Blog of Pulitzer Prize Nominated Author, Jory Sherman. Get the latest information on his books, appearances and his candid reflections on writing.

Friday, June 03, 2011


Ever since I finished writing my memoir, Bukowski & Me, (Rebecca J. Vickery, publisher), the poet Charles Bukowski has been an almost ever-present specter in my thoughts. I remember so many moments with him that I did not record. Perhaps it was because there was a distance between us that began to grow long before his death, a distance created by that monster called Fame, a hydra-headed demon that grabbed both of us, but wrapped Hank, as we called him, in its tentacles and surrounded him with sycophants as he glowed with that bright light that Fame drenches us with like some demonic strobe.

In the early days of our friendship, Hank would invite me over to his apartment on Mariposa Street in West Hollywood. I was living in San Bernardino at the time, either tending bar or driving a taxicab and writing poetry whenever I was not working. He was expecting me, so when I knocked on his door, he’d yell from the kitchen: “Come in.” He would be sitting at a small table in the kitchen in front of his upright Underwood. He had a little red radio on, and it was tuned to a classical station in Los Angeles. There would be Berlioz or Beethhoven, or some other composer pouring through the speaker. A poem under construction was in the typewriter. He got up and took the six pack of Miller High Life from me and took out two bottles, put the rest in his horror of a refrigerator. He opened both beers and handed me one as I stared at the sink full of soiled dishes, the counter a shambles of chicken bones on plates, fatty rinds from steaks, bowls of dried chili, half-eaten dinner rolls or biscuits, an ashtray full of cigarette butts. The music played on and I glanced at the poem in the Underwood. The paper was filled with words and sentences marred by ### strikeouts of words or sentences he had eliminated. He swigged from his bottle of Miller’s and lit another cigarette. We walked into the livingroom after he turned down the radio so that it became a soft undertone to our conversation.

We sat. I took a chair, he sunk into his couch. Poetry journals were strewn around the room and there were sheets of paper on the coffee table with his latest poems in disarray, all turkey-tracked with ###s. Smoke from his cigarette scrimmed his scarred and pustule face as he stared at the manila envelope in my lap. I lit a Pall Mall with a Bic lighter and sipped on my bottle of beer.

“What you got there, kid?” he’d ask.

“Some new poems,” I said.

We read each other’s poems and then discussed which poetry journals might publish them.

In those early days of our friendship, Bukowski said he didn’t have any friends and didn’t want any. As I look back at those times, I think Hank was trying to discover who he was. He had a burning desire to write and that consumed him in his off hours from his job at the L.A. Annex Post Office.

His poetry eventually told him who he was and I think mine did the same for me. We each found our voice and the poems gave us a deep spiritual life that obscured the world outside our windows.

Beneath all the writing was the music, and the music changes language in some mysterious way. I just finished listening to Steven Tyler’s wonderful book, “Does the Noise In My Head Bother you?” Tyler has a brilliant gift for language and is a superb musician. And, like Bukowski, he has the soul of a poet.

Bukowski has faded into the distance since his death, but his poetry and stories are close at hand and I draw memories from them that may never be expressed. They are, as the distance stretches and Father Time breathes down my neck, very comforting and real to me. It’s as if I’m sitting with Hank in his apartment on Mariposa Street, smoking and drinking, listening to the music that only we could hear.


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