Where does Bukowski stand among 20th century writers? (1 Viewer)

Not open for further replies.
This argument is hotting up. I like David's Harold Bloom argument. O'Malley's open wound bit points to a good reason why he doesn't tend to turn up on university literature courses. I put bukowski into Google to get here and found this call for a reappraisal of him as poet:


I read this ages ago and forgot. OK. This is how I feel. He is a poet. He did redefine poetry. (This article must've helped validate how I feel. Pathetic but there you go.) It points out Hot Water Music as a decent short story collection too. I've overlooked that one.

Sorry, David, your latest reply has turned up while I was putting my thoughts together here. Great stuff! Especially the news - news to out-of-touch me - about the anthology appearances etc. I know plenty of people won't give a crap whether Bukowski gains acceptance from any kind of establishment point of view, but it gets on my nerves that he's so often left out. The canon is always in flux too, you're right, and it has more to do to make amends for its skewed perspective. (Is it just me, or is Raymond Carver's reputation slipping? That's a shame if so. The extent of his editor's influence is a shock, though.)

It's busy here now! jordan, the academic community can literally critique a corn flakes box. They'll have no problem with Bukowski.

I keep trying to think of "the greatest writer" now. Impossible game. The closest I can get is greatest writers, plural. You need more than one, and even then the word "greatest" doesn't sit nearly as well as "favourite". I get the idea I'm the only one who's going to waste a minute's thought on this.
MJP -- I am very sure of my last statement, it's a rhetorical question.
Huh - and here I thought that a sentence couldn't be both a statement and a question. I'll be darned! I'm uneducated though, so I had to look it up on wikipedia.

It's busy here now!
Yes, it's a thrill a minute, isn't it? (An example of a rhetorical question, for those unclear on the concept.)

For everyone who finds this sort of spiral of nothingness engrossing, may you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung. That is my sincere wish for your continued happiness.

I love you all.
...spiral of nothingness...

wasn't that Trent Reznor's first band? or Stiv Bator's after Lords of the New Church? all this misuse of the rhetorical has me confused...

that and Robbie changing his argument with every subsequent post but telling us he's maintaining his original position. "Bukowski is a poet that doesn't write poetry, but he's a poet not like Pound or Thomas, but a poet nonetheless that doesn't really write poetry. have you seen my canon? that's a statement, not a rhetorical question, unless you meant my aphorism, which is not limp."
I know you countered it with love, but "spiral of nothingness" is a bit tough. It might all be obvious and/or by-the-by to most, but it's helped me, particularly David's stuff. Those posts must at least be of interest to some others too. I apologise if I've barged in in the wrong way. I read this thread a while ago and it's been on my mind. I know it's a forum so it's the law to be touchy, but I just can't be bothered: when I said "it's busy here now", it really was busy relatively and it was just my way of saying I was having trouble keeping up. I'm a slow writer (yet another reason to envy Bukowski) and three new comments appeared while I was about to post.

I've just followed your "Wikipedia" link. Alright, that's spot on. I'm new here, but I have occasionally met that sort in real life. I flatter myself that I just sound odd rather than like one of those. (I'm not the right age, in the right profession and I'm from utterly the wrong background to be one of those. OK, yeah, in many ways I am, rather than just sound, odd.)

PS Hello and don't worry, you won't even have to ban me for endless rambles: this amount of activity will be unusual behaviour for me.
OK, it took me at least 21 minutes to write my last post. I know this because in the meantime another one popped up. OK, I'm slow. It was meant as a reply to mjp.
I've just followed your "Wikipedia" link.
It wasn't directed at you.

And the spiral of nothingness has nothing to do with any of this being obvious or anything else, it has to do with me being bored by "intellectual discourse." That's my shortcoming, not yours. So don't sweat the small stuff. As the kids say.
His worst writing was his short stories, I'd say. Too often not successful as short stories or anything else.

That's interesting, because I've often read articles where they say he was better at writing short stories than writing novels and poems. Not that is necessarily true, of course.
Last edited by a moderator:
It wasn't directed at you.

Oh right yeah!

That's interesting, because I've often read articles where they say he was better at writing short stories than writing novels and poems. Not that is necessarily true, of course.

Yeah, I suppose it's the way everybody knows it to be really: there is no consensus. As liberating as it is depressing. I've just decided to try to give up thinking in terms of "this doesn't work as a poem" or "this doesn't work as a short story". It's just whether I like it or not (which unfortunately probably is influenced by what I've been taught those things should be). Some of the general "rules" are that the short story develops out of character, the number of characters is few, the action takes place in a small number of scenes over a small amount of time and, most important, the writer shows rather than tells what happens (eg rather than write "Fred was angry with his wife", you write "Fred threw his wife out the window"). Tick all those boxes carefully enough and of course you end up with a shit story. Bukowski often seems to smash those kinds of rules, which is fine in theory. Getting the better of rules is what it's all about, beating them a sexy idea. I dunno, though. I'm more likely to go "oh" at the end of one of his stories and much more likely to go "wow" at the end of one of his poems no matter whether somebody else would call it a poem or not (I love many of the stories I've read, though). I'm about to order Hot Water Music, so I look forward to that.
Last edited by a moderator:
I think he's written some great short stories, but he's also written some not so great ones too, especially in the 'Erections..' collection (later published in two separate books). That might have to do with the fact that many of those stories where written right before deadline for the 'Open City' mag. Some of them are quite funny though.
I think there's also some good stories in 'Hot Water Music', and in 'South Of No North' too. The latter is probably my favorite collection.
I guess the hit and miss thing goes for his poems too, but how can it be otherwise considering the thousands of poems he wrote.
Last edited by a moderator:
Look what reading leads to. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, watch more TV. Reading Dante and Milton never got me laid. Fuck 'em. Reading Buk sort of cost me a girlfriend - fuck you PBA. And yet I may be better off in the long run. And I'm not sure what this random nonsense even means as it relates to this thread.
Of course, being a Buk fan makes me a bit biased..only time will tell where he ranks among 20th century writers...the fact that his prodigious output encompassed just about every literary and artistic medium including poems, stories, essays, letters, interviews, drawings, sketches, paintings, reviews (did I miss any?) augurs well on his behalf--considering --in my humble opinion--that he was proficient in all mediums. But to me his Short Stories and Poems (as a whole) are what will secure his continued high ranking among writers in the years to come.

[To John William Corrington]
February 14, 1961

Now, Bill, since we are discussing poetry and what makes it or doesn't make it [...] Mr. Vaughan and the class professors make much of the fact that PROSE IS CREEPING INTO POETRY! God damn it, here we work with our IMAGES and some guy comes along and says...all that matters is a red wheelbarrow in the back yard, gathering rain. [...] the prose statement in a poem seems to bother the editors ("This is excellent, but it is not a poem!") and it seems to bother the Vaughans and the professors. But I say, why not? What the hell's wrong with a 6 or 7 or 37 line long prose statement that is broken into the readable advantage and clearness of the poem-form? As long as it says what it must and says it as well or better than the mould and sound that says THIS IS A POEM, SO LISTEN TO ME. What's wrong with a 7 line short story or a 37 line novel which is placed within the poem-form, if this form makes it read better than it would if chunked together as a regular sentence or paragraph of regular English prose? Must we always DEFINE AND CLASSIFY what is done? Can't, for God's sake, can't ART be ART without a program and numbers?

... any more questions?
Last edited by a moderator:
MJP -- Just noticed your little wikipedia link there. I'm a sheet metal worker and I left school when I was 16. I thought we ere all having a pleasant discourse.It's a bit puerile and sad now to be honest. That's what fascists do: when they don't agree with something they put a label on it, propagandizing the whole thing so people perceive in terms of good and bad....in this case "professor" being "bad".

If you're still reading Bukowski in your 30s and you don't read it tongue in cheek, grow the fu*k up...
People were being a little too defensive, Robbie, but that's understandable. What you've just said is far too defensive, though. Imagine we were all in front of each other. People would disagree, but 77.2% chance we'd do it in a more friendly way. Bukowski was more layered than you give him credit for: he played with his image and it was often meant to be tongue-in-cheek, yes, but it was much more than that. His writing looks simple, but it's more than that. (Yep, just an opinion. I could have a go at trying to convince you, but it probably wouldn't work and it would probably bore you either way.)

I had a flick through Erections (funny phrase) after my last post on this thread. I can't say the stories I glanced over even seemed to break the "rules" that I mentioned, particularly hard. Some of the worst stories turn up in Erections though (funny phrase), I think Bukfan is right, also in that it's because they're rushed.
"...The Professor always fades away rather quickly."

that's my favorite part.
If you're still reading Bukowski in your 30s and you don't read it tongue in cheek, grow the fu*k up...

You appear to have a very low opinion of the literary worth of Bukowski's writing, and by extension a low opinion of those who do find value in it. Sheet metal workers can clearly peer down their noses as well as anyone.

There's no point to this discussion if you just want to tell us that Bukowski's writing is for teen-aged boys who want to drink and fuck - you're wasting your time.

Anyway, opinions are like arseholes they say.
I'm amazed that he held out so long before insulting Bukowski & most of his readers (unless they are under 30.) I'm also surprised that he waited so long to accuse this board of being Fascist. What number is this on the troll scale?

I think a lot of people here are one eyed and lost in the holy forest of Bukowski. In the standing of 20th century writers, I don't think he's in the top 100. To say he is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century is a nonsense. Anyone's who's well read will say this. I am saying he is a sort of rite of passage writer, an initiation type for those who are curious and serious readers.
I am not a snob, far from it, but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the opinions of university professors and literary critics -- this is their stock in trade after all. Bukosski was radically anti establishment and anti-life in many ways. This is ok for awhile when you are young, but as you get older you realize you can't hold this position.

Take a few modern writers: Coetzee, Rushdie, Ballard, Murakami, Banville -- these writers are ten times the writer Bukowski was. I can name a 100 others if you like...I am trying to sensibly redress the balance here, not start a flaming argument.
So you don't care at all for Bukowski's writing and have spent this much time and energy to say this on a Bukowski forum? I'll try to find a Danielle Steele forum for you so that you can tell them why you hate her writing too.

Again, not even original trolling. At least you should try to be original. Is this Marcos? Ha!
man, like who you like, forget the canon.

and if people think I'm an idiot for getting as much out of Bukowski as I do Beckett, or Proust as I do Hubert Selby Jr.? so be it, I'll survive. I get different things from these writers, but what I get from each is valuable to me and can't be ranked.
No, bospress, I never said I don't care at all for his writing (i wouldn't have joined this website if I didn't and I wouldn't have read most of his writing). If you read my earlier post you will see. Danielle Steele? The fact that u said that just negates any intentions you might of had for serious discussion mate...I never said I hated him btw.

This kind of black and white (if it's not one thing it must be the opposite) style of argument is for children.

(Well said btw hoochmonkey9)
If Bukowski is a sort of rite of passage writer to you though Robbie, an initiation type, why don't you leave him behind? I feel that way about certain writers. Some I've left behind completely and others I still have an affection for so I still have their work and I might revisit them, but I won't invest energy beyond that. I know others like them a great deal, and I certainly wouldn't invest energy trying to convince them to feel otherwise. You should get involved in discussions with groups who love Murakami or whomever (I love Murakami but not enough to join a discussion group). Any argument that could satisfy your point of view surely won't happen here. That's the conclusion I'd draw if I bothered to go on a forum for the appreciation of one of those writers I consider rites of passage.
Why would anyone read 30-40 books by an author they don't even rank among the top 100 of the 20th century? (if by "read most of his work" you mean that kind of figure)

Seems like a waste of time.

but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the opinions of university professors and literary critics -- this is their stock in trade after all.

Politics is the stock trade of politicians. That doesn't make them any more trustworthy.
This kind of man laughing in his bedroom must make the loneliest sound in the world. So that must be what a troll is. I suppose they can give you a chance to see how you feel about things. He had too many holes in his statements, though. (I imagine a broken man saying, "that was the point!" and then that loneliest laugh.) He also had too much American in that bad Irish lilt. (Again, "that was the point!" and the loneliest of laughs.)
Rayson, you give me the shivers..
"a broken man" -- are you high mate?
I was just thinking, if Bukowski grew up outside of dickhead american culture he probably would have been normal and not so depressed. But he grew up in the most superficial place on the planet, poor bastard.
I'll see if I can figure out how to PM you. I'm new and can hazard a pretty safe guess that nobody else will be bored enough for this.
Robbie, you have gone from a person who was willing to have a literary discussion to a twat.

well done being a twat.

I was willing to think you weren't a troll, but you have proved me wrong. well done on that, also.

goodnight and good luck...
Not open for further replies.

Users who are viewing this thread