recent posts

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Charles Bukowski On Writing (Edited by Abel Debritto) London, Canongate, 2015 (216 pages).

The title of this recent Bukowski book is somewhat misleading because you would expect now that it is over twenty years since the American writer died to find a wider sampling of his work, including poetry, short stories, excerpts from his novels, letters and perhaps extensive interviews with John Martin and other publishers and friends. In this volume you only get the dregs of Bukowski’s letters not previously published, in particular, in Seamus Cooney’s excellent three volume collection of Selected Letters: Screams From the Balcony 1960-1970, Living On Luck 1960s-1970s and Reach For the Sun 1978-1994.

The editor of this collection, Abel Debritto, who has a PhD in Bukowski studies, mentions in his Afterwood that he searched through “some two thousand pages of unpublished correspondence to find Bukowski’s most insightful letters on writing.” Interestingly, Debritto structures his book of letters in the same way Cooney has in his trilogy. Chapters are recorded in the years the letters were written, followed by whom the letter is addressed to and the date. Minimal explanatory detail is also included if deemed relevant by the editor.

Debritto does uncover some good stuff, notably highly fascinating letters by Bukowski to Henry Miller, John Bennett and John Fante, A.D. Winans, John William Corrington and many others, but admittedly, Seamus Cooney has already published the cream of Bukowski’s letters, especially in Volume 1: Screams From the Balcony. A quick glance reveals that Debritto also printed parts of letters not previously culled by Cooney, including Bukowski's letter to John William Corrington (1 May 1963) and to Steve Richmond (23 July 1965).

The title of the book Charles Bukowski On Writing is used very liberally by Debritto and the letters cover a diversity of topics related to the notion of writing. They include Bukowski’s discussion of his methods of his writing, his role as an artist, censorship, his disdain for writers and teachers of poetry, his view of fame, his solid defence of his often perceived sexist writing, his explanation of his non-political stance and dozens of other insights and rants into his craft and of writers and writing in general.

On Writing provides a goldmine of quotes by the master on a shitpile of topics. If you are a Bukowski novice, stay clear of this book. You are far better off starting with his poetry and short stories, especially if written before his death in 1994.

Update: 12 November 2016

Recommended: Abel Debritto talks about the rationale behind his editing of Bukowski’s On Writing and some of the research he undertook behind it in ‘Literary Hub’. He also offers a few fascinating anecdotes which he later included in his critical study Charles Bukowski, King of the Underground: From Obscurity to Literary Icon (Palgrave MacMillan, New York City, 2013) 

No comments: