Charles Bukowski wrote the following letters to poet Douglas Goodwin from 1982–1988. None of these letters has seen publication up to this time, so far as I know. A few other letters from Bukowski to Goodwin appear in Bukowski's Reach for the Sun: Selected Letters 1978–1994, Volume 3, edited by Seamus Cooney.
In the mid 80s, I was publishing Douglas Goodwin's work regularly in my little magazine Clock Radio, copies of which you can find for free in PoetryCircle's Marketplace. Bukowski was also a regular contributor to Clock Radio. By around 1986, I started publishing chapbooks under the Clock Radio Press moniker, and I asked Doug whether he would be interested in having a collection published. He responded enthusiastically, and the result was Half Memory of a Distant Life, for which Bukowski was kind enough to write a foreword.
Bukowski was a fan of Goodwin's work, and the two corresponded with some regularity. At some point around the time that I was preparing Goodwin's chapbook, Doug sent me a photocopied sheath of letters that Bukowski had written to him. I've had those letters in my files ever since, and I figured it was high time that they were released, given that Bukowski is now a subject of interest to scholars around the world.
The letters reveal a side of Bukowski that we rarely see in the collections of letters that have been published thus far: the mentor. Bukowski thought enough of Goodwin to take the time to revise and rewrite some of Goodwin's work in order to help the young poet along. Bukowski saw verve in Goodwin's work, but he also saw verbosity that he attempted to steer Goodwin away from. Despite any flaws that Bukowski might have detected, however, he thought enough of Goodwin's promise as a writer to exert some energy (see the letter dated “5-?-86”) in an attempt to persuade Goodwin to stay the course:
What is this you hand me? You're not going to quit writing, you know that. It's the only counter-balance against the impossible odds...
The dog is not man's best friend...it's this fucking machine in front of us which keeps us from climbing the madhouse walls...
Friend, you write very well, much better than many of the falsely famous.
There's really no competition out there, there only appears to be....
Maybe you need a few years off until your writing can catch up with your thinking and your living—or not living....
Just to say, discouraging to hear you're going to lay it down when so many half-ass talents just keep going on and on and on...believing in their greatness when there is none.
We don't even want greatness. A good bottle of wine and a good night's sleep and no argument from the spouse....
Bukowski rewrote Goodwin's poem “Twisted Living” and called it “I know what love is”
Response to Goodwin's query about Sholom Stodolsky, whose name appears in Bukowski's novel Ham on Rye.
Charles Bukowski died on March 9, 1994.
Douglas Goodwin's poetry collections include Slamming It Down, Hung Like a Hebrew National, and Half Memory of a Distant Life.
Charles Bukowski: Letters to Douglas Goodwin, 1982–1988
Part of the PoetryCircle Showcase series.