Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life – Howard Sounes

Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life is the classic biography of Charles Bukowski, the hard-drinking barfly whose semi-autobiographical books about low-life America made him a cult figure across the globe. Extensive original research and unique contributions from friends, family and associates - including Mickey Rourke, Robert Crumb, Sean Penn, Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg - as well as personal photographs and drawings by Buk himself make this a must for Bukowski devotees and new readers alike

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Poetry, American
  Canongate Books
Year: 1998
Rating: 5/5 

I discovered Charles Buokwski a few years ago. I was flicking through literature pages on Stumbleupon, and happened upon a page about Charles Bukowski. I had never heard of him before, yet the author of the page hailed him as an American literary legend. I didn't think much of it, until a friend posted a poem of his on Facebook. I fell in love. From there on in, I was hooked. 

I spent ages trawling the net reading Bukowski's poetry. I really don't have anything new to say about it, and am probably rehashing what many before me have said, but it spoke it me. Bukowski's poetry is raw and honest. It is gritty and to the point. It speaks of life how it is without embellishments. That is what I love about it. It is real. 

I have written a few reviews on Bukowski's novels, Ham on Rye and Post Office. His novels are just as enjoyable as his poetry (Ham on Rye was fantastic) and I couldn't recommend them enough. 

As a certified Bukowski fan, I felt it was time I indulged in a biography about his life. I had heard much about Bukowski's life before. His novels are semi-autobiographical and his exploits are infamous, but I wanted to read more. I wanted to know more about my man, Bukowski.

To be perfectly honest (and I have said this before) I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Bukowski. As much as I love his work, as a person I am not so sure. I saw a YouTube video of an interview once, and Bukowski kicked his girlfriend and called her a 'S'. That is just abhorrent. I makes me wish Bukowski were alive today so I can tell him how much I love his work, and then punch him in the face.

Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life by Howard Sounes was a great biography. Sounes is obviously a big Bukowski fan, because his love for his work and admiration of Bukowski as a poet and a person, flowed off every page. 

In one respect this was great, as I felt a camaraderie with Sounes while reading this book, and enjoyed it immensely. On the other hand, I felt Sounes built Bukowski up a bit and made him seem more noble and moral than he really was. 

Was Bukowski just a misunderstood soul who was misjudged? Was he really a good guy who did a few bad things out of character? Or was he a raging drunk with a bad temper? I personally always felt the later but Sounes makes it seems like the former. 

Despite that, this book is a worthy read for Bukowski fans. If you want to know more about his life and how he made his way from dorky nobody to famous poet, this is a great place to start. If you are looking for an objective piece of work, then this isn't for you. 

My only other criticism is Sounes took a lot from Bukowski's novels. He quoted, referred to and used the material from his novels as a basis for the 'facts' in this book. I can understand why, since Bukowski's novels were semi-autobiographical and they are important in researching his life, but Sounes seemed to use them as a crutch. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am pleased it now has pride of place on my shelves. That said,  I do look forward to reading a more researched and original work on Bukowski in the future, if it exists. 

I think I'll end this review with some poetry from the Buk.... cause how else can we celebrate such greatness without a word from the man himself? This is one of my personal favourites. Enjoy. 

blasted apart with the first breath

out of days
as the banister glints
in the early morning sun.

will be
no rest
even in our dreams.

now all there is to do
is reset broken moments.
when even to exist seems a
then surely our luck
has run thin
thinner than a bloody stream


is a sad song:
we have heard too many voices
seen too many faces

too many bodies

worst have been the faces:
a dirty joke that no one
can understand.

barbaric senseless days
total in your skull;
reality is a juiceless

there is no plan
no out
no divinity no sparrow of joy.
we can’t
life to anything
- that’s too dreary
a prospect. 

relatively speaking
we were never short on
but at best the odds remained
and at worst

what was worst:
not that we wasted it
but that it was wasted
on us:

out of the Womb
trapped in light and darkness
stricken and numbed
alone in the temperate zone
of dumb agony
now running out of days
as the banister glints
in the early morning

– Charles Bukowski 1920-1994
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