A Drinkable Feast
Down and Out Drinks and Dinner
A late birthday toast to Charles Bukowski
On May 15, 1970 Henry Charles Bukowski read at the Kiva Auditorium at UNM. He had quit the post office for what would prove to be the last time, taking his publisher’s offer of $100 a month for life to quit working and write full time—a terrifying and gutsy gamble. Over the next 24 years, Bukowski’s intoxicating blend of lyrical poetry for the everyman and insane, gritty, ugly, hilarious and revolutionary subject matter would cement his place in the hearts of his readers, if not the lexicon of American poetry. Today he is either hailed or dismissed as “the poet laureate of skid row” (likely a butchering of a Time Magazine quote, circa 1986, dubbing Bukowski the "laureate of American lowlife”), and his books find new readers despite his being dead for two decades. The fact that a wide-ranged small press industry in America still thrives owes something of a debt to Bukowski, whose worldwide fame grew steadily from it.
So now that I’ve finally sobered up from celebrating this glorious day (not to mention missing my original deadline in the process), it’s time to answer the question W. W. B. D. (What Would Bukowski Do). A Drinkable Feast answers by once again cracking a local craft beer, grabbing some food truck fare and pairing both with a fine book—making for yet another afternoon of high (or is it low) skid row culture.
When asked if he hated people, Bukowski replied, “I don't hate people. I just feel better when they aren't around.” So in the spirit of that, to celebrate we’ll take a growler of Il Vicino pigtail pilsner and get ourselves back home behind locked doors, far from the maddening crowd. The quintessential Albuquerque summer beer—pigtail pilsner is a cool, clean, bright sup, one perfectly paired with spicy or acidic fare. The caramel color and effervescent burst of hops stay light, quaff after quaff. Like Bukowski, it’s every bit American while definitely finding its roots in Central Europe.
When asked if he hated people, Bukowski replied, “I don't hate people. I just feel better when they aren't around.” So in the spirit of that, to celebrate we’ll take a growler of Il Vicino pigtail pilsner and get ourselves back home behind locked doors.
Seems that these days the internet loves to misattribute quotes to famous people. With Bukowski it's, "Find what you love, and let it kill you." He didn't say that (best evidence suggests it was actually Kinky Friedman, kids). One correctly attributed, though, is "Great art is horseshit. Buy tacos." He didn't say that either, but he did at least write it. It’s from a poem titled "Artist," and in it the titular "artist" scribbles "Grate art is Horseshit, buy tacos" on a painting he's dashed off and sold to a sucker. So, semantics aside, it's “grate” advice—and we'll do just that. We’ll take a grip of tacos from Soo Bak: a pork, a beef and a mushroom, with extra jalapeño—because, c’mon. Simply put, all three crush it. The pork is peppery, the beef juicy and tender, and the mushrooms burst with velvety yumminess. The perfect balance of spicy finished with cool, fresh lettuce and condiments—light cream and/or sriracha in most cases—wrapped in an oil-soft corn tortilla. Eat them once, and you’re on the hook, jonesing for the chance to get them again.
While any of the books published before his death in 1994 are terrific (Bukowski scholars know that a clear controversy surrounds the slapdash editing of his posthumous work compared against the original typed manuscripts), the crowning poetic achievement in his early oeuvre is Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, a singular masterpiece as uniquely American as Leaves of Grass. The poems run the gamut from heartbroken to happy, lusty to cold, with stops at drunken, joyous, hilarious madness and haunted disillusionment with an ugly world. Bukowski’s ever-human eye entertains and illuminates. Academia has been reluctant to include Bukowski in the canon—in fact, it may well have intentionally ignored him—but his popularity worldwide and his ever-growing legion of fans refuse to keep him from the conversation.
Also: Any press with the guts and gamble to offer me a similar, quit-