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


“The essential doesn't change.” Beckett
for fuck's sake, why in the world do they (or he) need to dick with a man's life's work . . . ?
We've been scratching our collective heads about it for a long time...

Philly Dave is a rather good looking specimen.
Just because the pic of that handsome man is my avatar doesn't necessarily mean it's a picture of me. But it may be.


“The essential doesn't change.” Beckett
When married he did live in Chestnut Hill, the neighborhood next door, for a few years and we've never been seen together. Things that make you go hmmm.

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
someone outta put that guys feet to the coals and demand an explanation.

for the record i do not support violence or torture induced confession.


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The original article, The senseless, tragic rape of Charles Bukowski’s ghost by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press (which is almost four years old now), is still getting comments. Almost 50 comments on the article so far, which may not seem like a lot, but it is.

The majority of those comments are from people who are shocked to learn of the changes. Only a few from Martin's cadre of apologists (who either don't understand what was done, or choose to minimize the effect of the changes).

I should probably write a follow up talking about the books Abel has edited and left basically unmolested, since they weren't yet published when the original article was posted...
"Basically unmolested"...that's damning with faint praise. Another article I think is very necessary, I'm sure you
have plenty of time to write one:eek:


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"Basically unmolested"...that's damning with faint praise.
I only said that because he used some Black Sparrow versions where I was led to believe (or made up in my imagination) that he would be going back to earlier sources (where they were available).

I don't know what he's up to with the new one coming out in November, but I know that what he's given us so far is an improvement over Martin's posthumous shitshow. In a perfect world all of the new stuff would go back to manuscript versions or first small press appearances, but it's rarely a perfect world.


Founding member
...he used some Black Sparrow versions...
Well, I did that in VERY FEW CASES, and I would do it again. The BSP versions I used were from "early" BSP collections, when Bukowski was alive. I've never used a poem published in the posthumous collections, and I will never do it. Mark my words. When I was putting together OC, there was this poem I wanted to use but I only had the posthumous version, so I discarded it. At the very last minute, I found the mss for that poem in some library, and I was happy to use it in OC.

If in some cases I chose to use an early BSP version instead of an available earlier version --either a ms version or a magazine version-- it was because in those cases --and only in those very few cases-- the early BSP version was superior to the ms/mag version --at least to me: some ms/mag versions are way sloppier than the tighter early BSP versions. You may argue I'm wrong and that the ms/mag version is indeed superior to the early BSP version, and you may be right. It was a tough call sometimes --when you have 3 similar versions of the same poem, how do you pick the best one?-- but I feel I did a decent job with the material at hand.

As to Storm, all the poems are faithful reproductions of the original ms or the mag version. I guess some readers will eventually complain that I used the mag version when I should have used the ms version of a given poem, or that I used a sloppy ms version when I could have used the tighter, much-improved mag version. Hopefully, in a couple of cases, I'll use a facsimile of the ms version followed by the mag version.


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when you have 3 similar versions of the same poem, how do you pick the best one?
I suppose "best" is always in the eye of the beholder - and what's available. As editor it's your call to make.

In the comments of the article someone who claims to have worked for Black Sparrow in the 70s said, "when we received Bukowski’s mss. in the 70s, John wouldn’t let anyone do more than correct the spelling," so I suppose those 70s and 80s Black Sparrow versions are very close to Bukowski's intentions. But then there are examples of changes during that time that do not seem to be in line with those intentions, so we know Black Sparrow sometimes did more than correct spelling.

But "better" is always going to be subjective. What is "strong" or worthwhile is subjective. Whether "tighter" is better is subjective. It's art, after all, so everyone is going to have a different opinion on every piece. There are plenty of people in the world who believe that Bukowski never wrote a single poem that was strong or worthwhile. Imagine if you had to deal with them and their opinions. ;)

I wouldn't want your job, but it might be a good thing that your audience is nit-picking. It means they care about what you're doing. That what you're doing is important to them. And that's much better than silence and apathy. Look, we're all alive here together! What could be better?

I appreciate what you're doing, for what it's worth.


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Yeah, beauty lies is the eye of the beholder... when you edit a book, you just can't please everyone. It doesn't take long to realize that.

I love reactions. It's great to see whatever you do is met with both praise and criticism.

I know this is not a place where you come for backslapping, is it? But I can take a compliment when I see one, so thanks for the nice words.
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...when you edit a book, you just can't please everyone.
My take is that you please yourself in the context of having a strong sense of who the writer was. That way, you get as close to right as you can get. My sense is that Martin certainly did the former but didn't really possess the latter, despite what he may have thought about that. Good to have you driving the bus; looking forward to this one.
Pfft, angry isn't really the word. Just looking at these comparisons shows where the bastardised edits kill the spark of the originals. :(

Very informative posts though.

GDPR 9650


A few weeks ago, I started reading Bukowski. I love every bit of it, and quite frankly, I'm obsessed with him right now. A few hours ago, I got the information that, John Martin, fucked with a lot of his posthumous work, so, naturally, I'm questioning the fact that I might be reading something not so authentic. I haven't read his posthumous work, yet. All I've read so far has been Pulp and Notes of a Dirty Old Man. Both published by 'Ecco'. I guess my question is : Did they messed with his earlier publications, too ? Or it was just the posthumous works ?
Just to throw my hat into the ring, I've only recently started reading Bukowski (after somebody said my poetry is in a similar vein to Bukowski's poem) and the only book I've got so far is 'You Get So Alone..', which appears to be un-Martined. I was debating about 'Pleasures of the Damned', but I'm glad I didn't get if it's been bastardised.

Talking as someone who will eventually publish his poetry (hopefully in the near future), I personally disagree completely with any form of censorship and I'm glad somebody's pointed out that Martin's screwing about with what's essentially a dead man's voice (if you'll pardon the expression) and that somebody's trying to collect together the uncensored versions.
Would it be worth starting a thread to form a list of Bukowski's books that should be avoided(badly Martinized) against a list that is of authentic Bukowski work? Or is there a thread as such already? I'm new here
Edit: Just wanna say a big thanks to mjp for putting this all out there. I'll know now to be wary before throwing money at certain versions of Bukowski's works. Glad to have found this forum after being a fan a few years now.
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Much appreciated, happy to say I don't have any of the shit books and won't be buying them either.
My bad, solid advice that I'll adhere to.
I guess I am kinda late to the party on this one. I only have a couple of the "John Martin Fingered" editions, either gifted to me or stolen by me from libraries long gone and I always thought there was something a "bit iffy" about some of the prose, which I put down to dilution of talent or otherwise lazy laurel-resting shennanigans from Mr. B. Which still might be the case to a certain extent.......such a large, voluminous body of work is certain to contain filler; bloated, half-arsed dull could-have-been-betters etc.
But reading your comparisons on your blog actually made me curiously enraged: like diluted whisky, cheapened by water. The JM Fingered concoctions read like a Speak & Spell Ouija board: disjointed, foreign & of dubious validity. So I thank you sir for making this case against artist integrity & the shady, unpalatable stink of censorship masquerading as interpretation: "artistic licence" is a term that springs to mind here.

Good job, Columbo.


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Interesting comment on the original article today:

J.R. Helton
I could tell you some stories about that guy John Martin who basically just lucked into Bukowski and never even really got his writing as your article clearly reveals. I’ve heard from people that know Martin, two friends of his, that he proudly bragged about re writing some of Bukowski’s work. John Martin is the un named publisher in fact in the introduction written by Terry Zwigoff to the second edition of my book Below the Line. Robert Crumb painted the cover for that book just after he’d finished illustrating “The Captain is out to Lunch” in ‘97 for Black Sparrow. Crumb and I are now good friends and he has since then painted three more covers for my other published books and he is my biggest supporter. He knew Bukowski and Martin. Crumb and Zwigoff took Martin out to dinner and pushed him to publish Below the Line in ‘98 and he agreed. Then Martin called Crumb at Terry’s house in SF and chickened out the NEXT day saying he was very afraid Black Sparrow would get sued which Crumb wrote to me saying that was a horse shit cop out in a letter I still have (RC and I have about 400 pages of letters to each other now). Crumb took it to Ron Turner then at Last Gasp who republished it in 2000. Crumb and Terry also gave John Martin the manuscript to my auto bio novel/memoir “Finding the Cure for Cancer”. Martin then wrote to me and then he called me on the phone but we almost immediately got into a huge fight. He basically told me there was “too much drug use in the book” he said “especially cocaine.” I had to laugh and when I mentioned all the times the drug alcohol is in Bukowski’s books (and other drugs) the guy just started yelling at me that alcohol is a different drug (no shit) and flipped out. He also said though I was “great with dialogue, your tone is too harsh. Bukowski had more humor in his writing.” Again, I couldn’t believe the man who published Bukowski was saying these things and I tried to explain that there is actually a lot of humor in my stuff and that that is exactly why Robert Crumb thinks it’s so funny! So then Martin goes into a long tirade putting down Crumb and says “Let me tell you something about your new friend Crumb and what HE thinks is funny. I was driving in a car with Crumb one day…” and told me some long derogatory story about Robert I won’t repeat here. John Martin struck me as a completely phony nut. Martin must have felt guilty though because he then sent me a couple of huge boxes of Black Sparrow books, twice, with letters but I never wrote him back. And that book he rejected? It just got published this year by Liveright/ WW Norton under the new title “Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions.” So, fuck John Martin. Bukowski was always way too loyal to him. J.R. Helton. San Antonio, Texas 2018


"The law is wrong; I am right"
A very interesting comment indeed! More proof (or circumstantial evidence, if you like) that Martin did rewrite some of Buk's work. Of course, we have already been aware of it for some time, but still.


Founding member
The article gives you a list of what to avoid. In short, you might want to pass on these:

Bone Palace Ballet
What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire
Open All Night
The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps
Sifting Through The Madness For The Word, The Line, The Way
The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain
Slouching Toward Nirvana
Come On In!
The People Look Like Flowers At Last
The Continual Condition

Those titles may eventually be repaired and reissued, but for now, they are not so good.
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