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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

Letters
ABEL DEBRITTO writes • Thank you for your most thoughtful piece on Bukowski. As a true Bukowski scholar, I appreciate your publishing it in the new PNR issue.

There are, however, a number of things that I didn’t find entirely accurate:

  1. Although you claim so several times, I never said that Martin made those changes in the posthumous collections.
  2. The changes made to Bukowski’s poetry when he was alive are not similar to the changes made to his poetry when he was gone. The former were minor, the latter major – and awfully bad for the most part.
  3. Martin did a number of good things for sure, but that does not preclude us from discussing his bad moves, does it? Here’s an excerpt from a forthcoming interview:

  4. Q: How important was John Martin and Black Sparrow to Bukowski’s success?
    A: Again, let Bukowski do the talking: ‘I’ve stuck with you. I’ve had offers from New York publishers. I’ve had offers from competitors. I’ve stayed with you. People have told me that I was stupid, many people. That hasn’t bothered me. I make up my own mind for my own reasons. You were there when nobody else was, you helped me get money through archives. You bought me a good typewriter. Nobody was knocking at my door. I have loyalty. I guess it comes from my German blood. But I ask you to leave my mind clear for my writing; all I want to do is type and drink my wine and do some small things. Letters like this are a waste of energy. Just let me write and mail my shit out like any other writer. Don’t be too much of a mother hen.

    This is an excerpt from a 1978 letter to Martin published in On Writing. Martin was a shrewd businessman, and his instinct told him that Bukowski would become a successful writer in the hands of the right publisher. Early on, Martin said that Bukowski would be the new Walt Whitman, and he did all he could to pave the way for Bukowski’s popularity: Martin helped Bukowski to quit his job at the post office to become a full-time writer by promising him a monthly $100 check for life, whether Bukowski wrote or not; he persuaded Bukowski to write his first novel, which would earn him more money and popularity than all his previous small press poetry projects combined; he put out gorgeous editions of his books and kept them all in print over the years; and he championed Bukowski’s work against all odds, especially in the early days.

    But there were a number of things Bukowski didn’t like about Martin, and he voiced them in his correspondence and interviews. I have recently discussed them in Literary Hub and in Los Angeles Review of Books. The edits that mar the posthumous collections are infuriating, and I truly hope Bukowski’s genuine voice and style are restored before long.
  5. The posthumous collections are not made of previously rejected poems only. If you take a look at the piece I wrote for LitHub late last year, you’ll find some info re. the Martin/Bukowski relationship: https://lithub.com/charles-bukowski-wrote-so-fast-his-publisher-couldnt-keep-up/.

    In the following excerpt, you’ll find more info re. the material used in the posthumous collections vs. the collections published in Bukowski’s lifetime: the posthumous collections are not made up of originally rejected material entirely – some poems in the posthumous collections could have been discarded back in the day, but certainly not all of them.

Martin found ‘new’ poems all the time, either in private collections, eBay, auctions, libraries and so on. For instance, I know that he specifically went through all the early little mags to put together The People Look Like Flowers at Last. For that collection, he used poems he had largely ignored until then.

It’s true, though, that a large portion of Bukowski’s best poems was published during his lifetime, at least that’s how I feel. But there were quite a few subpar poems in the collections published in his lifetime, and there were quite a few subpar poems that were never used in his lifetime for one reason or another. Some of those never-used-before subpar poems came out in the posthumous collections; some of them remain in the vaults.

Likewise, some strong poems were left in the editing room over the years. Either Martin discarded them while Bukowski was alive or he never saw them. Martin used some of those strong poems in the posthumous collections; there are other strong poems yet to be published.

Bukowski was extremely prolific; Martin only used one-third – or even one-sixth, as Bukowski said in the early eighties – of Bukowski’s output. That one-third, or one-sixth, was Martin’s selection based on his own criteria. Bukowski didn’t necessarily agree sometimes, and he often complained about Martin not using his ‘wilder’ poems.

So I wouldn’t say Martin rejected two-thirds – or five-sixths – of Bukowski’s output. It’s just he felt one book a year was more than enough. He selected the strongest poems (to him) and put aside the remaining poems. That doesn’t mean he ‘rejected’ them, it simply means he couldn’t publish them all back then. Say Bukowski wrote some five hundred poems in 1981–84. Say three hundred of those poems were pretty good. Say Martin used one hundred to one hundred and fifty in War All the Time. The remaining one hundred and fifty to two hundred strong poems were not rejected, it’s just there was no room for them at the time. As simple as that.

Again, thanks for your piece on Bukowski via PNR

This item is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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