Sunday 21 June 2020

Charles Bukowski - Sunlight Here I Am: Interviews & Encounters 1963-1993 - Edited by David Stephen Calonne (2003)

Rating: Excellent

Most regular readers of this blog would be aware of my love for Bukowski's writing. I've read most of his most important works, but I also have quite a few books like this one laying around, in this case for about a decade! Sunlight Here I Am is a great idea executed well; a collection, in chronological order, of interviews with Bukowski, ranging from his very first interview in 1963 and ending with his very last in in 1993. Calonne notes that while this is not all of the interviews with Bukowski, it features many of the best ones. It's a beautiful book, well laid out and featuring drawings by the man himself and a selection of photographs not seen elsewhere. From the first interview there comes a realisation that Bukowski is fully formed, already displaying his perceptive and blunt point of view, holding forth regarding the highs and lows of his life so far and the nature of poetry. There is a definite pattern across all thirty six interviews, the interviewer notes Bukowski's reputation (often followed by an admission as to their trepidation meeting him), Bukowski talks about his past (this aspect becomes repetitious - an unavoidable inherent flaw) and then there is a fascinating discussion that varies depending on the era the interview takes place.

What emerges out of all these interviews is that both Bukowski is as you'd expect him to be, but also there are plenty of surprises even for the hard core Bukowski fan. The fact that Bukowski was such a booze-hound coupled with his disdain of following any cultural trend meant that I was amazed to discover that he smoked grass quite regularly and that he tried LSD and magic mushrooms on a number of occasions. Although his thoughts regarding sex and women are more sophisticated that his detractors would have you believe, his views on politics and philosophy is typically blunt, as is his tendency toward misanthropy. Generally it's a real treat to read Bukowski in full flow and he pretty much provides great copy on most occasions. Along the way you also discover what he thinks of other past and contemporaneous writers, that he felt that his balls were the biggest going around, that he admired Frank Zappa, but regarded both Paul McCartney and John Lennon with disdain; that he hung out with Sean Penn who brought his then girlfriend, no other than Madonna herself, around for a visit! Bukowski notes that when he intimated that Madonna was pretentious Penn bristled with anger but backed down when Bukowski said that Penn knew deep down that he could take him (resulting in Bukowski liking Penn even more...). Such highlights mean that Sunlight Here I Am is well worth tracking down for any Bukowski fan, not only because it is pure Bukowski, but also for the unique insight it provides into one of America's greatest writers.

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