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Huntington Library to offer the first look at its Charles Bukowski collection with 'Poet on the Edge' exhibit

April 28, 2010 | 12:57 pm

Bukowski-drink The Huntington Library in San Marino, known as the home of Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy," made news four years ago with its acquisition of something a lot bluer: a cache of papers, books and memorabilia belonging to Charles Bukowski, the L.A. author known for hard living and hard-edged writing.

This fall, the Huntington will offer the public its first look at material from its Bukowski collection, which was donated by his widow.

"Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge," which will run Oct. 9 to Feb. 14, will feature more than 60 items from the Huntington's holdings as well as about 15 other items lent for the show by Linda Lee Bukowski.

Among the exhibit's highlights will be hand-corrected literary drafts, rare first editions and photographs that offer glimpses of the writer's personal life. Also on display will be Bukowski's manual typewriter and annotated racing forms that reveal his system for betting.

The bard of the down-and-out, Bukowski was fascinated with "life's tough and seamier sides," says the exhibit's curator, Sue Hodson, the Huntington's curator of literary manuscripts. "He wrote about blue-collar workers and about pimps, prostitutes, drunks, gamblers and layabouts. He talked about sex and bodily functions and used all those words our mothers don't want us to use because he said this was part of life and he was just being honest."

Bukowski, who died at 73 in 1994, deplored "the traditional poet's fancy conventions," says Hodson. "He thought there was no reason poetry should be out of reach for any reader."

The Huntington received the collection in part because Linda Lee Bukowski, who lives in San Pedro, is a regular visitor to its gardens. (Her husband preferred to spend his time at nearby Santa Anita race track.)

Bukowski-barbellHodson says Linda Lee Bukowski, who married the poet in 1985, has avidly searched for examples of her spouse's work. "She acquired a lot of things he never had or no longer had, including early pieces in little mimeographed poetry magazines that are almost impossible to find."

The Huntington possesses more than 2,700 Bukowski items, including corrected typescripts of poems, correspondence and about 500 to 600 books as well as a draft of the 1982 novel, "Ham on Rye," and a script for the 1987 autobiographical movie "Barfly."
The collection has been open to researchers since last summer. "Southern California is Bukowski territory," says Hodson, who notes there are major holdings of his works at UC Santa Barbara and USC.

Hodson hopes "Poet on the Edge" will attract new visitors to the Huntington, while giving regular patrons "something a little different."

"Bukowski was such a raw writer and street poet and the Huntington has this staid image," says Hodson. "Linda and I laugh about this quite a bit. Even if it's not an intuitive match, we think it will work very well."

--Karen Wada

Top photo: Charles Bukowski, circa 1980. Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Bottom: Postcard showing Bukowski lifting barbell in 1989. Credit: Photo by Joan Levine Gannij, published by Island International Bookstore, Amsterdam. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


New Home for Bukowski