Charles Bukowski Sets His Amusing Conditions for Giving a Poetry Reading (1971)


It takes a spe­cial kind of ded­i­ca­tion for a writer to quit his day job. When notably hard-liv­ing, hard-writ­ing poet Charles Bukows­ki took the plunge in 1969, at the behest of his Black Spar­row Press pub­lish­er John Mar­tin, he did it in the same spir­it of seri­ous­ness he’d reserved for smok­ing, drink­ing, women, and the writ­ten word. “I have one of two choic­es,” he wrote in a let­ter at the time, “stay in the post office and go crazy… or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decid­ed to starve.” Lat­er, in 1971, he wrote the let­ter above, a reply to an inquiry about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of his giv­ing a read­ing in Flori­da. His price? Round-trip air­fare from his home in Los Ange­les to Flori­da, rides from and back to the air­port, a place to stay, and $200.

Hav­ing already spent about two years work­ing as a writer and a writer alone (and hav­ing spent the first twen­ty nights of that peri­od furi­ous­ly com­pos­ing his first nov­el, Post Office), Bukows­ki quick­ly devel­oped a head for what he called “the lit­er­ary hus­tle.” He makes a dis­tinc­tive pitch for his poet­ic ser­vices: “Auden gets $2,000 a read­ing, Gins­berg $1,000, so you see I’m cheap. A real whore.” I can eas­i­ly envi­sion Bukows­ki ham­mer­ing out this let­ter at the front win­dow of his now-icon­ic bun­ga­low up on De Long­pre Avenue on anoth­er hot sum­mer 42 years ago, not least because he describes him­self doing it: “They say it’s 101 degrees today. Fine then, I’m drink­ing cof­fee and rolling cig­a­rettes and look­ing out at the hot baked street and a lady just walked by wig­gling it in tight white pants, and we are not dead yet.” If you nev­er had a chance to catch a Bukows­ki read­ing your­self, you can catch his read­ing at City Lights Poets The­ater, record­ed in Sep­tem­ber 1973. It’s just above.

via This Isn’t Hap­pi­ness

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Bukows­ki Reads His Poem “The Secret of My Endurance”

“Don’t Try”: Charles Bukowski’s Con­cise Phi­los­o­phy of Art and Life

Charles Bukows­ki: Depres­sion and Three Days in Bed Can Restore Your Cre­ative Juices (NSFW)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (5)
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  • Michael says:

    Arguably one of the great­est writ­ers of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, you either love or hate Charles Bukows­ki. There is no mid­dle ground.

  • Ellen says:

    This let­ter was writ­ten in response to the leg­endary David Pini, who recent­ly passed away. The invi­ta­tion was to New Col­lege, a small, quirky and excel­lent col­lege in Sara­so­ta Flori­da, that attract­ed free thinkers and out­side the box type of folks. For con­text.

  • Mark Lilleleht says:

    Any­one know if his offer was accept­ed? If he actu­al­ly end­ed up read­ing there?

  • Ellen says:

    I am try­ing to find that out. I think I know some­one who might know.

  • Evans says:

    Dear Michael,
    Some­times I like Bukows­ki, and some­times I don’t.
    Sor­ry to blow your hypoth­e­sis.


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