The senseless, tragic rape of Charles Bukowski’s ghost by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press

mjp

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#1
I've linked to the article in the title of this post (and its companion) in other threads, but I wanted to have a separate thread here to talk about the issue.

(Also, there is now a podcast that sums the issue up, if you'd rather listen than read.)

There are some good comments on those articles, including one very long response from someone who suggests that maybe it would be best to "delete this entire discussion from your blog."

It's curious that a lot of people who disagree with the facts regarding the of mangling of Bukowski's work would prefer that the subject not be discussed at all. I honestly don't understand that.

Side by side poem comparisons and dissection of Bukowski's work habits aside, this is an interesting issue because the most damning evidence isn't mechanical or technical, but literary. And as such, is open to interpretation.

One group who reads the altered poems next to their manuscript versions believes that they are worse, another claims not to see any difference (or that any difference all falls on Bukowski's shoulders).

To me, as someone who read virtually all of Bukowski's poetry before his death, I know that the posthumous collections do not have the same spirit and fire that the collections published during his lifetime have. I can point to words and lines and minutia, or I can tell you that for the most part I just feel it in my gut.

And I also know that it isn't because it's "second rate" Bukowski work. A reading of the manuscripts (or literary magazines of the 70s and 80s) suggests that yes, Bukowski's work was certainly uneven, but it's quite clear that it was consistently uneven throughout his career. He didn't become a worse poet as time went on. He was equally brilliant and shitty from day one.

Anyway, I thought a thread like this would be a good place to let everyone else get a word in edgewise, and try to centralize this scattered discussion.
 
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#2
First of all, thank you for shedding some light on this matter. Before reading your pieces, I certainly did not know that such an extreme editing had been done in the posthumous works. I imagine that a lot of newer Bukowski lovers will appreciate this knowledge along with me.

Although I am eternally grateful that Martin brought Bukowski into the light and supported him faithfully for all his life, Martin should by no means be excused for this violation of Bukowski's unholy spirit.

By the way:
Bukowski's work was certainly uneven, but it's quite clear that it was consistently uneven throughout his career. He didn't become a worse poet as time went on. He was equally brilliant and shitty from day one.
Well said.
 

Skygazer

And in the end...
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#3
Agreed, the fact that he persisted and succeeded on his own merit, with his work unadulterated and gained international recognition with it, all the posthumous tampering is obscene and unnecessary.
 

5:28am

Over 100 posts
#4
It's hard to believe that Bukowski would be responsible for the edits.

The edited text doesn't even sound like Bukowski. Nearly every line that's changed sounds wrong.
 

Joseph K

Over 100 posts
#5
I also read the articles and I think MJP has done some valuable work exposing the alterations, especially as these edits are never acknowledged publicly by in the new editions. Particularly good is the comparison between the original text and edited version, which shows to doubters exactly how drastic some of the edits have been.

It is incomprehensible that people want to suppress discussion of this issue. Even people who are grateful to Martin for publishing and supporting Buk (I count myself one of them) want to see these edits discussed in an honest and open way. I think the changes definitely diminish Bukowski. I hope that once this matter is fully exposed and documented there will be a comprehensive, original-text edition of Buk's best verse. (I don't think that means all his poems should be collected. There are some dull poems that simply repeat earlier, sharper pieces and the great poems is likely to get diluted by the weaker ones. I think the new edition should be texts of all the books and broadsides published during his lifetime plus a selection of better uncollected poems.)
 

PhillyDave

“The essential doesn't change.” Beckett
Over 1000 posts
#7
I'd rather read posthumous "unedited" material and be allowed to conclude how shitty the material may or may not be on my own. It's an insult to the reader to edit in such a manner and not say so out loud. It's like when Hendrix died and music of his with studio musicians added was released. Why? What the hell. Like Hendrix Buk was prolific and his legacy wasn't going to be wrecked because sub-par posey (according to Martin) would be published. And, and, and...as we have seen from the manuscripts, his poetry "unadulterated' was just like his other work- great, good, not so great. But at least it was his voice, not some contrived version of his voice.
 
#8
Pretty compelling stuff. Some questions, though: is there an archive of original manuscripts that can be consulted to confirm Martin's over-editing (i.e. changes that are not present in Buk's hand or in some other official and confirmable way)? Is there enough in the small magazines to nail him? Can Martin just play dumb forever?

Further, and on the other hand, is there substantive evidence of Buk editing, and altering radically his own work before John Martin became his editor? Here, one situation does come to mind: versions of "The Blackbirds Are Rough Today" vary significantly between "Poems Written Before Jumping... (1st Ed.)" and it's eventual republishing in "The Roominghouse Madrigals." I believe a whole stanza and possibly more were removed (the removed stanza contained the word ectoplasm, interestingly enough...). I know that this is only one instance, but if there are more instances like this--and they're timely--this thing might become an unresolvable mess...

After all, Roominghouse was published while Buk was alive and he provided a forward to it, as well. John Martin might have been involved at this later stage, but Buk was there to OK any changes JM might have made (if JM made them at all)...
 

mjp

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#9
The issue isn't that Bukowski's "holy and untouchable" work has been edited or some sort of claim that Martin had no right to edit. I've never suggested that and it's never been the point. Of course some of the work was edited, and of course the editor(s) did have the right (and responsibility) to do so.

The issue is that the edits were considerably fewer during Bukowski's lifetime. In relation to the posthumous collections you could even say they were rare. The problem with the posthumous collections is not only edits, but additions to the work, pedestrian additions that degrade it. And to a lesser - but equally incomprehensible - extent, the removal of many references to drinking, drugs and madness.

To answer your question re: archives and evidence, the links are all in the articles (and at the top of ever page of this forum). But really, the evidence is on the page and speaks for itself.
 

DavidK

Over 100 posts
#11
Couldn't agree more, well said mjp. I just got myself to read through some of the comparisons again, and I can't help but think WTF? each time I do. It's one thing to change a word or two, for whatever reason, but to completely distort the essence, meaning, bottom line and/or punch line of a poem, any poem, by anyone but the author is unacceptable. Some of those altered poems make for awful reads.
 

Pogue Mahone

Officials say drugs may have played a part
Over 1000 posts
#13
MJP has mentioned the whole Women debacle a few times. For the folks who are not familiar with the story, I think it’s worth reading this letter from Buk to Gerald Locklin. You can read Buk’s own words about how badly he felt Martin screwed up his writing in the first edition of the novel. His letters to Martin himself are very cold for a while during this period.

It is interesting that Martin actually published this letter years later in Living on Luck, but maybe Cooney forced the issue. You know there had to be more of these letters as well that didn't make the book.

letter.jpg
 

Joseph K

Over 100 posts
#14
Is there an archive of original manuscripts that can be consulted to confirm Martin's over-editing (i.e. changes that are not present in Buk's hand or in some other official and confirmable way)? Is there enough in the small magazines to nail him?
Others would know more than me but I think there are many sources published before 1994 that differ from the Martinized versions, mainly in periodicals. Wasn't aware that Martin altered something that had already been collected into a volume. Well spotted.
 
#15
There are some good comments on those articles, including one very long response from someone who suggests that maybe it would be best to "delete this entire discussion from your blog."
To the contrary - this needs to be brought into the light of day! I'm embarrassed to admit that I was completely clueless about this, and I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable Bukowski reader. Without your beam of light, MJP, I may well have remained in the dark.

It's hard to believe that Bukowski would be responsible for the edits.

The edited text doesn't even sound like Bukowski. Nearly every line that's changed sounds wrong.
That's exactly the feeling I get when I read the above cited Locklin letter. That letter is the most damning piece of evidence in this whole morass (at least the most damning that I am aware of). "Retorted?????" That does not feel at ALL like Bukowski. Of course, it is possible that someone else - other than John Martin - did the "editing" work. But whatever made the final cut - that text must certainly have been read (and approved) by John Martin. I simply cannot imagine any publisher doing otherwise. And - while Bukowski's style may have evolved somewhat over time, there is a certain edginess - grittiness - that is missing in much of the posthumously published work. One would hope that John Martin himself would provide an explanation, one fine day.
 

Bukfan

"The law is wrong; I am right"
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#16
One would hope that John Martin himself would provide an explanation, one fine day.
That would be great! I can imagine what would happen if John Martin said all the posthumous books have been heavily edited. Ecco would be pretty upset if their business partner and editor, John Martin, would say such a thing and thereby discredit not only himself but Ecco too, not to mention the negative impact it would have on the future sales of the posthumous editions.
When it's a matter of truth contra money, I'm afraid money wins, but we might stand a chance if we keep forcing the issue. If only some of the papers and mags on the net would write about it and ask John Martin and Ecco for comments then maybe we would find out what actually happened. At least it would make the general public aware of the editings.
 
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mjp

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#17
One would hope that John Martin himself would provide an explanation, one fine day.
He has. He says he didn't change anything.

Which is why anyone waiting for Martin to make some proclamation that will explain everything is in for a long wait.
 

mjp

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#18
Here's something interesting.

The poet Mark Terrill (who Bill has published) is commenting on this article, saying that once when he was at Black Sparrow Martin showed him "hundreds" of very heavily hand edited Bukowski manuscripts, with the edits done in Bukowski's hand. Entire file cabinets full of them, apparently.

But when a researcher here on the site asked Martin a series of questions about the changes, one of the things Martin said was, “When Hank would revise his poems, he would retype them, not simply correct them by hand, before sending them to me. I have no idea what he did with any hand-corrected typescripts (assuming he did correct some by hand).

Now that means either Terrill or Martin is mistaken. If we assume that Mr Terrill is correct, and that he can indeed identify Bukowski's "hand," that would seem to indicate that Martin worked from hand revised (by Bukowski) manuscripts. But one of the problems with that is Martin saying he don't know nothin' 'bout no hand revised manuscripts.

Which would suggest what?

Maybe it would suggest that if Terrill saw "hundreds" of heavily hand-revised manuscripts, perhaps those revisions were not in "Bukowski's hand."

Which would also explain Martin saying that Bukowski "would retype them," because such an assertion sets the stage for the presentation of a bunch of typed manuscripts that could have been re-typed after they were altered by someone other than Bukowski.

We've seen some pretty extensive hand-revisions by Bukowski, but it would be a stretch to say such extensive hand revisions were common. They were not. And I think it's stretch to assume that Bukowski would send them off to Martin that way.

So I think what Terrill was looking at were hand-revisions by someone other than Bukowski. I don't see another explanation that makes any sense considering what we know. Which would mean he's making our case and blowing up his own.

Just saying.
 
#20
Yes, I agree. We need some transparency here. And, sadly, I suspect that MJP is right when he predicts that we're in for a long wait. If John Martin and/or Mr. Terrill really want to clear the air and set the record straight, that would be one way to do it. Bukowski's handwriting has a distinctive style. If indeed there is hand-corrected mss, it has to be in somebody's file cabinet somewhere. Nobody would want to discard ANYthing original by Bukowski, if only for reasons of money. Same applies to any original typescript, assuming it was done on Bukowski's typewriter. Of course in the later years, he did have his Mac computer...In any event, it does seem that something is, indeed, rotten in Denmark (to borrow from ol' Shakey). Alas...
 

Joseph K

Over 100 posts
#21
Here's a poser for you: Does anyone know of anomalous changes to the work of other BSP authors? Evidently Martin was keen to intervene all the way back in 1978 (see the Women discussion) so can anyone familiar with the BSP catalogue think of writing by other writers that might have been edited by Martin without consent (esp. posthumously)? We are looking at this as Buk enthusiasts but this may be a wider issue with other writers published by Martin. Evidence shows he intervened to "clean up" writing from a moral viewpoint (sex, profanity. drinking, madness) and stylistic point of view. Can anyone else think of other BSP writers who might have fallen foul of Martin's roving blue pencil?
 
#22
We need some transparency here. And, sadly, I suspect that MJP is right when he predicts that we're in for a long wait. If John Martin and/or Mr. Terrill really want to clear the air and set the record straight, that would be one way to do it. Bukowski's handwriting has a distinctive style. If indeed there is hand-corrected mss, it has to be in somebody's file cabinet somewhere.
If only some of the papers and mags on the net would write about it and ask John Martin and Ecco for comments then maybe we would find out what actually happened. At least it would make the general public aware of the editings.
Yeah, this thing would be a walk in the park if Buk did all or most of his editing by hand...

Anyway, in any case:

If there were access to these manuscripts (if they do exist and can be located), "we" could crowd source e-copies of them and begin to make sense of all this. Unfortunately, the nature of commerce and copyright would probably rule out a project like this, even if the project were a purely "scholastic/academic" activity... Also: a project of this nature--crowdsourced or not--would be a shitload of work. In situations where we didn't have the watermark of Buk's hand to help out, we'd have to know what we were looking for with a high level of precision, develop a systematic approach to the research, know that Buk wasn't responsible for any "pedestrian additions," and establish that there are definite and telling characteristics of an overbearing Martin insert or deletion. Oh yeah; and we'd also have to analyze thousands of poems and their counterparts from different stages of the editorial process (after we'd magically somehow procured them).

As for a resolution, I find it very encouraging to have a precedent to work from. The case of JM's mishandling of Women and the subsequent restoration of that text is a perfect example of what, in an ideal world, could be done to restore the posthumous editions. It's just sucks that Buk is now dead.

Shit, now that I think of it, the case of Women could also help to isolate some of JM's editorial ticks. (Some examples of these have been compiled by MJP in this forum.)

MJP: How long have you been chewing on this? If so, how did you plan to get to the bottom of this? What would a satisfactory resolution to this situation look like to you? Also: I know that you have contacts with academics who study Buk (Calonne, and so on)--had you planned to hand this over to them for in-depth research, maybe?

Oh, and I mean the royal "we."
 

mjp

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#24
What roni said.

As for a "satisfactory resolution," I think that should be obvious. I don't think it will happen at HarperCollins/Ecco because there's no financial incentive for them to restore the work.

How do I plan to get to the bottom of it? I don't. The bottom is on full view to anyone who cares to look. I don't need in-depth academic research to reinforce or prove to me what I already know. I understand that a lot of people do. I suggest that you ask them what they are going to do about it.

But I don't believe that those kinds of people will even begin to openly discuss the issue during Mr. Martin's lifetime. There's too much fear/adoration surrounding him. He needs to be in the rear view mirror, so to speak, for some time before those who lionize him will ever come to grips with what's happened. Maybe they all have to die too. Maybe it will take a new, detached generation to set things straight.

In short, I don't expect to see any resolution during my life.

Regarding other Black Sparrow writers, and what might have been done to their work, I couldn't care less. What Martin did (or allowed to happen) doesn't concern me anymore. It's there. It's done. Spilled milk and all that. Honestly, Black Sparrow Press is nothing more than a cruel joke to me now, which is unfortunate I suppose, considering some of the good things that he did. But Martin ruined that legacy, I didn't.

The integrity of Bukowski's work is the issue, and as I said, I don't think that can be pursued until Martin is out of the picture.
 
#25
What roni said.

As for a "satisfactory resolution," I think that should be obvious. I don't think it will happen at HarperCollins/Ecco because there's no financial incentive for them to restore the work.

How do I plan to get to the bottom of it? I don't. The bottom is on full view to anyone who cares to look. I don't need in-depth academic research to reinforce or prove to me what I already know. I understand that a lot of people do. I suggest that you ask them what they are going to do about it.
You don't expect a resolution? What are you doing then by raising awareness of this issue? Maybe you're just venting, but your approach to venting seems systematic and thorough, though it might fall short of so-called "in-depth academic research." In fact, outside of you (on your website and on this forum) I can find no one else documenting well JM's editorial failures, instances of his overreaching, etc.

If you were only trying to get people's attention, great. But there seems to be more here and a need for a resolution, too, even if there's no financial incentive to restore the work. I mean, you said it yourself: "[t]he integrity of Bukowski's work is the issue."

Maybe turning this over to people inclined to doing research of this sort was your aim all along. If so, great. I mean, if quality evidence stemming from research of this sort is published and makes a stink, Bukowski's legacy can only be enhanced. Shit; what's there to lose?

Oh: and what should grasshopper wait for? Are we talking about "Abel's book" or Abel's living bibliography?
 

roni

Over 5000 posts
#26
and what should grasshopper wait for? Are we talking about "Abel's ...
sorry if I sounded uppish. I forgot to use my 'wink'-smilie. No, we're Not talking about Abel, whose book has a totally different subject.

Just wanted to inform you, that the "academics" you've mentioned are already aware and have been for a long time and did do some "in-depth-research".

How would "the academics" know and how would I know, that some of them are working on the issue? There are other ways to communicate than only through a public forum. Maybe the academics already discussed it aside from the surface, researched it, have papers in the making...

that's the longer version for my maybe cryptic one-line-punch.
a commentary section to this one may take a few pages.
 
#27
Just wanted to inform you, that the "academics" you've mentioned are already aware and have been for a long time and did do some "in-depth-research".

There are other ways to communicate than only through a public forum. Maybe the academics already discussed it aside from the surface, researched it, have papers in the making...
I await a commentary like that here, even though I understand that its unfolding outside of a public forum might be necessary for now. Just as long as this lack of transparency isn't cultish and yields something worthwhile in the near future, that is.

Anyway, in-depth might be put into quotes here and there on this thread, but all irony aside, in-depth research by an army of academics/nerds might be what is needed/called for. Buk might not have called in an army of this nature (nor would it have been necessary for him to do so), but, hey, it does appear that he worked with at least one seemingly reprehensible geek on his way to San Pedro.

Anyway: discussion "aside from the surface" is fine as long as it brings something to the surface in time. Also: I'm glad to be the grasshopper in this case, as it seems a movement I thought initiated with mjp a short time ago has had a life of its own for some time.

Isn't that called hope?
 

mjp

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#28
I can find no one else documenting well JM's editorial failures, instances of his overreaching, etc.
Which is why I wrote those articles. To provide a focal point for the scattered conversation here on the forums.

The academic side of it isn't of any interest to me. Academics will likely never bring any resolution to this, because style isn't easily measurable or quantifiable. People who think this issue is trivial, or worse, that it shouldn't be discussed, don't understand the extent of the damage because they don't understand Bukowski's work in the first place. What other possible explanation could there be?

You can ruin a Renoir or Picasso with a few stokes of a brush, but only people who have an aesthetic understanding of Renoir or Picasso would be able to see the real extent of the damage. Everyone else would just look at them and say, "Oh, hmm, well, that's not their best work, is it?"

Academic papers and studies appeal to other academics. Those kinds of things aren't going to force HarperCollins hand in the real world marketplace. And the last thing I have any interest in seeing as a "resolution" is a bunch of dry, footnoted texts discussing adverbs and editorial decision making. Those wouldn't do anything for the integrity of Bukowski's work outside of those small circles.

I honestly don't believe that anything can be done (on a large enough scale) to restore the integrity of Bukowski's posthumously published poetry. Those posthumous collections are out there, and in large numbers. New Bukowski readers pick them up every day and take them at face value.

So all of this may be just a lot of pissing into the wind.
 
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