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Remembering Bukowski with O.C.'s 'poet grandfather'

Lee Mallory of Newport Beach reflects on time spent with the revered L.A. poet.

February 16, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Poet Lee Mallory at Alta Coffee & Restaurant in Newport Beach.
Poet Lee Mallory at Alta Coffee & Restaurant in Newport… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

I am not a writer of prose. This is not an article, an anecdote or short story. It is simply the imperfect account of an evening from several points of view.

So begins the document that Lee Mallory has set in front of me at a cramped wooden table in the corner of Alta Coffee in Newport Beach.

By now, I've grown so accustomed to word processors and social media that the text — written on an old manual typewriter and photocopied for my use — looks like a carefully guarded antique. Which, in a way, it is.

The title reads "Bukowski — New Years Eve," and the first page, along with the 1972 copyright, declares that the text may not be used anywhere without the author's permission. Mallory has written that permission for me by hand in the margin. He is making his slow departure from Orange County's poetry scene, and as he prepares to retire to Las Vegas, he's called me here to Alta to pass on a memento that he's held onto for more than two decades of producing readings.

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That memento is a seven-page account of a New Year's Eve spent in 1971 at the Hollywood home of Charles Bukowski, the prolific poet and novelist whom Time magazine once dubbed a "laureate of American lowlife."

More than two decades before Bukowski's death in 1994, he and Mallory had a tight but volatile relationship. A friendship? With Bukowski, it was hard to say. But at very least, it was tight enough to have inspired this piece.

"Bukowski was the king of confrontation," Mallory says, a foot or two from the Balboa Peninsula coffeehouse's de facto stage area, where he has held court since the early 1990s. "He was skeptical and cynical about young poets in general. He characterized the adoring poets who came to his door as 'sharks,' but he more or less took me in."

On the table in front of us — which, at some point, probably supported Mallory's feet during an interpretive poetry dance — are scattered remnants of his days with Bukowski: old photographs, sketches, typewritten letters. Not all of them evoke nostalgia; the New Year's Eve account, at times, is a sobering reminder of Bukowski's temper.

Still, when I ask Mallory how he feels looking at these souvenirs, he pauses, then answers with one word:

"Wistful."

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