Hello, again...

Actually, that "again" in the title is metaphoric. I haven't been here before (but haven't we all?), just that every Buk fan feels like he knows every other Buk fan. I think.

Just let me say "Bravo" to our founder MJP and all the great and hard work he's done exposing the chicanery of BSP/J.Martin. It's actually an amazing tale of American literary craziness and scandal. It should more widely be known by all literature lovers, notwithstanding their feelings about Buk.

I got turned on to him probably when I was 17, 18 and now I'm in my fifties (godang?!) It may have been Notes of A Dirty Old Man or Dancing In the Tournefortia--and I was hooked. Just ballsy and beautiful, gutsy and full of heart. As a writer myself what influenced me from Hank? His way with the line, the razor sharpness, the conciseness, the way his best poems are like movies in space and lift you off the ground. Or slug you in the gut--and then you say thank you.

I just found Abel Debritto's volumes, Essential Bukowski and Storm For the Living and Dead. Thank you Abel for all you've done for CB's legacy. I'm going through them now and it's been a while since I've really read his work. I just see the beauty, the grace, the pain, the struggle to be heard. And he was, boy was he heard.

When it comes to the Martin bowdlerization scandal I didn't know till later, maybe three years ago. But I recall picking up some of those books and feeling nonplussed--something definitely wasn't right--I chalked it up to greed and BS just putting out whatever scraps Buk left lying around in his ashtray. But it makes sense. One of the ironies I was contemplating tonight was that BS pushed Buk into the world, giving him the forum he might never have had (despite what MJP and others say) and then basically gutted his work later on. Strange. More than anything I'd say it was jealousy (and not just "prudery") that made him do that to his star writer. But who knows what would have happened without BS. He could have gone for years getting published by Graywolf, Copper Canyon, or whatever small press. His pals from New Orleans? The terrible irony is real and it is there.

One last idea(s): I think what led me to stop reading Buk for long periods is I started to see through the costume/mask and I got bored, frankly. My opinion--and I know many will oppose this--is that many of his books have TOO MANY poems in them. They just repeat and repeat--themes, ideas, even the same stories. The racetrack, the bars, the whores... Okay, got it. It's interesting that he was begging to have Martin put out more work but more of what? The same stories? How many more times did we need to hear about his writing development, getting rejected by magazines, living on skid row, his "women," etc. I mean it's interesting, even fascinating--for a while. But then, it flickers out. And there's a lot of this repetition in his work. So I pulled away. Got bored, basically. Also--and I know I'm going on, forgive me--we all know that much of his work turns on this personality thing--or "persona"--but the ego, after a while really overwhelms his work. Me, me, me. The myth of Bukowski, on and on. It's cloying and others have made such a critique--and it's a fair one.

Yet he's also great. His heights for me are Septuagenarian Stew and Betting On The Muse. (Thank god that one wasn't tampered with!!) I adore those books, filled both with verse and short fiction. Why do I like those? They're his most mature and his themes aren't so interlocked with his own mythologizing of "himself." He speaks more from/about his own real inner life. It's often breathtaking. And heartbreaking. That poem about the room where he recounts all the lonely people that slept there, the layers of gum stuck under the bed revealing their very lives and deaths. For me those two books have real treasures in them, the late Buk. Not that the earlier books don't. But I think a different editor could have helped. Not in the ugly and traitorous manner of unsanctioned revision; but someone who could have plucked out the needless repetitions. Doesn't ultimately matter. His best work will last.

Sorry this was so long.
 

mjp

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...is that many of his books have TOO MANY poems in them. They just repeat and repeat--themes, ideas, even the same stories.
Or you could look at it like, "Hmm, I'm in the mood for some Bukowski, and luckily I know exactly where to get it."

Saying there are too many poems in a poetry collection, or that an author's themes are repetitive is kind of like saying, "I like that Seinfeld show, but there are just too many episodes. It would have been better if it was only one season. I mean, come on, isn't it enough with George and Elaine and, oh god, that Kramer, already?"

It's worth remembering that most people don't sit down in a chair and read a book of poetry front to back, even poetry enthusiasts. So repetitiveness isn't usually an issue. I think kids, especially, pick up a poetry collection (if they can be convinced to pick one up in the first place) and read a few poems, put it down and go back to Facebook. Or consult it like a paperback of The I Ching that they bought at City Lights when they were on a San Francisco vacation with their parents.

Betting On The Muse. (Thank god that one wasn't tampered with!!)
It was. But it was the early stages of the tampering, so Martin's destructive talents weren't yet in their full bloom.

For me those two books have real treasures in them, the late Buk.
While it's obvious that some poems were written later in his life, you shouldn't assume that there isn't older work in all of the collections. "Older" could mean a lot older, or a few years older. The point being, everything in Septuagenarian Stew wasn't written between 1986 and 1990. You can apply that rule to just about all of the Black Sparrow collections.

And that date range, between You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense and Septuagenarian Stew is a good example of what Bukowski was talking about when he complained that Martin wasn't publishing often enough. Four years is a long time between poetry collections when your only profitable writer supplies you with enough material to publish collections more often.

To look at the actual numbers, between 1968 and 1980, Black Sparrow published six Bukowski poetry collections, 701 poems over 13 years. My calculator tells me that's 54 poems published per year. That time period covers the entire 1970s, when I think it's safe to say Bukowski was writing more than one poem a week.

Between 1980 and Bukowski's death in 1994, Black Sparrow published four Bukowski poetry collections - another 529 poems. That batch includes The Roominghouse Madrigals, all poems that were written before the first Black Sparrow collection, so they shouldn't even count in this calculation, but let's leave them in for the hell of it. So during that 15 year period, Black Sparrow published - on average - 35 poems a year in collections. Far fewer than the one per week that were published during the 70s.

How many Stephen King books were published during that time? I don't know, but it sure feels like it was way too many. I'd consider every one of them to be bad and repetitive, yet they kept publishing them and people kept buying them. I'm not comparing potential sales of poetry collections to whatever it is that King writes, I'm talking about the behavior of fans of a writer, and what they will buy.

The Notes of a Dirty Old Man columns were certainly repetitive, but they were published every week for nine years, and an argument could be made that those columns were what made Bukowski famous. They certainly sold books for Black Sparrow.

But, you know, when your main publisher is more accustomed to selling paperclips than books, it's hard to get them to think big. "We sold Acme a case of paperclips last year, they don't need more paperclips yet. Don't bother them!"

Point being, there's an argument to be made that if Martin could sell 5,000 or 8,000 or however many Bukowski poetry collections every 27 months (which is how often they were published, on average), he could sell the same number twice as often.

I think Martin had a thoroughbred that he had no idea what to do with. He had no experience with thoroughbreds. He kept running him on a muddy county fair track, telling the horse, "Stop complaining. You can't cut it on the big tracks. You should be grateful for where you are."


I know this response is probably longer than your post, but I've wanted to post that breakdown of the numbers for a while, so here it is.
 
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