Aug. 16, 2006


by Charles Bukowski

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Poem: "Girlfriends," by Charles Bukowski from Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line the Way. © Ecco. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


the women of the past keep
there was another yesterday
arrived from out of
she wanted to see
I told her

I don't want to see
I won't see them.
it would be
gruesome and

I know some people who can
watch the same movie
more than

not me.
once I know the
once I know the
whether it's happy or
unhappy or
just plain

for me
that movie is
and that's why
I refuse
to let
any of my
old movies play
over and over again

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of author and editor William Maxwell, born in Lincoln, Illinois (1908). He wrote many novels, including They Came Like Swallows (1937) and So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980). Most of his short stories are collected in All the Days and Nights (1995). But he's best known as a fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine.

Maxwell grew up in Lincoln, Illinois. His father sold fire insurance and was often on the road. With his father gone so much, Maxwell became especially close to his mother. He said, "She just shone on me like the sun." During the epidemic of 1918, when Maxwell was ten, his mother caught Spanish influenza and died. He wrote, "It happened too suddenly, with no warning, and we none of us could believe it or bear it ... the beautiful, imaginative, protected world of my childhood swept away."

Treasure Island was the first work of literature he ever got his hands on, when he was a freshman in high school. He said, "At the last page, I turned back to the beginning. I didn't stop until I had read it five times."

After college, he taught freshman composition for the University of Illinois. He became interested in journalism when his landlady asked him to help her write book reviews for the New York Herald Tribune. He enjoyed it so much that after he published his first novel, Bright Center of Heaven (1934), he moved to New York and got a job at The New Yorker where he worked for forty years, editing fiction by John Updike, Eudora Welty, and Vladimir Nabokov.

They Came Like Swallows is the story of his mother's death. He wrote many of his short stories about his childhood with his mother in Lincoln. He said, "What we ... refer to confidently as memory ... is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling." He was asked later in his life what he would say to his mother if he could tell her anything. His reply was, "Here are these beautiful books that I made for you," and then he wept. Maxwell died in July 2000, just eight days after the death of his wife.

He said, "Reading is rapture (or if it isn't, I put the book down meaning to go on with it later, and escape out the side door)."

It's the birthday of Charles Bukowski, (books by this author) born in Andernach, Germany (1920). His family moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old. His father was a milkman, and so frustrated with his own life that he became very abusive. He once beat Bukowski with a two-by-four because the son hadn't mowed the lawn correctly.

Bukowski studied literature and journalism for a year at Los Angeles City College. His father threw him out of the house after reading some of Bukowski's stories. For the next several years, he lived as a hobo. He made money working at a slaughterhouse and a dog biscuit factory, and for the American Red Cross. While trying to write, he starved much of the time, limiting himself to one candy bar a day, while he wrote up to five short stories a week. Often he had no typewriter and hand printed his work.

He finally got a steady job as a postal clerk in the fifties. In 1960, when he was forty years old, he published his first book of poetry, Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail (1960).

He published more than fifteen books of fiction and poetry in the next ten years, including Run With the Hunted (1962) and The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills (1969).

Late in his life he said, "Every day I'll wake up around noon. Then I'll go to the track and I'll play the horses. ... Then I'll come back and I'll swim and ... have dinner and I'll go upstairs and I'll sit at the computer and I'll crack me a bottle [of wine] and I'll listen to some Mahler or Sibelius and I'll write, with this rhythm, like always."

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