The Bukowski Factory

About twelve or thirteen years ago now I wrote a dissertation for my Masters degree on Charles Bukowski. With a suitably pretentious title – “Social Mechanics and American Morality: the meaning of nothingness in the prose and poetry of Charles Bukowski” – it focused on the stoicism of his writing, the different social mechanisms by which he appeared to feel trapped. It made it into this book here on the left – Bukowski Unleashed – and generated sixteen Amazon reviews that split opinion right down the middle.

In the space of about eight months I read all of Bukowski’s published work. Perhaps not every single poem, as there are so goddamn many of them, but certainly I covered his six novels, his two short story collections, a couple of the chapbook novellas that were floating around, several of the main poetry collections, and the collected essays and newspaper columns Notes of a Dirty Old Man. By the time I’d finished, I never wanted to read anything by him again. Not because I didn’t like him. He remains probably my favourite author of all time. But after such an intense period of reading and re-reading, I’d pretty much had enough. I had to go and immerse myself in the imaginations of other people – I would have gone insane otherwise.

A few weeks ago, by chance, I discovered that City Lights had published a second volume of Notes of a Dirty Old Man. As the first was one of my favourites (it provided me with no end of quotations for that essay) I went and picked up this sequel. I’m about halfway through and it’s pretty good. Not as good as the first, but taking the law of diminishing returns into account, it’s still really interesting. My favourite bit so far has come in a story about the author staying with a temporary landlady while he visits his publishers. “Shirley in her big fat housegown, and me, a bum, playing the role of Charles Bukowski”. I could have used that in my essay. It helps resolve the issue some people have with Bukowski, put off because he seemed to be a bit of an arsehole, as it kind of points to him being aware of his assumption of a persona. Although, in all honesty, he was probably also a bit of an arsehole.

In any case, I’ve now discovered a whole load of other stuff has been published during my decade long abstinence from Bukowski. There are innumerable collections of poetry of course – I’d expect that as he was so prolific in that department I’m sure there’s enough stuff hanging around to keep City Lights and Black Sparrow in books for the next fifty years. But there are two collections of early essays and stories as well. Just cost me the best part of thirty quid to get these from Amazon. I’m seriously hoping they are worth the effort and not just scraps thrown out by a publisher riding the wave of his popularity. I’ll have to let you know. But if it is a cynical ploy like that of the Tolkien publishers who put out Unfinished Tales, More Unfinished Tales, Half Arsed Tales, Unstarted Tales and The Tolkien Shopping Lists then I’ll be less than happy…

“three
geraniums outside a window, trying to be
red and trying to be pink and trying to be
geraniums”

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