aching in one place / alone / untouched / unspoken to / watering a plant.” He was 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.
more from the LA Times here.