John Martin letter to Bukowski (1 Viewer)

mjp

Founding member
I don't like John Martin. I find he falls short in what it takes to be a good human or a good Christian Scientist (though admittedly I don't know what a good Christian Scientist would look like), so I understand that my view of anything having to do with him is hopelessly skewed.

So you tell me, is this one of the most condescending and insulting letters you've ever read, or am I imagining things? I think we've all seen condescension from Martin to Bukowski many, many times, but I've never read a sustained barrage of smiling contempt like this before.

I won't point out the many specific parts that I find ridiculous, because I could be making something where there is nothing (and because it's more or less every word of the letter). But if I got a letter like this from a publisher who called me friend, I'd question whether he knew what that meant.

It sounds like a memo from a boss to an employee, not a conversation between equals. A boss who layers on the passive-aggressive insults and meanwhile believes that all of his employees love him him because he's "cool" and "generous."

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To me, it sounds like a nervous response from someone afraid of losing their meal-ticket. The missing piece is the correspondence from Buk that prompted it. Martin seems less passive aggressive and more worried. That's how I read it. Badly written letter either way.
 

Johannes

Founding member
To me it sounds kind of stiff and awkward, like Martin has good intentions about calming the worries Bukowski issued and he (Martin) wants to communicate in the sort of direct Bukowski-fashion back and also throw some humor in but it comes across all clumsily like a big oaf. (To be fair, matching Bukowski as a correspondent in this is like jumping in the ring with a young Tyson and trying to get a punch in, for EVERYBODY, let alone the famous hip and groovy Christian Scientist).

It's definitely someone trying to sound "cool" and failing, but I don't read it as Martin talking down to Bukowski like, let the BOSS calm your little worries now, stupid. More like trying to talk hip but never getting past the stick up your ass.

What Bukowski cared most about this letter tho was probably the check with it, I'd guess :wb:
 

mjp

Founding member
Well then, see, maybe I am crazy.
The missing piece is the correspondence from Buk that prompted it.
It would seem to be a response to a complaint letter, since it starts with "Times are tough?" Then a first paragraph that basically says, stop complaining and just be grateful (to ME) that you're not stuck at the post office anymore.

Then a paragraph that says the first 9 chapters he submitted for Factotum are no good (which was certainly possible, though 9 chapters that are all bad seems unlikely), followed by writing advice from an office supply salesman. "SOME writers work on a novel for a year!" Really? You're kidding, John! Golly, thanks for telling me, I would have never known what writers do.

Then a line exclaiming what a great life he has, comparing it to Van Gogh's life of misery, suffering and poverty that ended in suicide. That one is a gem. If it was meant as a joke, it's a tone-deaf response to someone who is complaining about times being hard.

And in the ultimate boss/employee move, here's your check, a few days before I was obligated to give it to you, and remember, it's hard for me to do this, because it's not like I'm rich over here.

Anyway, all of that is fine if we're talking about a working relationship that is strictly a working relationship. "Hey, my boss is a dick, just like all bosses." But Martin clearly considered Bukowski to be his friend, and he (and Bukowski) often spoke of themselves being a "team." The tone of this letter - and many letters he wrote to Bukowski after he became the publisher - is not that of a friend or teammate. Unless he meant to be a really shitty friend or teammate.
 
That's it. It was un-equal relationship. You just know that Martin felt Bukowski was his savage, his success solely due to his largesse. I think he actually came to detest Bukowski, detest his poetry and couldn't wait to fuck him over. I personally think Buk at a certain point came to detest him, he certainly never truly trusted him. They paid a lot of lip-service to their Marvel origin mythology, but at the end of the day, I really think they profoundly disliked each other.
Just my opinion, but that letter seems written by a frightened guy trying to play tough.
 
I am overdue for a lense prescription, so perhaps I am too near-sighted here, but as for the first paragraph, I would love a letter right now telling me money's on the way.

As for the rest, it's hard to judge because we lack the rest of the correspondence. It does seem condescending, but to me, without mjp's introduction, I would have thought it was just banter.

Just a half penny from someone who started reading Bukowski a few years ago.
 

mjp

Founding member
Like I said, maybe I'm crazy. As far as this particular letter is concerned.

I'm not crazy to say there was often condescension from Martin. That's undeniable, and Bukowski talked about it himself.

I guess I just find Martin's attitude a little galling, considering it wasn't Black Sparrow money that allowed Bukowski to buy a house and new cars, it was royalties from other sources. The Black Sparrow money didn't arrive in (relatively*) significant amounts until the end of Bukowski's life. I'm not saying Bukowski didn't make any money from Black Sparrow royalties, just that it wasn't enough on its own to get him out of East Hollywood.


*I say "relatively" because even though his monthly income from Black Sparrow Press had increased to $7,000 ($12,000 in today's dollars) by 1992, many San Pedro longshoremen, Bukowski's neighbors, earned more than that.
 

PhillyDave

“The essential doesn't change.” Beckett
God damn, what a tough letter to read. What a shit Martin is. Ugh. Buk just wanted to drink, write, and live. What crappy advice. Tch tch? Bitch please. And that jokiness? So stiff and false.
 
I agree it reads badly - patronising and awkward. I wouldn't be pleased to get a letter like that. I feel sorry both buk getting a condescending letter like that and for martin misjudging his tone and approach so badly. Fascinating to read. Thanks for posting, mjp! Where is the original?
 
It is difficult to read a letter from J.M. without having in mind what he did after Bukowski died. We are talking about a man who didn't give a shit about the original voice of a great writer and who fucked up 25% - 35% of Bukowski's ever published poetry. Maybe even more.

Martin was always replaceable, and he was lucky that B. didn't replace him by another publisher. Nine out of ten writers would have split up with him, especially after the Women incident in 1979. Bukowski didn't need Martin, but Martin needed Bukowski. Obviously J.M. wasn't aware of that.
 
I guess I just find Martin's attitude a little galling, considering it wasn't Black Sparrow money that allowed Bukowski to buy a house and new cars, it was royalties from other sources. The Black Sparrow money didn't arrive in (relatively*) significant amounts until the end of Bukowski's life. I'm not saying Bukowski didn't make any money from Black Sparrow royalties, just that it wasn't enough on its own to get him out of East Hollywood.
Thank you for the context, especially concerning royalties. I've read the posts about the Martinization of Bukowski's poetry and the incident about Women, but when this letter is viewed by itself without that frame around it, it is hard to tell whether the letter is just friendly banter or condescending bullshit. It can be read both ways if you don't really know Buk, about whom I'm still learning much. Martin seems like even more of a jackass now that I see the bigger picture.
 

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