A selection of writing on writing from the “Dirty Old Man” of American letters.
Those who know Bukowski (1920-1994) as a barfly caricature will find revelation throughout these letters to editors and to fellow writers, Henry Miller and Lawrence Ferlinghetti among them. Many will be surprised at how well-read he was and how seriously he took his art. As he complains of aggressive editing, “my writing is jagged and harsh, I want it to remain that way. I don’t want it smoothed out.” He rails against those who aspire to fame, who think that anyone can teach writing, and who adhere to the strictures of academic rules. He proclaims himself “King of the hard-mouth poets” and “the Dostoyevsky of the ’70s” and dismisses more refined poems as “bloodless butterflies” and “stilted formalism, like chewing cardboard.” Bukowski’s rants are great fun to read, often illuminating and inspirational. Their chronological progression presents a kind of alternative memoir to the thinly disguised autobiography of his fiction, since the life that informs the writing keeps seeping through the selected passages. However, there is plenty of obsessive repetition here, perhaps partly because of the format of the letters, which were never meant to be read as a whole, and partly because of the nature of alcoholism. “To get through this game drinking helps a great deal,” he writes of the writing racket, “although I don’t recommend it to many. Most drunks I’ve known aren’t very interesting at all. Of course, most sober people aren’t either.” Of his foray into film collaboration with the autobiographical Barfly, he writes of his surprise that the director “wants a plot and an evolvement of character. shit, my characters seldom evolve, they are too fucked-up. they can’t even type.” Drawings and handwritten notes enhance the intimacy and vitality of the selections.
Always passionate, frequently funny, occasionally incoherent excerpts from a significant 20th-century American writer.