Charles Bukowski's Posthumous Edits: As the Spirit Wanes, Shit Happens

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
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#3
yes, very cool! well done abel, you've got a voice and you're using it to defend our hero.

gives a shoutout to MJP as well.

everyone here championing the cause deserves one too. this is where it started.

i'm sure a mainstream publication will pick it up sooner or later and then it will really catch fire.
 

mjp

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#5
"a most pressing question: who made all those changes? [...] it’s a moot point now. Pointing fingers won’t change anything."

This probably won't come as a great shock to anyone, but I do not agree that it is a "moot point."
 

skiroomalum

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#6
Bone Palace Ballet was published two years before What Matters. And Betting was technically the first posthumous book published by Sparrow. I think...
 

cirerita

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#7
Yes, that's right.

"a most pressing question: who made all those changes? [...] it’s a moot point now. Pointing fingers won’t change anything."

This probably won't come as a great shock to anyone, but I do not agree that it is a "moot point."
Well, maybe I didn't use the right expression. What I mean is, restoring Bukowski's poetry is more important to me than finding/exposing the culprit. That's secondary to me. If you're going to restore Bukowski's poetry, knowing who made those changes won't affect the restoring process at all.

And there's a key question at play here, too. Can you prove Martin made all those major changes?
No, I don't think you can. As far as I know, no one can--except the culprit, that is. I can prove Bukowski didn't make most of them, but that's all I can prove with facts.
Now, if you can prove who made those changes, I'd be happy to rewrite that final paragraph to say Martin --or his secretary or a distant cousin or his mother-in-law-- did make those changes.

Funny thing is, I sent the piece to a few friends who are not that familiar with Bukowski, and they kind of said, "nice piece, but hey, isn't that Martin guy mad at you now?" And I said, "yes, I think so. But, listen, I never said he made those changes." And they said, "C'mon, man, you didn't say it, but it feels like you did."
 

mjp

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#8
And that's my problem with this and every other article written about this so far: all of the carefully qualified statements and insinuation.

It's worth noting that John Martin has never said he didn't make the changes. Whenever the issue is brought up, he goes into long explanations of how Bukowski worked, explanations that are usually contradictory, with ever changing details. But I haven't seen him flatly state that he didn't make the changes. Wouldn't a real editor readily admit to changes? Yet he admits nothing.

Have you ever been to jail? Did you know there's not a single guilty person in jail or in prison? It's incredible. Everyone there - every one of them - will tell you, and anyone else who will listen, that they are innocent. But those people are still in jail, despite of their "innocence." Because when someone robs a bank the police don't say, "Well, the money's gone, who cares who did it? It's a moot point." If there is such a thing as a "literary crime," John Martin's name should be near the top of the list of perpetrators.

It's unfortunate that no one is willing to "point the finger." The finger should be pointed directly at John Martin and it should stay pointed there forever, with a big, blood-red, blinking neon Pegasus above it to draw everyone's attention to it. Because the damage he did will be around forever, even if/when those collections are fixed. And that was his intention, that those changes be there forever. That's what he wanted. And they would be there forever if it weren't for the Internet.

I understand why you are concerned with "proof," you're an academic and you're trying to make a name for yourself. You can't just go around accusing people of things, even when you know those accusations are true. I get it. I don't like it, but I understand it.
 

cirerita

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#9
It's worth noting that John Martin has never said he didn't make the changes. Whenever the issue is brought up, he goes into long explanations of how Bukowski worked, explanations that are usually contradictory, with ever changing details. But I haven't seen him flatly state that he didn't make the changes. Wouldn't a real editor readily admit to changes? Yet he admits nothing.
I don't think that's entirely true, at least in my experience. I talked to him several times over the years, and I did ask him about the changes twice. Both times he said didn't make them, and he then said it was Bukowski himself who made those changes. He did admit to doing some "small editing," or something like that, can't recall the exact words now, but that was the extent of it.

I'm no longer an academic, I quit academia and their bullshit a couple of years ago. I'm doing something radically different now, and I couldn't care less about making a name for myself. But don't forget the country you live in: it's easy to be sued for the most innocuous thing. You can rant and vent in a blog, but if you write for a journal or a mainstream literary magazine, chances are they're going to be afraid of a libel claim, for instance. If you make a controversial statement, they're going to say, "that's nice, we like it, now, can you back it up with evidence?" If you have no evidence, then they will turn your piece down. As simple as that. Again, at least in my experience.

If you think I'm defending Martin, then you're dead wrong. But I won't accuse him --or anyone else-- until we find the right evidence to do so. Give me that evidence, and I won't hesitate to point as many fingers as necessary.
 

skiroomalum

Never been to Waffle House, never been to me...
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#10
The proof is in the goddam pudding,
that pudding being nearly every poem published after March 9th, 1994.
 

mjp

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#11
Both times he said didn't make them, and he then said it was Bukowski himself who made those changes.
In conversations with you, okay. All I can go by is what I've read, and what I've read is, as I mentioned, nebulous "explanations" of how Bukowski edited so much that you just never know what he really wrote. Why, it's an "impenetrable maze"! What a convenient wall to hide behind.
a mainstream literary magazine [...] they're going to be afraid of a libel claim...
Yes they are. Which is why I mentioned the Internet as being the only reason this is being publicly discussed at all.
If you think I'm defending Martin...
No, that's not what I think or what I meant to say, if I did. I know you're not.

Martin holds all the "evidence," because he holds the manuscripts that he altered. Unless he rewrote the poems as "new" manuscripts. But I don't think he's that smart. And I'm pretty sure he never thought this would catch up to him, since he couldn't have predicted all of this. So I have to believe that the manuscripts altered by his hand exist somewhere. Unless he's burned them all by now. But again, I don't think he's smart enough to do that. That's what you're talking about, right? Seeing the changes in Martin's handwriting? What other evidence could there possibly be?

If not Martin, then who? Who else could have done it (without Martin's knowledge, apparently, since he claims it wasn't him)? That's a rhetorical question, of course. No one else could have done it. If it wasn't Bukowski - and as you said in your article, it wasn't - there's only one other person in the world who could have done it.
 

Bukfan

"The law is wrong; I am right"
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#12
If there was such a thing as a literary court, I think Martin would be found guilty on circumstantial evidence alone, like people often are in real courts of law when the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming or beyond a reasonable doubt. I guess we will never know for sure if Martin is guilty of changing all those poems, but you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see he's a prime suspect.
 

cirerita

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#13
You guys are right, I'm just saying that if you ever try to publish what you say here in a mainstream periodical, you'll have to back up all your claims with hard evidence, otherwise they won't print shit.

And, yes, the evidence I'm talking about is seeing the changes in Martin's handwriting. I've seen the proofs for all the posthumous books, but there's not a single correction in Martin's handwriting. I've also seen a large collection of neatly typed up typescripts that Martin gave to Ecco when he sold BSP back in 2002. Many of them have been published, some remain unpublished. If you compare those typescripts against the genuine Bukowski manuscripts, you'll find the same change patterns discussed in my article or here. BUT, and that's a big but, those typescripts do not have a single correction in handwriting. If you were going to use them as evidence, Martin could easily say that those typescripts are faithful transcriptions of those manuscripts that Bukowski apparently reworked 4-5 years after he first wrote them. You know, the impenetrable maze story. So back to square one.

What I'm also saying--and this might seem secondary to you, but it is essential to me-- is that some of the changes that appear in the posthumous collections were made by Bukowski himself. I'm not talking about this:

B1.jpg


Or this:
B2.jpg

That's not Bukowski's voice, not by a longshot. I'd agree with you on this one.

But let's take a look at the following poem comparison--I would have liked to discuss this in the LARB article, but there was a word limit:
B3.jpg


Now, if the version on the right hand side had appeared in any of the posthumous collections edited by Martin, I wonder how many of you would have claimed it was another sacrilege by Martin. Because now you know it was Bukowski himself who rewrote the first version and sent the second version to a little magazine, you can argue the second version it's clearly by Bukowski, but if you didn't know that, then I'm positive a lot of people would have said it was another example of awful editing by Martin. Funnily enough, in a recent review of Storm, this poem was called a "drunken drivel." Maybe it is. But it's Bukowski's, not Martin's.

Again, I'm not defending Martin, but I'm not too happy when I see one of those snowball effects happening online. That is, anything that seems like a bad edit, it's always Martin's doing--take the recent discussion about the poem "this one poet," for instance. But if you take a look at the poems Bukowski wrote the very same day he wrote "this one poet," you'll be surprised to find many lines were very short and quite a few words were broken into two lines.

So yes, the large changes in the posthumous collections were not made by Bukowski, but some of what we could call minor changes were indeed made by Bukowski, whether we like them or not.
 

roni

Over 5000 posts
#14
It's worth noting that John Martin has never said he didn't make the changes.
when I exchanged emails with him long ago, he repeatedly statet, that it was Bukowski, who's made the changes in question by himself.

On Oct 24, 2011 John Martin said in an email to me:

These five poems you have sent me [he's referring to 5 examples of heavily edited poems, that I've been sending to him to make my point.] were written by Hank thirty or more years ago. Looking at them now, however, there is no question in my mind that Hank revised these five poems himself before sending them on to me.


On Nov 11, 2011 he wrote:

I will only add that any "substantial" change to any poem was certainly made by Hank.

Martin holds all the "evidence," because he holds the manuscripts that he altered. Unless he rewrote the poems as "new" manuscripts.
I'm pretty sure, that's exactly what happened.
Because in our conversation he always claimed, that Bukowski used to send him "clean" manuscripts, not handwritten corrections.

Of course we know, this is not true, as there are huge amounts of manuscripts from John-Martin-provenience, that do have Bukowski's handwritten corrections. I also talked to him about this issue.

My suspicion is, that we will find all these manuscripts in question neatly written on a computer, where simply everybody could have done them. So there's nothing to proof with those "manuscripts" being used for publication.

[edit: I just see, that cirerita has said exactly this only a few minutes before.]
 
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mjp

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#15
the large changes in the posthumous collections were not made by Bukowski, but some of what we could call minor changes were indeed made by Bukowski...
This has never been about any "minor changes." For me, anyway. It hasn't even been about the major changes to the novels and short stories. I don't care about that. To me the stories and novels are like broad brush storytelling, but a poem is a different animal. it's precision surgery, and if you fuck it up, the patient dies.

So it's not about the minor changes, it's about someone who doesn't understand a poem rewriting it to make sense to them, and in the process, destroying it. Explaining everything (often incorrectly) and dumbing everything down by sprinkling his creative writing class adjectives everywhere.

You're splitting hairs when you give an example like "kuv stuff" and say people would scream MARTIN! if they didn't know Bukowski changed the format. It's just a format change, the words are the same. And the words, of course, are where you easily catch Martin red-handed. The line breaks in "kuv stuff" are idiotic, just like they are in "this one poet." Bukowski was capable of being an idiot too. If that's your point, you've made it, but I think we already knew that. The words are the same though, and the words are all that matters.

The more people read about this, the more opinions you're going to hear. But you can't really blame people for yelling MARTIN! now, every time they see something that doesn't sit right with them. It's his tampering that's making them think everything is his fault, whether it's correct in a specific example or not. Anyway, when we're talking about the posthumous Black Sparrow collections, if you blame Martin 100% of the time, you'll usually be right.
 

cirerita

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#16
I think we pretty much agree on the large issues and we disagree on the minor stuff: the large changes are obviously way more important than the minor changes, but I wouldn't downplay those minor changes. Downplaying them kind of turns Bukowski into too perfect a God. And that's the problem with the online snowball effect: people won't admit to Bukowski making minor changes, much like they won't admit to Bukowski writing crappy poems. But he did, didn't he? And he jokingly boasted about it many, many times: writing tons of shit to get a few good poems. I don't think Bukowski was capable of being an idiot as a writer. He was smart, and he knew what he was doing. Take "the solar mass" in Storm. Is that being an idiot? Or is it a funny joke on academic writing?

So, yeah, the minor changes are really minor when compared to the awful editing of most posthumous poems, and that's why I mentioned them in passing only in the LARB piece. Still, I wouldn't downplay them.

Restoring the posthumous collections is what really matters here, I think we'd agree on that. Now, have you ever tried to find all the manuscripts or magazine appearances for any of the posthumous collections? Give it a shot sometime, just for the sake of fun. But don't be surprised if you can't find them all, which makes the restoring process next to impossible.
 

cirerita

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#19
hey i remember trying to transcribe that for you years ago. did you ever find a manuscript or anything to compare or verify?

i'm curious how close i was.
Yes, I did find two (almost identical) manuscript versions for this poem.
 
#20
Abel: have you been able to isolate manuscripts documenting—step by step—Buk’s editing process? for a dozen or more poems? A collection of manuscripts of this kind might not ever come to constitute “hard proof” or a “smoking gun” or a “gotcha’ fucker (Martin)” but it might help you to someday appease The Internet and its surly messenger and spokesperson, MJP.

Seriously, though: any ideas on how to further objectivize your critiques?
 
#21
Maybe I wasn’t clear enough with my previous post. You have a digitized Buk manuscript archive at your fingertips, Abel, which is great. But such a resource can surely be used for analysis of Buk’s editorial process, can it not? (Especially if a group of dated manuscripts for a dozen or more poems marked by Buk himself can be cobbled together)? I mean, isolating circumstantial evidence like the inclusion of dolphins, the usage of un-Buk-like words like “reluctant,” etc. is fantastic and makes me suspicious as hell, but it’s not enough to nail Martin before he passes away.

Further, if these criticisms never escape “the subjective realm,” Martin can continue to play dumb until he finally does die, which is concerning as all hell. (Hence my question on how you plan to further objectivize your critiques...)
 

mjp

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#22
There are hundreds of Bukowski manuscripts available with his edits written on them. I don't think showing an example - or 50 examples - of Bukowski changing a poem proves or disproves anything about Martin though, does it?

But what if I told you that it is highly unusual to see a Bukowski manuscript that he typed or hand edited that matches a suspected Martin change in the posthumous collections? Is that still subjective because there are one or two? Out of thousands of manuscripts?

If you believe what he says, only John Martin has seen those hundreds of manuscripts where Bukowski destroyed and misinterpreted his own poems. Yet somehow, among the many hundreds (thousands?) of manuscripts we have that came directly from the file cabinets at Black Sparrow, almost none of them contain Bukowski edits that are suspected of being Martin changes in the posthumous collections.

At what point does overwhelming evidence push something across the magic dividing line between subjective to objective? As Bukfan mentioned, there are plenty of people sitting in prisons right now with nothing but subjective evidence against them.

I understand that it will take some kind of written or typed "evidence" to convince some people of what Martin has done, and it would be lovely if somehow that proof existed, but in all likelihood it doesn't. And he's never going to admit to what he's done (despite the fact that any real editor certainly would stand behind the changes they made). So now what?

Anyway, this isn't a case being argued in a court of law or a theory being tested in a science laboratory, so iron-clad proof or evidence isn't required (in fact, only observation and half an eye for writing - or reading - is required). Only the current Bukowski publisher needs to be convinced that something is wrong with those posthumous collections, and I'm pretty sure that's already happened. They're well aware of it, anyway.
 
#23
I don't disagree with you MJP. I'd just like to salvage what can be salvaged with the tools that we have. (The royal "we," that is, here and below, as well.)

A group of dated manuscripts marked by Buk himself for many, different poems over long periods of time could serve as proof that Buk had an editorial style that was more or less consistent over the years. With this, we could start an analysis of the posthumous poems (the ones with corresponding manuscripts with a genuine Buk provenance) from a point of certainty and not suspicion. That's the key. That's how you deal with the so-called magic dividing line between the subjective and the objective.

And, yes, size matters: if--again--we had a sizeable number of poems (and also manuscripts related to them from varying stages of Buk's editorial process) we'd have a more solid idea of not only how Buk changed his work over time but also of the consistency with which he edited his own work. We'd have DATA that would allow us to add weight to what are now largely subjective arguments.

Now: do I know how to bring a measure of objectivity to something as nebulous as an editing style? Not really, but I'm hoping that Abel does.
 

zobraks

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#24
I'm a simple man: if I see a piece of brown matter that stinks, I'm pretty sure what it is and I don't need a chemical analysis to confirm my hunch.
 

David

Over 500 posts
#27
Also, to weigh in here, there is ample evidence that Martin substantially changed Bukowski's stories before they appeared in Black Sparrow collections: i.e. the originals appeared in the Los Angeles Free Press, Nola and Open City and the changes mirror the alterations made in the poems--i.e they are "cleaned up" of what Martin apparently thought was offensive "low class" language and subject matter. Also, there are arbitrary changes which also reflect the poem changes: changing names of characters, leaving out for no apparent reason important details, etc. I have done some work in this area, but there is much that needs still to be done--i.e. a line-by-line comparison of all the published stories though there is already plenty of "evidence" to "prove" editorial tampering. Again, my opinion is that Bukowski did not re-read the stories after they appeared in book form, and had he done so it is likely he would have noted the changes. Any examination of the stories as they appear in the newspapers would reveal they are virtually always better in terms of style and pace and energy than the published versions which often seem flat and dull in comparison.
 

Black Swan

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#28
it is not so much the word for word thing as much as the right word thing that means the right thing.
If you are getting smashed, you are not having a drink... ;))
 

cirerita

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#29
Seriously, though: any ideas on how to further objectivize your critiques?
What for?
Also, to weigh in here, there is ample evidence that Martin substantially changed Bukowski's stories .
So true. Check the stories in the girlie magazine versions against their version in Post Office. But in this case Bukowski did know about it, and he told people to read the mag versions instead of the book version. Remember, the original manuscript for Post Office was almost cut in half, and Bukowski didn't object to this.
 
#30
To Abel:

"What for?"

Is that really all you have to say for yourself? Why else are you doing what you're doing, then... to say that you once kicked up a big stink? Jesus...

You've got me, Abel, you tootsie roll, you. (Wait--that's unfair to zobraks because, well, the "brown matter that stinks" that s/he perceived wasn't necesarily smellable.)

Anyway: let me remind you that MJP called you out on a weak response earlier...

You said: "What I mean is, restoring Bukowski's poetry is more important to me than finding/exposing the culprit. That's secondary to me. If you're going to restore Bukowski's poetry, knowing who made those changes won't affect the restoring process at all.

And there's a key question at play here, too. Can you prove Martin made all those major changes?

No, I don't think you can. As far as I know, no one can--except the culprit, that is. I can prove Bukowski didn't make most of them, but that's all I can prove with facts.
Now, if you can prove who made those changes, I'd be happy to rewrite that final paragraph to say Martin --or his secretary or a distant cousin or his mother-in-law-- did make those changes."


Further objectivizing your critiques DOES matter, Abel.

Know who did it by PROVING it.

We know that it was done by Martin (or Buk in some cases), though all signs point to fucking Martin and Martin was Buk's fucking editor, for chrissakes. You prove Martin was the culprit, expose him, restore what you can based on edits or additions that are characteristic of Martin, and then do your best to reinstate what is left of Buk's legacy. You do so with objective proof, however it might be obtained (even if you believe you can't get it). Maybe, you use your slick database. Maybe you reach out to the Buk-loving community. Shit: maybe you even use AI. Regardless, it's better than the blueballs you insist on giving us...

Given what you have handy and the conections you have to people like David (thanks for your post) and others (thank you all), I can only feel disappointed at your lack of... You are pulling up lame, it seems, when you are needed most.

Nice headline/article, though.
 
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