Ecco; 1st Edition edition
Back a couple of decades ago I devoured almost anything and nearly everything with the Bukowski name attached, film adaptations, spoken-word CDs, tributes, and the words: novels, short stories, screenplays, travel vignettes, diary entries, columns and the poems, mostly the poems – some of the printed correspondence too.
I was a diehard.
And then I moved on. Now I’m back as a bit of a tourist, or I’m reclaiming those stripes I earned in another life. I’m really not sure what I’m doing. Some of the newly put-together collections are so barrel-scrape thin I wish they hadn’t ever bothered. (And yet I’m still there to read, a sucker forever it seems). But then – almost always out of nowhere something hits you. Knocks you for a six in that familiar Hank way .And I felt much the same won about this new collection of correspondence – at least to start with, then it clicked, really hit pay dirt. The first third was baffling, at times embarrassing. The Bukowski of the 1940s and 1950s was a tad contrived in his voice as letter-writer, often pretentious, aiming for a lofty tone, just lofty enough to shit on those of a similarly lofty tone I suppose.
But as you get through this volume – dedicated to the art of writing, though it’s fairer to say this is more about the actual business than the craft – you realise the realness of Bukowski as you see him realise – and harness – his rawness. It was almost impossible to put it down through lengthy sections where he was occasionally defensive and yet almost always attacking. Here we have Bukowski as critic and editor, Bukowski as dealer of harsh truths in assessing the work of others, and Bukowski as frustrated hack-writer, tearing at his typer night after night all in the hope of getting…well, somewhere.
We know, of course, he eventually did. And it’s fair to say this book is not the correct introduction to his world and works; this is just – and only – for fans.
But I didn’t expect, especially with so many unpublished revelations here (alternative bio-notes and liners, correspondence with the likes of Henry Miller and Hubert Selby Jr, also the widow of his hero John Fante) to be quite so moved by yet another book of Bukowski correspondence.
It’s about the journey. He’s bitter, angry, frustrated, arrogant, rude and repetitive across so many of these pages – he’s like some proto-blogger compelled to write, warming up for the night with a letter or two, then winding down with three or four more – but always hat hunger there. And so often some heart too. From 1945-1993 we live with Bukowski in this book. He starts of craving some sort of attention/success, he ends up chuffed at fan-mail and proud to think people – anyone – deems him worthy. Of course there’s drunken rants, misogyny, crudeness, crud and a lot of cod-philosophy. Thing is, once you settle into the voice, remember it, do your best to warm to it, that’s often where you find some of the very best stuff in this collection.
His commitment to the job, to the “disease”, to the sickness, the outlet, well – it was staggering. It certainly kept him alive. And so many of his words have now done the same for others.