Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Charles Bukowski or Black Sparrow’s John Martin?
If you value the hard-lived verse of Charles Bukowski—poems formed like a leathery callus around a heart-trapped bluebird—then I’m afraid I’ve got some really bad news (do I write about anything else?).
There is a pretty serious accusation that Bukowski is the victim of a post-mortem literary crime, at least that’s the case the author of this blog post is making, as evidenced by the title: The senseless, tragic rape of Charles Bukowski’s ghost by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press.
I actually haven’t looked too closely at this claim yet, because the whole idea presented by this blogger, Michael Phillips, just makes me too damn mad, and if I really dig into this, I might have to take his suggestion and give away the editions he claims have poems that differ significantly from preserved manuscript copies or single poems published in journals and magazines.
I recommend reading the whole post for links and an actual example of the reckless editorial violations it looks like John Martin made. Here’s some of the general context:
I have enjoyed reading Bukowski since I picked up South of No North out in the California high desert town of Joshua Tree more than 20 years ago and read the entire thing without once moving from the ratty old couch I was slouched into. You could say I became a fan that day.
Bukowski died in 1994. But he was a ridiculously prolific poet, so his publisher, Black Sparrow Press, continued to release “new” poetry collections for 15 years after his death. Sounds like a sweet deal, doesn’t it? A seemingly endless stream of new books from a popular poet.
But as I would read each of the posthumous books I couldn’t help feeling that they were a little off. Reading them could give you the distinct and uneasy feeling that maybe Bukowski had lost it when he had written this stuff. That the quality of his work began to slip at some point (forget for a moment that the books were not published in the order the poems were written).
But thankfully, we have access to a lot of Bukowski’s poem manuscripts and a lot of other uncollected work in the Bukowski forum. And a funny thing happens when you start to compare the manuscripts (or literary magazine publications) with the posthumous Black Sparrow books – you see that a lot of things have been changed. And not for the better.
If this is true, I hope there is a way to publish as many of the original poems as possible.