How Bukowski entered my life

Note: This is an excerpt from the essay “Charles Bukowski and me,” previously published in Abbey magazine. Credits and much thanks to editor David Greisman.

My brush with Bukowski came in 1985. I had started a magazine called Pig in a Poke in 1982 and put out two issues before it became too much a burden on my income as a bartender and freelance writer. So I scaled down the format and started putting out a smaller version of the magazine and calling it Pig in a Pamphlet. It was in this format that I published Bukowski’s work.

Even without the Internet, the small press flourished and correspondence between editor and writer — and between the editors themselves — was fast and furious. I don’t remember when or where I saw Bukowski’s work published in another little magazine, but by then he had been a legend to many of us for years. I remember wondering how this little magazine got Bukowski to send them some poems.

It turns out that Bukowski apparently felt warmly toward the small presses where he had gotten his start. In a move exemplary of the small press in those days — try anything — I contacted several editors that I knew and one of them gave me his address. I think it was Ron Androla, who put out a little mag called Northern Pleasure. So I sent Bukowski a letter asking if he would be interested in submitting some poems to my little magazine.

When Bukowski wrote back, he sent several poems with his letter. I liked the poems that he sent so much that I kept four of them. Today, the fact that I rejected some of his work still amazes me, but not even the legends get accepted all the time. And with his lifestyle, Bukowski was no stranger to rejection of all kinds. What was he like? Honestly, he seemed like a decent fellow, genuinely grateful that someone would want to publish his work. He had a good sense of humor and would frequently use it in his letters.

The pamphlet of Bukowski poems, titled then I gave up and started drinking heavily after a line from a poem in the collection, came out in 1985 and sold well by my modest standards. John Martin from Black Sparrow Press bought 200 — about half of the press run — at a discount and had Bukowski sign them. So the pamphlets that I sold him at less than 50 cents a copy are now bringing $200 and upwards each at rare booksellers now.

I had some trouble, by the way, with John Martin. I had mentioned to Bukowski that I wanted to do another pamphlet of his work, and Bukowski apparently told Martin. I got a nasty letter from Martin, telling me to back off and that he had the rights to Bukowski’s stuff. I wrote back assuring him that I had no bad intentions. When he replied he was much more pleasant than he had been before. He said he realized that I didn’t mean any harm but that he had to protect his turf. He called me “a decent and honest person” (I still have the letter). And he also enclosed a checklist of Black Sparrow Press books and told me to “check off everything you’d like for yourself and let me send you the books.” I took him up on that. I still have the books — by Paul Bowles, John Fante, Bukowski and others — to this day.

A final footnote to my relationship with Bukowski: I stopped publishing Pig in a Pamphlet around 1989 or 1990. In 1993 I left Pittsburgh for Key West, and somehow lost my signed copy. I wrote to Bukowski asking him if he would send another. Soon after, the signed copy showed up in my mailbox, but not the chatty letter that he usually sent. This was at the end of August, and a little over six months later he passed away. He must have been very sick when he got my letter but he still signed the copy and sent it back to me.

For more on the present day adventures of Pig in a Poke, go to http://piginpoke.com or see my next blog!

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~ by harryc13 on May 1, 2010.

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