The writing giants of the 20th Century, largely male, seemed disproportionately to be alcoholics and substance abusers (Fitzgerald, Kerouac, etc.)—men seeking easy, if not permanent, access to The Muse. I haven’t heard the phrase “a man who can hold his liquor,” said with admiration lately—testimony to campaigns against drunk drivers and the more health-conscious media? Given that I had just broken up with an alcoholic, and had left South Central L.A. for 1970s Hollywood, it was odd that I should find myself at The Bridge the unforgettable evening of a drunken duel. It was taking place between two hardcore bards, Venice Beat John Thomas vs. “Meat poet” and novelist Charles “Hank” Bukowski, drink-for-drink, poem-for-poem. Thomas had been mentoring me informally. The Bridge was a counterculture hang owned by Peter, a German tool-and-dye maker, and pal of Bukowski’s. I called myself studying “the dirty old man” from a safe distance—the only female and Black in the room. Thomas outweighed the nasal-voiced Bukowski by 100 pounds, and read his poems with stentorian basso gusto. Hank’s poems were better, but Thomas’ presentation blew them out of one’s ears. Nevertheless, Hank persisted, leaning forward, making hawklike swooping motions at Thomas, the shot glasses repeatedly refilled. An hour and half later, it seemed a Mexican standoff when, mid-syllable, Thomas went blotto, liquefied, and spilled onto the floor to be drug toes-up from the room. Bukowski read and drank on to cheers, laughter and applause, then moseyed away as if made of sponge.

Originally Published: September 25th, 2008

Poet and writer Wanda Coleman was a blatantly humanist artist who won much critical acclaim for her unusually prescient and often innovative work, but who struggled to make a living from her craft. In discussing “my life in poetry,” More magazine, April 2005, Camille Paglia said of Coleman: “She’s not...

  1. September 25, 2008
     Aaron Fagan

    From The Philadelphia Story
    C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant): How about you, Mr. Connor? You drink, don't you? Alcohol, l mean.
    Macauley Connor (Jimmy Stewart): A little.
    Haven: A little? And you're a writer? Tsk, tsk, tsk. l thought all writers drank to excess and beat their wives.

  2. September 25, 2008
     noah freed

    Whut whut. "The writing giants" of twencen largely huh? Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Joyce, Proust, Musil, Mann, Rilke?