Charles Bukowski wrote some unkind things about my father but better to be insulted by a literary giant than loved by idiots! I do agree with Bukowski’s assertion that my father never received a beating. My father often told the story of my grandfather, his father tearing a shirt of his back. This would be unpleasant but does not constitute a beating. I am not sure even the shirt tearing happened. The unanimous consensus among members of the family including myself is that my dad made that story up! My dad was a smart guy and got the doctorate, became a professor and had a good life from a material point of view. I guess my dad like many of his generation had some sort of Hemingway fixation and tried to portray himself as a hard man when he was not. I did meet Bukowski several times as a teenager in my dad’s house in East Lansing, Michigan. Bukowski was always drunk but also lucid. I could tell Bukowski was a hard man period.
I got my doctorate and became a professor as my father advised me many times and I think my dad gave me good advice. I did construction for a few weeks in Houma, Louisiana during my junior year in college and never, ever wanted to do manual labor again period! My grade point went up a whole grade after that experience! I like offices, air conditioning and educated, pretty girls in my work environment that smell good. Sweating in the hot sun with a bunch of illiterate men is not my idea of fun at all. I would describe myself as metrosexual and proud of it! The following is a picture of me suffering at work at 58 during our Songkran festival at my university in Thailand on 2016!
Contrast this with a picture of Bukowski at 58 in 1978.
Based on these pictures I would say there is nothing wrong with the metrosexual lifestyle but to each his own but please be honest about who you are!
The following are excerpt from a collection of letters by Charles Bukowski (Living on Luck Selected Letters 1960s—1970s VOLUME 2)
[To Gerard Dombrowski]
January 3, 1969
[***] Well, you asked me about the Fox book on me. You want it straight? It was dull, straight, academic and uncourageous. It was textbook frogs hopping their dull lilypad hops. Dull; I said it twice; I’ll say it thrice: dull, dull, dull. THE POEM-MESSAGE or FORCE was completely overlooked in the mama taught thing of this belongs here and that belongs there—: this is this school, and that is that school. Fuck that. I used to g.d. have to fight the bullies all the way home from grammar school to college, and they used to follow me, mocking me, daring me, but there was always more than one, and I was one, and they knew I had something packed in me somewhere. They hated it; still do.
Very well mum, you printed the Fox book on me. In a sense, it was congratulatory, but as a man who has lived in the worst circumstances of life, often not eating and not caring to; often wanting to eat and not being able to; often living for a month behind pulled shades and eating green potatoes and listening to the works of Bach and the footsteps of my landlady—knowing that almost everything was impossible and sickening—getting drunk on rotgut wine; being drunk at 12 noon and laying in alleys behind bars hoping trucks would run the life out of my body; being poked in the back with sticks by small black children as I lay senseless like some dying piece of meat; while working the factories, the slaughterhouses of the world, while being kicked off the backend of tomato-picking trucks by those who sensed that I did not belong there; while traveling with the railroad track gangs from New Orleans to Sacramento and having to fight them one-on-fifty; while living in a scorpion-filled paper shack in Atlanta, while all the things I could go on and on with—do you REALLY THINK that I could accept the soft-
Fox fucking dissertation on when I was an Existentialist or a Burroughs or an immortalist or a whatever??? I have your book around the corner, and I’m sure almost that he called me none of these—but what I mean is—he pasted his chickenshit labels all over me. This poem is this. This poem is that.
How the hell can Fox know what a poem is? He is/was taught what a poem was/is.
I am a poem.
There is no way out.
I doubt that I can match Dr. Fox’s degrees.
But his poems begin to sound more and more like mine. But there’s a catch—ability plus experience can never match a shadow, and that’s what Fox is—a SHADOW of Buk. It just ain’t gonna work, no matter how hard he works. Or they. All the Bukowski copyists.
Every time I get a free copy of a little in the mails, I open it and it all sounds like
Bukowski—very bad Bukowski.
That’s their problem.
But I do hope that some other bellowing, water-mouthed prick comes along to take the heat off of me so that I may/can go about and do what I have to do. [***]
[To Bill Robson]
July 11, 1972
Now that Richmond and Fox have me down as failing, a liar, a sell-out, so forth, it’s curious that you still want to hear from me.
Don’t you believe them? Don’t you realize that I am a ruined man? That I have forsaken the truth, all that shit? I don’t know how to answer these boys. They both seem to be staking a claim as real writers, overlooked, for this reason or that. Whatever the grounds of their bitching wails, I only ask that you measure the totality of all my work against theirs and make a judgment.
Poor Fox. He claims Black Sparrow published me because I was “known” and didn’t publish him because he was “unknown.” He claims the quality of his work had nothing to do with it. I have no idea of John Martin’s worded rejection of the Fox manuscript. It was probably kindly-worded and Fox read into it what he wanted to read into it. The real fact was that the poetry probably was simply bad stuff.
This bit about the “known” and the “unknown” is ridiculous. No writer is born “known.” They don’t know us in our cradle, or in our rompers or in our schoolyards. We have to become “known.” And if a writer remains “unknown” long enough there’s usually a good reason for it.
Fox and Richmond seem to think I have “sold out” because I make my living with my typewriter. I have even labeled myself “a literary hustler,” but where is their sense of humor?
The story in Rogue was not crap or some cheap little bullshit formula story for a buck, as Fox might say. He might read the story again. He likens me to the prof in Blue Angel, egg broken over head…Christ, these little snippets, these tiny little quarter talents…they really want to do me in…They know that my work is better than ever and that I am getting paid for it, and that’s their attack—I make the money writing: therefore the writing must be a sell-out.
Fox from his professorial post advises writers to go get a job and write on the side.
I’ve had a hundred jobs and I wrote on the side. I worked until I was 50 in the most slave-labor and demeaning jobs imaginable.
That doesn’t create literature; it only tires your ass out. Fox chirps to his students and Richmond lays in the sun outside his beach cottage, claiming to be worth only $300. All I say is that the real ARENA is CREATION. Let them get into that arena instead of bitching like neurotic housewives over the backyard fence. I’m afraid that the small presses, the mimeo presses have kept alive too many talentless darlings, and have made life difficult for their wives, their children, their girlfriends.
I don’t believe that in getting paid for what you do, that being a professional, necessarily detracts from your art. It may detract from yours, it doesn’t from mine. Many people get paid for what they do. And they do all right.
Starvation and obscurity are not necessarily signs of genius.
Let Time itself answer the attacks on me by Richmond and Fox. As for me, I’ve wasted enough time on them. Oh, my little friends, how you cry and weep and bawl and puke and slobber over yourselves. May I suggest that you use more of your energy on what you pretend is your craft—that is: writing. There seems room for improvement. Some day you may be men.
[To A. D. Winans]
January 21, 1974
Went to the p.o box today and there it was—Vol. 11, no. 3. I don’t go to the box often, don’t know how long it has been laying there, but to let you know—much more solid than The Small Press Review. better writers writing. I guess it was needed to get some of the grit out. I think the best part was that most saw me for what I was—fucked-up, battered, battering, punchy but durable, trying to get out, trying to get it on down. Literature has always had this sheen of dignity, it’s disgusting. I’m glad if we put some dirt and blood on the carpet. even those who were always crying for a changed literature, a better literature, a more real thing, guys like
Pound and W. C. Williams, they still worked out of the formal, stilted cage. I hope we’ve now gotten some freedom for those who follow.
Maybe I carry it too far. for instance, I’ve always advocated that they serve beer, play music, maybe have strippers at our museums. think of how much better and more real the sabre tooth tiger would look? o.k.,you know what I mean.
I liked the Richmond. He knows how to give due to the object without destroying the object involved. this is no easy thing. Steve also knows how to write a sentence. Most can’t. [***] I have said for years that Steve Richmond is the most underrated human and writer and painter that I know. Perhaps it’s best that way. he’s protected. he may be lucky too if they leave him alone. a man must have time to build certain walls so if they finally come with their pompoms he can take that, and still go on.
Micheline was fine, god damn romantic hustler, he turned on high, he sings those lines, he’s in rhythm and breaking through.
[***] when Jack is turned on high he is capable of writing a better poem than I could ever write. I write more good poems over the long haul but when he is totally high and singing I can’t touch him. if he stays at it and stops hounding the publishers and just does his work he will be found again long before he is dead. [***]
Norse? I understand his viewpoint. We simply come out of different poetic backgrounds.
[***] And when I’m drunk I am generally rude and boorish and stupid to everybody alike. I just don’t select Hal. If he could understand this he might feel better. before a man can ever meet the gods he must learn to forgive the drunks. [***]
Alta. I understand her viewpoint and it certainly must seem plausible and right to her, but creation, art, is the breakthrough. we hardly do what is proper or kind, though often, in life, we are kinder than most, much more. without flying flags about it. Alta does not know how to write a sentence down. It hurts her pitch. I don’t want to rape Alta. I don’t want to rape anybody. I never have. But if an artist wants to go into the mind of a rapist or a murderer and look out of that mind and write down that mind, I don’t think that is criminal. furthermore, I didn’t say my stories in NOLA were “sarcastic.” I don’t apologize for my work. If I write a story about a shitty woman then that shitty woman did exist. one form or another. Blacks can also be shitty as can whites. I refuse to be restricted in the materials I can paint with. it’s really all so ridiculous to defend anything as just that thing, can’t they even understand that? Oh, Alta, I have love…that’s why I can write of other things. [***]
Hugh Fox, as usual, uses the opportunity to advertise himself. that’s all right. if you got the talent to back up your breakthrough. see: Hemingway—Fitzgerald. When Fox claimed he had been beat about more physically than I had, that’s untrue. [***] no man knows what a physical beating is until he gets one. Getting off your knees in a dark alley with 14 drunks watching and before you can get your hands up to your knees he lands again and gives you a knee in the nuts as you go down. Nothing to do but get up. finally it becomes a matter of breathing. you can hardly breathe. And neither can the man who is murdering you. and finally, as you start to come back on him, they stop the fight. you get in 7 or 9 of these, you know what a physical beating is. and the factories and the farm labor market. Fox is a dreamer. he’s never had a physical beating. I looked at his face. he still hasn’t had one. I can tell by the way he writes.
All in all, Al, it was a very good issue, and the stuff I wrote and the way I lived was mostly for me, but I see that if some have picked up a certain style and meaning in it, good. But I never mean my way to be their way. they can have theirs and I don’t think they’d fit in mine. that’s fair. I do much of my stuff out of tune, out of one ear. we don’t want a mythology or a hero. it was just a way to go. and there’s still tomorrow. Shakey’s tomorrow
&&&&&&&. then Dashiel H’s, or was it somebody else’s Big Sleep. ah, hahaha. after I’m dead Hal Norse will be able to eat his soft-boiled eggs and his Egyptian parsley in peace.