Why I Love Bukowski (and my favorite quotes)

It was my friend Rich Grudman who first told me to read Bukowski. He gave me Post Office, about Bukowski’s drunken Kakfaesque experiences as as poet working with mail. I found an unusual kind of truth in it. Unlike the majority of writers he wasn’t primarily interested in impressing anyone. There were no grand flourishes or overwrought metaphors. He seemed like a terrible person in many ways but there was something oddly refreshing about how little he tried to hide it.

Much like Henry Miller’s non-fiction, Bukowski believed that, even as a drunk, if he were honest and treated his thoughts like a craftsman would, he’d be a rare voice in the literary world. And he was. He spent, as most writer’s do, a career in obscurity, but late in his life, to his surprise, and many others fame came his way.

I know, from the documentaries, he was a bum, a drunk and a jerk, and I accept that since he seemed to have. I thought the movie Factotum was much better, and funnier, than Barfly. I’m still catching up on his poems, the work Bukowski perhaps did best, but I’ll get there soon. To celebrate his birthday here’s a list of my favorite Bukowski quotes (there’s a searchable archive of his work here):

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

“There’s nothing to mourn about death any more than there is to mourn about the growing of a flower. What is terrible is not death but the lives people live or don’t live up until their death. They don’t honor their own lives, they piss on their lives. They shit them away. Dumb fuckers. They concentrate too much on fucking, movies, money, family, fucking. Their minds are full of cotton. They swallow God without thinking, they swallow country without thinking. Soon they forget how to think, they let others think for them. Their brains are stuffed with cotton. They look ugly, they talk ugly, they walk ugly. Play them the great music of the centuries and they can’t hear it. Most people’s deaths are a sham. There’s nothing left to die.”

“Most people who write shouldn’t”

“An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.”

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”

“My ambition is handicapped by laziness”

“The shortest distance between two points is often unbearable.”

“You have to die a few times before you can really live.”

“BELIEVE YOU ARE GOOD WHEN THEY TELL YOU YOU ARE GOOD AND YOU ARE THEREBY DEAD, DEAD dead forever. Art is a day by day game of living and dying and if you live a little more than you die you are going to continue to create some pretty fair stuff, but if die a little more than you live, you know the answer. Creation, the carving of the thing, the good, creation is a sign that the god that runs you there inside still has his eyes open. Creation is not the end-all but it is a pretty big part. End of lecture #3784.” Pg. 33, Screams from the balcony

“Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink.” – Bukowski

“As we live we all get caught and torn by various traps.  Writing can trap you. Some writers tend to write what has pleased their readers in the past.  They hear accolades and believe them. There is only one final judge of writing and that is the writer. When he is swayed by the critics, the editors, the publishers, the readers, then he’s finished.And, of course, when he’s swayed with his fame and his fortune, you can float him down the river with the turds”

“it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left” (From The Shoelace)

“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”

“We cure the obvious and the subtle takes over.”


9 Responses to “Why I Love Bukowski (and my favorite quotes)”

  1. Hector

    Thanks for posting this. Just wanted to make you aware of a couple of typos, if you haven’t already.

    In the ““BELIEVE YOU ARE GOOD…” paragraph, 3rd line: “more than you due”. Should be “die”?

    In the ““As we live we all get…” paragraph, 2nd line: “hear accolades nd belive”.

  2. Phil Simon

    Thank you for writing this one. I started my day with a smile. “The shortest distance between two points is often unbearable” is utter genius. That’s going into the next book.

  3. Mike Nitabach

    Bukowski is great! He’s much more authentic than Miller, who always struck me as overly impressed with his own dick.

  4. Nancy

    My favorite of his novels is “Women,” but it is the poetry that I love most.

    1. Scott

      Thanks Susan. I’ll double check the source of the quote just to be sure.

  5. Claudia

    I really enjoy Bukowski’s poetry but haven’t read any of his books yet. Post Office is on my short list of things I want to read sooner than later. After reading your post, I think I’ll be reading it as soon as I’m done with the book I’m reading now.

    Also, I love this – “Most people’s deaths are a sham. There’s nothing left to die.”

    1. Scott Berkun

      I’ve read Post Office more than once and it held up well for me, but that was many years ago. His books have a different feel to them than his poetry in an odd way. His books are stiff lyrically – he’s a more sedate and less metaphoric writer in the books, closer to late Hemingway than his poetry would suggest.


Leave a Reply

* Required