Saw the documentary on Charles Bukowski the other day — Born Into This. Can’t recommend it enough, especially for those writers out there. Here’s a guy who lived a pretty fucked up life, and drank way too much much too often, and boom, from all that, and most incredibly, in the midst of all of it, he wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I was fascinated by the way his writing career began — publishing in tiny journals and weekly rags, the rejection notes piling up all around. And yet, slowly, slowly, his words start having an impact on a person here and a person there, and one person in particular, John Martin, a printer — not a publisher, makes a deal with Bukowski to pay him $100 a month for life if he quits his day job and devotes himself to writing full-time. Martin then creates a publishing house — now famously known as Black Sparrow Press, just to publish Bukowski. And the rest is history, and more importantly, an incredible body of work, both in its depth and its size.
Bukowski is the kind of writer that makes you feel sort of guilty and slightly uncomfortable for laughing, but there you are, busting a gut on the subway, having to put the book down and try to stifle your laughter on a crowded train, people wondering what the hell is wrong with you and cursing themselves for sitting next to a crazy person.
One amazing little tidbit from the documentary is the how Martin, after striking this $100 a month deal with Bukowski, asks him if maybe he might try writing a novel, because it would be easier to sell than a collection of poetry. Martin says it was just a suggestion, but less than a month later Bukowski calls him and tells him to come by to pick something up. What is it? asks Martin, and Bukowski tells him it’s the novel he requested. That novel is Post Office. It’s my favorite Bukowski book. I have a bias towards work stories, but if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. It is raw, cuts to the core of a dead end job and a terrible boss, and it is freaking hilarious.
This documentary was a nice little kick in the pants for me. I watched it, then flipped open the laptop and finished a story I’ve been mostly avoiding for about a month. (I’ll be posting on Wednesday here at 52projects.com — very different from what I normally post. I hope you’ll come back and give it a read.)
There’s also a new movie out right now starring Matt Dillon — Factotum — based on a Bukowski novel of the same name. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to, and I’d also like to see the movie. I already recommended reading Post Office, as well as seeing the Bukowski documentary. And for you writers out there, track down a copy of the Bukowski poem "So You Want to Be A Writer?" in the book Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. Worth a read not just once, but whenever you need it, like all the great poems.