I recently sold all of my Bukowski books – well, the way second-hand dealers work it’s fairer to say I gave them away…but that’s cool, I wasn’t out to make a big score, I just wanted to move them on; liked the idea of letting them have a turn on the shelf, there for someone else to discover. They’d served me well. They were a big part of my education – and a lovely escape. Twenty years ago I dived right into that world, practiced writing like Bukowski – though of course I couldn’t, and read and re-read his poems and prose.
I can’t quite give up the ghost, I’m still checking out the new versions of his words. He’s been gone for over 20 years now and like The Beatles and, well, anything else, there’s a need for a forced reinvention of the work/s to reintroduce them…
And so, following On Writing – which was terrific, another volume of his correspondence, this one themed around his passion for the craft – we have On Cats. One thing Bukowski did a lot was write about cats. Yes he wrote about fucking and the race track and his father and drinking and the scars internal and external and the stench of the world. And he wrote – often so lovingly – about cats.
There’s a long tradition of writers and cats and writers writing about cats, by-product of seeking affection or at least a type of companionship from cats. They’re a handy friend in the solitary craft. They’ll warm your lap and/or your spirits…
For anyone writing Buk off as an ignorant jerk and misogynistic pig I always point them to Ham On Rye and say that this is a different kind of Bukowski. The “companion” volume of poems too, You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense. There was a gentler, kinder Bukowski on those pages. And you could find that Bukowski/Chinaski elsewhere too…
You certainly find him on the pages of On Cats – drawn from the poems, stories and novels, though including some early (unpublished) drafts, it’s both whimsical introduction and wisely necessary for the diehards too.
Here you found Bukowski observational and philosophical – he was so thoroughly misanthropic but he wasn’t unaware of beauty, he just chose to hardly ever look for it in other humans and only ever found it in himself through his writing.
“Do you have a cat? Or cats? They sleep, baby. They can sleep 20 hours a day and they look beautiful. They know that there’s nothing to get excited about. The next meal. And a little something to kill now and then. When I’m being torn by the forces, I just look at one or more of my cats. There are 9 of them. I just look at one of them sleeping or half-sleeping and I relax. Writing is also my cat. Writing lets me face it. It chills me out. For a while anyhow. Then my wires get crossed and I have to do it all over again. I can’t understand writers who decide to stop writing. How do they chill out?”
The cat – as concept – was something to focus Bukowski.
He had fun with that too. In that self-loathing Bukowski way…
When a friend laughs at Bukowsi taking in a stray that needs an expensive operation and has a worse quality of life as a result, he’s mocked “man, everything you touch turns to shit!” Bukowski replies, “he’s right, I’ve been masturbating since I was eleven years old.”
But you certainly saw not only the love he had for cats – as concept and creatures – but that they could bring out in him a majesty and grace within his writing:
“A cat walks by and shakes Shakesepeare off his back. I don’t want to draw like Mondrian, I want to draw like a sparrow eaten by a cat”.