Poetry News

On Not Reading Charles Bukowski

By Harriet Staff
Charles Bukowski

At Electric Literature, Cassandra A. Baim writes about her complicated relationship with Charles Bukowski's oeuvre and his devoted followers. "I avoided Bukowski in high school without even trying, simply because I had no male authority guiding me to his work," Baim writes. Let's pick up with her there: 

I focused instead on the Daves — Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace, and David Sedaris — all because my favorite teacher, a quirky and energetic man, mentioned those writers were among his favorites. Nor did I ever reach for Bukowski in college. None of my syllabi included him, as I focused my coursework on Indian and South Asian writers, and later ultra-contemporary short stories. But the real reason I never touched his work at that age? No man I wanted to sleep with thought I should.

Until I left school, and really until I met my current partner a year and a half after that, I aligned my taste (in literature, in music, in whatever I could) with the sensitive young men who caught my (always looking) eye. I spent my first year in New York City going on a lot of dates. I scoured dating profiles, and the same name kept popping up — Charles Bukowski. But Trevor left an especially bad taste in my mouth. We didn’t date for long, and things didn’t end well. Thanks to him, I associated Bukowski with condescension, infidelity, and a sheer unwillingness to sexually satisfy a woman. I saw Trevor’s smug face every time I put a copy of Ham on Rye back on the shelf, raising his eyebrows in mock surprise that someone who calls herself a writer has never read Bukowski’s seminal novel.

Read more at Electric Literature.

Originally Published: December 7th, 2017