A lot of writers bash Bukowski. It’s almost a sport, a very easy sport. Like kickball. No, Bukowski is not the pinnacle. Yes, Bukowski-worship is annoying. Worship of any author is annoying. But why is it okay to worship someone like Billy Collins or Sharon Olds? “But, but, but those people are REAL writers, and Bukowski was not a REAL writer.” You never hear people say, “You write just like Billy Collins!” or “You write just like Jorie Graham!” Or if they do say it, they mean it as a compliment. Raymond Carver wrote in such a similar style that some of his and Bukowski’s stories could be interchanged and no one would know. We should not feel sorry for Bukowski. He made plenty of money and was famous in his lifetime. Swimming lazily in his pool, just like Henry Miller. At one point he said in a poem: “It’s so nice to be Bukowski.” But, really, who would have wanted Bukowski’s life, except for maybe a few years when he was in his late fifties, early sixties? Who would have wanted his face? Who would have wanted his parents? Who would have wanted most of his women? He was “the ugliest man in the world,” a most unlikely success story, and the young clean-faced writers couldn’t forgive him for that and still can’t.

It seems to be the pivotal point in a young writer’s life when he claims he’s coming out of his “Bukowski stage.” Next, he’ll tell us Bukowski was a hack and then we’ll know he’s truly arrived. It doesn’t matter that 90 percent of writers all sound alike, dead, tone-deaf, uninspired, too careful, pretentious, overwritten with no natural flow, churned out by the same MFA mold. That’s all okay, that’s all fucking perfect, the way it should be. Just BY GOD DON’T SOUND LIKE BUKOWSKI. Bukowski’s old news.

How many times have I read comments like this: “Bukowski couldn’t even write, actually.” “He kicked his wife on the couch; I saw the video.” “Bukowski never even REVISED!” “Bukowski, meh, he had no sense of craft.” “Bukowski wasn’t an artist.” When in fact he was an artist, but he did not want to play artist. They say he was a misogynist when he was really a misanthrope, and had good reason to be a misanthrope. They say he was a rapist because of a scene he wrote in his novel Post Office. They say he was a nobody because they don’t see him on their college reading list. They say he was a bum, when he was really king of the bums. I think it was Jack Michelin who called him that.

Or the best “criticism” of all: “Bukowski was just a drunk.” I guess those 50-plus books wrote themselves? Speaking of drunks, so were Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, Jim Thompson, Faulker, Carson McCullers, James Joyce, Raymond Carver, Hunter S. Thompson, Alan Watts, Janice Joplin, Brautigan, Li Po, Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, most of the middle-age monks, Frazier’s dad, Norm, and the list, as they say, goes on. The difference? Bukowski had the nerve to write about being a drunk. And he wrote about it unapologetically.

And that’s a problem, isn’t it? He wasn’t apologetic. He didn’t lower his head and confess to all the sober, college-educated cardboard people that it was they who rightfully deserved the fame and the book sales that he had somehow lucked into. They who were already winning the prizes, the grants, the residencies, the speaker fees, the fellowships, the teaching positions, the newspaper write-ups, the big reviews. They who had the nice houses, nice cars, nice spouses, nice kids, nice dogs, nice offices, nice vacation condos, nice publicists, nice agents, nice hairstylists, nice designer drugs. They who were being published in the New Yorker and Poetry Magazine and Yale Review. They who had EVERYTHING ELSE, they also deserved the audience that Bukowski had dredged up from the basements, bad jobs and back alleys by sheer force of will and constant writing.

And that’s what makes a writer a GOOD writer: a ton of writing. When you write so much it becomes second nature, like a martial artist whose moves and reactions flow almost without thinking. He thinks about what he is writing, but he does not think THAT he is writing. He does not think, “Here I am writing, look at me being a writer, writing.” A martial artist should not stand in the ring thinking, “Here I am being a martial artist.” He should simply fight.

Bukowski fought. One of the things I believe that makes him great and popular is that he was a kind of hero. His heroic drinking, for one, which would have killed many men—and did kill many men—at a much younger age. His heroic journey from beaten, ugly kid through all kinds of travail to literary and financial success. He was larger than life. He was the kind of man you can’t imagine existing. Especially these days. Bukowski did it his way, which is another reason the establishment toadies never liked him and still don’t like him. As he said once, “I was the old man who never sold his balls to the butcher and it drove them screwy.” His writing has within it everything an honest, unpretentious reader could want: conflict, movement, pathos, sex, poetry, emotional and physical pain, heroic strength and heroic suffering, outrage at the way of things, acceptance of the way of things, humor, insight, even wisdom. Yes, Bukowski wrote some crap. Bob Dylan wrote some crap. Ali lost some fights. But the precious writing professors and gatekeepers, they never write crap. They rarely write at all. While most writers tend to their gardens and hedge funds, Bukowski spent his life staring into the abyss. “I have seen the red rose burning/and that means more.”

While many writers produce volumes pontificating about the “absurdity” of life, as if that’s the end-all, Bukowski takes that as a given. That’s where he starts. “Life is absurd because it exists. Is there anything more absurd than dying every day and on the last day?”

Bukowski just sat down one day and wrote a fucking movie script. No training, no film school, no workshops. He barely even watched TV or movies. He simply knew what he wanted to write about and stayed within himself. He didn’t bullshit or add padding. He knew about action and dialogue and atmosphere. He not only knew about “real” people, but he knew about real people who were not common. They say Bukowski is a writer for the common man, but there is hardly a character in his works that is truly common, unless he’s making fun of them. I’ve met a lot of drunks in my life and never came across anybody like Bukowski. When you read Bukowski, much like Henry Miller, you don’t get the sense that you’re reading the works of a writer, but listening to an exceptional human being speaking.

For me, it is Bukowski’s humor that stands out. Nobody, with the possible exception of Céline, makes me laugh more than Bukowski. Bukowski standing in front of the bank teller, with his bulbous-nose and ridiculously unmistakable face, saying, “You want some ID?” with a twinkle in his eye. Bukowski saying, “So many of these reformed drinkers act like they’ve extinguished the fires of hell by snuffing out a candle.” Bukowski’s girlfriend throwing beer bottles at him. Bukowski driving up into the Hollywood Hills to dump his liquor bottles in a canyon so the neighbors don’t see them in his garbage can. Bukowski asking for a cigar when the anesthetist can’t make him go to sleep so the doctor can cut out his hemorrhoids. Bukowski’s boss at the post office saying, “What did you do NOW, Chinaski?” Bukowski hitting his landlord in the face with an old typewriter and running down the stairs. Bukowski standing in his dead parents’ house, telling the neighbors they can help themselves to anything, including appliances and furniture, until one guy tries to take the whiskey bottle from the cupboard. “Leave the whiskey.”

Bukowski complained about the academic poets and underground wannabe writers in the 70’s. How they never wrote, they just talked about writing. How they gathered into groups and wormed together. Imagine what he would think of the literary world now, with its million MFA programs, its cancel culture and identity politics and social media. Bukowski probably never would be published at all if he had been born 50 years later. And there are people who will tell you we are living in a “golden age of literature.”

As much as the snob faces hated him when he was alive, a whole new generation of snob faces hate him now. Or they just dismiss him with a shrug and go on talking about Finnegans Wake. Bukowski’s writing was and is so powerful that his influence can be seen even in people who claim to hate him, even in people who never read him. So don’t go telling me you’re coming out of your Bukowski stage, or that you’re moving on from the “I” poems, as if that’s so very brave and mature and now your poetry rises into the heavens like the Dalai Lama’s anal vapor.

Bukowski said a good writing style was mostly a matter of unpretentiousness. Which essentially means don’t pretend, don’t put on airs, don’t try too hard to sound like a “writer” or that you’re some know-it-all. He wrote in a clear, simple, American style, like Hemingway, like Chandler, like many early American journalists and pulp writers. He wrote clearly because that’s a good way to tell a story or to express an emotion or thought or idea. His subject matter was in the gutter, but if he had written about it in a convoluted, stream-of-consciousness, impossible-to-follow-let-alone-care-about mess, like Malcolm Lowry in “Under the Volcano,” the intellectuals and art-farts would have creamed themselves. He wrote too much is another thing they say. The pinky-typers who write one poem a month always say he wrote too much. At least Bukowski never wrote a 1,000-page pile of dead wood like 3,666 or Infinite Jest.

Bukowski helped to bring many dead writers back to life. He resurrected John Fante. John Fante’s son, Dan Fante, also benefitted from this. Just a mention from Bukowski would send readers, like me, to the library, and later to Google. If Bukowski liked them, they must be good! And they always were: Céline, Thurber, Steve Richmond, Carson McCullers. The money his book sales generated for Black Sparrow Press financed the publication of many other poets. And the prototype of Black Sparrow Press has given hope to unknown writers who feel like they don’t or can’t fit in anywhere within the established channels.

You can talk all you want about your superior craft and ideas and theories and explanations, but Bukowski still makes me want to read him over and over, while I can barely get through most of YOUR books, knowing the used bookstore won’t even buy them back for a nickel. May Bukowski’s books forever fly off the shelves like angels.