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ANTI-HERO, Robert W. Howington

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Lil's Experimental Ezine

Volume 2, Issue 2, March 2004

 

An Interview with Robert W. Howington

By Patricia Gomes

dirtyhowiebobbleheaddoll3.jpg
Dirty Howie, the Bobble Head

I met former publisher Robert W. Howington long before I had the opportunity to interview him and so has everyone who's ever done a general web search for Charles Bukowski.  Countless Buk sites are linked to Howie, making him, the founder/curator/webmaster of ANTI-HERO ART, the World Wide Web's leading expert on all things Bukowski. 

 

After many weeks of nervous deliberation, I worked up the courage to ask the nose thumbin', hard drinkin', rock-n-rollin' Dirty Howie if he'd consent to grace the pages of Lil's, certain in my heart of hearts that he'd tell me to take a fly leap.  He didn't — he said yes.  No one was more amazed than I.  I called him a doll; he proved that he is, in fact, just that.

 

Are you ready?  You're sure?  Well then, put your feet up, crack open a beer, and let's get this party started.

 

PG:  Howie, you are the leading internet authority on Charles Bukowski and his number one promoter.  How many years has it been since you "discovered" Buk?

 

DH: I first learned of Bukowski when I went and saw the movie he wrote called Barfly in 1987.  I noticed that the screenwriter's name was Charles Bukowski and I kept that in mind.  Then I saw his name on books at bookstores and started buying his books and reading them.  I've read them all.  He's without a doubt my literary father figure. 

 

He let me know through his writing that you could write about something as simple as killing a cockroach and make it entertaining. His life experiences are so similar to everyone else's you can identify with him in many, many ways.  My dad, like his, used to get on me about leaving a bit of the yard unmowed.  He'd make a spectacle out of telling me I'd missed a spot.  He'd only do this after I'd already put up the lawnmower and was in my room doing something else already.  He'd tell me that I would have to dig the lawnmower out again and mow that one stupid spot I'd missed, which was usually behind a bush no one could see anyway. 

Instead of my dad beating me, like Buk's did, my mother was the child abuser in our family.  She wouldn't whoop my ass.  She had a special type of evil for me.  She'd make me pull down my pants and then she'd whip me across the back of my thighs with a leather belt.  It was Bukowski writing about these life experiences of his, which we had in common, that endeared me to his writings and his philosophy on life in general. I thought, "God damn, I got a brother in arms here. I'm not alone."

 

PG:  Have you noticed a rise in Bukowski followers since his death in 1994?

 

DH:  The only thing I'd noticed is that I can't find Bukowski books at half-price bookstores any longer. Before he died I'd found at least half of his Black Sparrow Press books at used bookstores.   In the ten years since he's died I've found maybe one or two the whole time. There may not be more Bukowski readers out there but the demand for his books has obviously gone up.

 

PG:  In 1990, you published two of Buk's poems in your magazine, Experiment in Words and thereafter maintained a written correspondence with him, making you a demi-god to the new generation of Bukowski groupies; did you ever get to speak

to him in person?

 

DH:  Unfortunately, no.  But by the time I corresponded with him (early '90s) his health had already deteriorated and so he didn't want any unannounced visitors, period.  All he wanted to do was put down as many words as he could before the end came.  Besides, I never really felt that I had to meet him because, through his writings, his spoken word CDs, various films documenting his every move, I

pretty much had met the dude.  So a face-to-face meeting wasn't necessary to me.  We'd already met many times before on the page, the CD player and VCR.

 

PG:  Tell us about Linda King, Bukowski's former girlfriend: has she published the book she's been writing for several years?  Do you still hear from her?

 

DH:  She wanted to put out a book about her life with Bukowski but she's never even written it, as far as I know.  I last got a letter from her several years ago. In it she was saying in that John Martin, publisher of Black Sparrow Press who is now retired, wasn't too keen on her writing her Bukowski memoirs.  She said Martin was threatening her legally.  I don't know why he'd act that way unless he thought he'd lose out monetarily. 

 

I've always thought that Linda King would be the one person who could write THE book about Bukowski but, if she is, she's got to make a decision to sit down and do it and not worry about what other people are gonna think about it.  Maybe she's trying to get a book contract first, with an advance?  Who knows?  But I don't see that happening because the only people who'd read her Buk book would be people like me, the true hardcore Buk addicts.  So it wouldn't sell many copies, which means a publisher probably wouldn't pay her a dime until the book's production costs got paid back through sales and then they'd only give her a tiny royalty after that was accomplished. 

 

PG:  Everyone has a Bukowski poem that's become nearly a mantra for them — what's yours?

 

DH:  The poem Spark that I published in Experiment In Words #4.  The line "… I couldn't understand the murdering of my years…" speaks volumes to me.  I, too, resent the fact that I have to work a spirit/soul-killing job just to be able to afford a roof over my head, food, cigarettes, booze and get repairs done to a 13-year-old car so that I can get back to that fucking job each and every day, bright and early.  The unlucky ones sit around and watch as the world goes by.  

 

We get one shot at life and to spend it working for assholes is really the wrong thing to do but to do otherwise means you'll either wind up in jail or in a nuthouse.  So you placate yourself the best you can.  Buk did it with drink and crazy women; I've done it with abusing various narcotics, drinking, two failed marriages and flipping the TV remote endlessly to find something, anything, worth a damn to watch.  Yeah, I watch TV.  It's a drug, too.  I'm a news junkie.  I've always been interested in the human being and what a complete fuck up he is. 

 

SPARK

 

I always resented all the years, the hours, the

minutes I gave them as a working stiff, it

actually hurt my head, my insides, it made me

dizzy and a bit crazy -- I couldn't understand the

murdering of my years

yet my fellow workers gave no signs of

agony, many of them even seemed satisfied, and

seeing them that way drove me almost as crazy as

the dull and senseless work.

 

the workers submitted.

the work pounded them to nothingness, they were

scooped-out and thrown away.

 

I resented each minute, every minute as it was

mutilated

and nothing relieved the monotonous ever-

structure.

 

I considered suicide.

I drank away my few leisure hours.

 

I worked for decades.

 

I lived with the worst of women, they killed what

the job failed to kill.

 

I knew that I was dying.

something in me said, go ahead, die, sleep, become

them, accept.

 

then something else in me said, no, save the tiniest

bit.

it needn't be much, just a spark.

a spark can set a whole forest on

fire.

just a spark.

save it.

 

I think I did.

I'm glad I did.

what a lucky god damned

thing.

 

    Charles Bukowski

 

PG:  Which is your preference:  Bukowski's fiction or his poetry?

 

DH:  His fiction. More of his fiction is good compared to his poetry, which is sometimes excellent but then sometimes just not there. His fiction was more consistent in quality. His short stories collections are where you'll find that he just went for it, mixing everyday reality (how to pay the electric bill) with strange things, such as the story about a guy who woke up to find the blanket he was sleeping under was trying to strangle him to death. 

 

Women is by far his best novel. He nailed down the female animal in that book like no one before, or after, has. I read it again after my second divorce and it was like reading a bible for men who've gone through the good times and bad times with the opposite sex. Again, with Women, Bukowski makes you feel like you have a friend who has gone through the same shit you have and can understand your pain and suffering

like no other.

 

PG: Name the one Charles Bukowski book that everyone who thinks themselves a poet should have in their libraries?

 

DH: Post Office, his book about working for the post office in LA.  It'll reaffirm to the slackers who call themselves poets that, yes, work does indeed suck and that they would never want to have anything to do with what it encompasses, such as getting your hands dirty, sweating through your clothes, slicing your fingers open (I did that many times while installing carpet during my 20s) and having to put up with co-workers who profess their allegiance to the all-mighty, (the only book they've read is the Bible) but will pull the rug out from under you if they ever get the chance to.  Most of the poets I know here in Fort Worth(less), Texas, hang out at coffeehouses and jot down meaningless drivel in a spiral notebook while waiting on their suicidal girlfriends to show up so they can go together to the local PETA rally and shout about how cruel KFC is to chickens.

 

Because of them, and their ilk, I stopped going to poetry readings and open mics years ago.  They were so weak and feeble in their manner and their attitudes that it was making me crazy to sit there and listen to their poems of zero content or meaning.  I personally don't like the word 'poet' because it's so effeminate and I don't like poets, by and large, because, from the ones I've had to deal with, they're all momma's boys who're afraid of the dark.  They've never done a damn thing in their lives.  Never taken a gamble.  Never tried and failed.  Never wrote a sentence that was worth quoting.

 

Bukowski was not a poet — he was a writer; there's a big difference.  A writer can write in any format.  A poet is limited to short lines about the blue sky and the yellow sun because they have nothing of substance to say about anything.  How can you when you've never actually done jack shit worth writing about?  Their lives are soft and safe and they don't ever get it that good writing can only come from pain, suffering, and lessons learned.

 

 

PG: Do you think you'll ever get around to publishing your own book on Bukowski?

 

DH: Never even thought of it. I put up the Buk tribute website and that's all I'm doing. Other people have surfaced from the sewers to put out their books on Buk, the ones who heard him fart in a bar and think that qualifies them as knowing him personally and, thus, having a story to tell about him — which is bullshit.  Of course, most of these grave robbers are poets, so that just goes to show you the lack of substance poets have. 

 

If you're a poet, stop being one.  Write prose.  That's only if you really want to have a chance at being a decent writer.  No one respects poetry.  Look at hip-hop. It's the worst poetry there is.  That garbage is nothing more than kindergartner level musings.

 

PG:  In your opinion, are there any poets publishing today that can hold a candle to Bukowski?

 

DH:  Like I said, I don't like poets.  I don't read any poetry.  I never did before I found Bukowski and I haven't since.  Sure, I read plenty of poetry while publishing various lit mags and 'zines between 1989 and 1995. but I wouldn't ever read another line of poetry on purpose, unless it's from out of Buk's latest post-death collection.  I don't even read contemporary fiction.  I get too critical with other people's words when I read.  I think to myself, "God, this guy can't write worth a shit. I'm not wasting another minute of my time trying to get through this fucking shit."  

 

The only writers I can stand to read are on the Anti-Hero Art website: 'Scary' Gary Goude, William Bryan Massey III, 'Motel' Todd Taylor, John 'Chainsaw' Huffman, Tamara and Ben La Rosa.  And not one of them has ever taken a writing course. Massey and Huffman are both high school dropouts.  They were all born with a talent to convey their thoughts via words. 

 

You can't learn how to be a writer; you are or you aren't.  If you're born a monkey, you're a monkey.  If you're born a cow, you're a cow; same thing with writers—you can't just stand up and say you want to be one.  Hell, I'd love to be Hugh Hefner but I'm not and never will be.

 

PG:  What advice do you have for the current crop of Bukowski imitators? 

 

DH:  Everyone who first meets Bukowski's words, and is a writer themselves, will start to sound like Bukowski if they keep writing.  But, if they're any good, that'll be a phase they'll work themselves through in time.  Once they're through their Buk phase they're on their way.  As a writer, you have to find your own voice but it does take time. It doesn't happen overnight.  It takes practice.  It takes devotion.  I've been called a Buk imitator many times, mostly by poets, of course.  It didn't bother me because I knew myself well enough that I knew I had my own style and, besides, who the fuck would you rather be compared to?  Bukowski or some NY Times Top Ten flack, like Stephen King or John Grisham?

 

* * * * *

 

Lil's Experimental Ezine 2004   All rights reserved.

 

 

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To read interviews with Janice Kelley, Jeffrey Spahr-Summers, Donna Kuhn, and others, or to read book reviews, go to the Publishing Credits page and click on the appropriate links.

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