Why "Ham On Rye"? (1 Viewer)

Charlie

Founding member
I don't understand the significance of the title. Maybe I just forgot the passage where its importance is explainined, but I just don't get it.
 

mjp

Founding member
It isn't explained in the book.

I always saw it as "ham," as in a showoff, on "rye," meaning rye whiskey. So, a ham on rye. But I've read other theories revolving around sandwiches. Didn't make as much sense to me, but what do I know.

I don't know if Bukowski ever gave a specific meaning to it.
 

cirerita

Founding member
when I interviewed Martin he explained that to me, even if I didn't ask him! he said there are 2 main meanings: that of a sandwhich you take to school when when you're a kid and something to do with -bad???- actors, but I can't recall that. I should take a look at the tape!
 

Johannes

Founding member
Isn't it in Sounes "Locked in the arms ..." that he explains the meaning as a) a reference to Salingers "Catcher in the Rye" and b) Bukowski as a child sticking between his parents like "ham on rye"??

If not, I've read this somewhere else. But I've read it.
 
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bmcg

Founding member
sandwiches

Martin explained the title as relating to the ?quintessential? American sandwich, ham on rye bread that I suppose a lot of kids in the time Bukowski was writing about in 'Ham on Rye' would have brought to school for lunch. He also explained it as a ham actor on rye whisky ? meaning an actor who is usually bad puts in a good performance when drunk ? not sure if this was something to do with Bukowski?s drinking, doubt it ? BBC doc.

Also read somewhere, but for the life of me cant remember where, that Bukowski stated that the title alludes to him being caught/trapped (sandwiched) between his parents ? Jesus, I have no idea where I read this, did someone else mention this on another thread?

Was writing this then saw Johannes post ? nice one, thought I was losing it ? I?ve definitely read the same.
 

cirerita

Founding member
that makes 4 meanings so far:

-sandwhich
-bad actor acting ok when drunk
-Salinger's book
-B sandwhiched between his parents
 

hank solo

Just practicin' steps and keepin' outta the fights
Moderator
Founding member
Makes me smile in Barfly when the fat guy in the Golden Horn says
Who the hell invented the sandwich? They should write a book about him.
 
In Ham on Rye, Bukowski squeezed all of the pretense out of his life. This pretense is the "ham". See Chapter 51 where Hank says that Becker claimed Thomas Wolfe as an influence but he didn't wail and ham it up. Referring to Becker's writing, Hank says that the emotion was there but it wasn't spelled out in neon. "Ham" is the neon (the pretense). The "ham" is a metaphor for pretense, and the "Rye" is simply bread, thus "Ham on Rye".
 
M

MULLINAX

Sounes over-interprets, like all too many Brits and people of education. (dodging thrown flasks of mead and ale)

A ham on rye sandwich is about the simplest thing an American can eat. Ditto Buk's writings are as simple as you get. Mothers in America make sandwiches for their kids to take to school, and a ham on rye is what kids would eat. By the way, it's a boring sandwich.

Many of the above explanations (except for mine) are overwrought and Bukowski would sneer and laugh at the mental gymnastics required. (dodging detritus thrown by everyone reading this).

I can't understand why Buk would praise Salinger's Caulfield. The Caulfield character is a punk who spends a worthless weekend in New York City, worrying about and looking at but not indulging in whores. A suburban nothing. Buk takes us into the upstairs room and tells us not not only how it looks and feels, but how it smells.

"Hamming it up" means to overdo something, especially in acting.

There is no relation between "hamming it up" and a "ham on rye". It's just a coincidence.

Back to our regular programming.
 
C

Composer

Kids take ham on rye sandwiches to school??? I hated rye bread as a kid, and so did everyone I knew. We liked regular white bread. That was thr 50's, but did tastes change that much?

I think it's possible the title means nothing, just sounded good. Maybe he was eating one when he was trying to think of a title, gave up and said, "FUck it! It's gonna be "Ham on Rye."
 
I think it means don't try.

hehe. or "Don't RYE".


have heared about that being sandwiched between his parets-claim too. Maybe he really once answered this when asked, but I can't see this in the book.

have also heared about the Salinger-reference. (and, though I can't understand it, he said some nice things about that book.) but why 'Ham on Rye' then? Why not 'Hunter in the Rye' or 'Catch me if you Rye' or 'Catcher in the Ham'?

Maybe it really means nothing, like composer said. (I remember that Shakespeare's Twelfth Night was first called 'What you will' and at school they told us, that was because he didn't have a title and when the printer asked him for one, that was his answer.)


Btw. have you ever realized, that while Buk had these tremendous titles for all his books of poetry and short-prose, when it comes to his novels, they never seem to be very elaborated or witty. (Post Office, Women, Hollywood, Pulp, even Factotum - on this one he said he had no idea for a title and just flipped through a dictionary to find one.) I think 'Ham on Rye' is by far the most POETIC title among his novels.
 

mjp

Founding member
Btw. have you ever realized, that while Buk had these tremendous titles for all his books of poetry and short-prose, when it comes to his novels, they never seem to be very elaborated or witty.
Good point. I would assume that was a conscious marketing decision, considering that Martin was of the opinion that novels, not poetry, are what make a writer well-known.

Can you imagine Post Office or Women being as well-known if they were named Dangling in the Tournefortia? (I can't even pronounce Tournefortia, but I consider it one of his best poetry collections).

I think you're on to something here, Roni.
 

1fsh2fsh

I think that I think too much
Founding member
Btw. have you ever realized, that while Buk had these tremendous titles for all his books of poetry and short-prose, when it comes to his novels, they never seem to be very elaborated or witty. (Post Office, Women, Hollywood, Pulp, even Factotum - on this one he said he had no idea for a title and just flipped through a dictionary to find one.) I think 'Ham on Rye' is by far the most POETIC title among his novels.

I'm pretty sure that I read in one of the books of letters, where Buk told someone that John Martin picked the names of his books of poetry. or maybe that Buk sent numerous suggestions.( this may have been the case with loujon too?) I think that Buk said that he really didn't care what they were named. I've also noticed that alot of the books seemed to be named the same as a line in one of the poems. this dosen't seem like something that Bukowski would do."I just write 'em and forget 'em" (or something like that) Didn't he just pretty much leave the promotions and marketing up tp J.M.?
 

Gerard K H Love

Appreciate your friends
I think it may have to do with Rye bread being quite a Jewish staple and Ham being not Kosher. Demonstrating the huge contrasts in his life and his up bringing. But what do I know, maybe it means you are what you eat.
 

mjp

Founding member
I'm pretty sure that I read in one of the books of letters, where Buk told someone that John Martin picked the names of his books of poetry. or maybe that Buk sent numerous suggestions.( this may have been the case with loujon too?)
He definitely named his early books. There are a lot of letters to the Webbs where he tosses out title possibilities for both books. He took It Catches My Heart In Its Hands from a Jeffers poem, and said he was sure he wanted to use it even if they weren't crazy about it.

But yeah, after a while with Black Sparrow he may have left the naming to Martin. I don't remember reading many letters about titles after the 60's. Maybe someone else knows more about the mechanics of that.
 
I remember him thinking about a title of what became 'The Last Night Of The Earth Poems' in 'The Captain is Out to Lunch'.
 

ROC

It is what it is
I believe he named all his books up until and including Pulp.
The posthumous poetry collection titles are taken from fragments of his poetry; What matters most... The night torn mad... Come on in... Slouching... etc, are all his words but not necessarily what he would have chosen for book titles. (I think he may have come up with something a little better than Open all Night or Come On In)

Same with the books of letters.

Incidentally, he wrote that his favourite title of all time was Confessions of a man insane enough to live with beast... "But I threw that one away on a little mimeo mag".
 

Bukfan

"The law is wrong; I am right"
Incidentally, he wrote that his favourite title of all time was Confessions of a man insane enough to live with beast... "But I threw that one away on a little mimeo mag".

Can you remember where you read it? In one of the letter books, perhaps?
 

ROC

It is what it is
I cant' remember which one, but it was in a book of letters, yes.
I'll try to find it again.
 

ROC

It is what it is
Yeah... it's starting to piss me off.
I've gone back and checked the books of letters and can't find it (btw the 4 Virgin books of letters have much better indexes than the BSP editions).
I'll check the interviews next.

Glad to hear you remember the line roni; at least I know I'm not chasing something I just imagined.

I've just finished re-reading 'Sunlight here I am' and I couldn't find it in there either.

Sorry.

I got me thinking though; if Bukowski said Confessions was his favourite title in 1974 then it's sort of irrelevant isn't it? Even in 1983 the comment would be somewhat meaningless, as he may have preferred any one of the many titles after that... so...

...disregard my previous post.

Phew... weaselled out of that one!
 

Petey

RIP
Incidentally, he wrote that his favourite title of all time was Confessions of a man insane enough to live with beast... "But I threw that one away on a little mimeo mag".

Check out " The Captain "... i just have the german editon on hand it is the
chapter dated 26. Sept. 91 / 23.36
 

hank solo

Just practicin' steps and keepin' outta the fights
Moderator
Founding member
You're right Petey.

A title ran through my brain: Bible for the Disenchanted. No, no good. I remembered some of the best titles. I mean, of other writers. Bow Down to Wood and Stone. Great title, lousy writer. Notes from the Underground. Great title. Great writer. Also, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Carson McCullers, a very underrated writer. Of all my dozens of titles the one I liked best was Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts. But I blew that one away on a little mimeo pamphlet. Too bad.
 

Bukfan

"The law is wrong; I am right"
Yes, thank you ROC, Petey and hank solo! So that's where Buk said it. I'm glad you could clear that up!
 
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C

Composer

Actually, he said to himself, "I think I'll give this book some meaningless title, and the scholars and intellectual wannabes will get all twisted trying to find a meaning that isn't there."
 
You're all so sure of yourselves but you won't take the time to read the book.
Read chapter 51, pages 229 (at the bottom) through 230. (Published by Harper Collins).
 

mjp

Founding member
benjamin319 you're so right. Everyone should have read the book before commenting. Allow me to apologize on behalf of everyone. We're sorry, it won't happen again.

I'll have to pick up a copy of the book. Who did you say published it, HarperCollins? Thank you.
 
benjamin319 you're so right. Everyone should have read the book before commenting. Allow me to apologize on behalf of everyone. We're sorry, it won't happen again.

I'll have to pick up a copy of the book. Who did you say published it, HarperCollins? Thank you.

This must be that "sarcasm" thing that I keep hearing about. :D
 

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