I discovered Bukowski a few years back and was immediately caught by the sharp end of what he wrote. He wrote from the inside out, saying what he saw and what he felt without censorship, often to the point of being crude and offensive. I think he was hated as much as loved, but it seems that despite it all, he stuck by his principles. He hadn’t outlined any particular philosophy as such, other than that most people were full of shit and incapable of being real. At poetry readings, he’d abuse his audience. I think that’s why they came to see him. Regarding the work of an artist, his advice was to do it or don’t do it. If it is there, go with it; if it isn’t, wait. Trying is counter-productive. In the commercial world of goods and services, we can’t tolerate this philosophy of work. It is an offence against our consumerist common sense. Whatever you want, it is yours—just set yourself out in the world and get it. You’ll find some of Bukowski’s thoughts and feelings on the craft of writing and other topics in the collection, On Writing.
In 1964, Bukowski wrote to author Jack Conroy about Conroy’s novel The Disinherited, a work of fiction that tackled the plight of the working classes in the 1920s and 1930s United States. Bukowski insisted that from his point of view, the poverty of the 1920s working classes portrayed in the story was still relevant forty years on. When we read what Bukowski said about work, we’d be forgiven for thinking that it was today. Those of us in western industrialised nations may have a materially better standard of living and fancier gadgets than in 1964, but there remain many who are marginalised. Given the current energy crisis and increasing cost of living, many who were already struggling to stay afloat are probably drowning.