The Unbearable Banishment: Course Title: <i>Bukowski and the $12,000 Poem</i>

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Course Title: Bukowski and the $12,000 Poem

Settle down, class.

Last week I attended the annual Antiquarian Rare Book Fair at the Park Avenue armory. I saw something that, in over two decades of attendance, I had seen on only one other occasion. This:

This little pamphlet is a single poem by Charles Bukowski titled The Genius of the Crowd. It's considered by many to be his masterpiece. I'm going post the poem in its entirety. If you're just glancing and have limited time, read it and skip the rest. It's pretty good stuff. Afterwords, stick around and I'll tell you the wild history of this little book and why the dealer's asking price is $12,000.

*     *     *

The Genius of the Crowd

There is enough treachery, hatred,
absurdity in the average human
To supply any given army on any given

AND The Best At Murder Are Those
  Who Preach Against It
AND The Best At Hate Are Those
  Who Preach LOVE

Those Who Preach GOD
Those Who Preach PEACE
 Do Not Have Peace.

Beware The Knowers.

 Beware Those Who Are

Beware Those Who Either Detest
 Poverty Or Are Proud Of It
BEWARE Those Quick To Praise
FOR They Need PRAISE In Return

BEWARE Those Quick To Censure:
They Are Afraid Of What They Do
Not Know

Beware Those Who Seek Constant
Crowds; They Are Nothing

The Average Man
The Average Woman
BEWARE Their Love

Their Love Is Average, Seeks
But There Is Genius In Their Hatred
There Is Enough Genius In Their
Hatred To Kill You, To Kill

Not Wanting Solidute
Not Understanding Solitude
They Will Attempt To Destroy
That Differs
From Their Concepts

Not Being Able To Create Art
They Will Not Understand Art

They Will Consider Their Failure
As Creators
Only As A Failure Of The World

Not Being Able To Love Fully

And Their Hatred Will Be Perfect
Like A Shining Diamond
Like A Knife
Like A Mountain
LIKE Hemlock

Their Finest

*     *     *

This was a cheaply-made pamphlet back 1966 by 7 Flowers Press of Cleveland. There were only 103 copies made; an extraordinarily low number. I don't know what printing technique was used, but it looks like they may have had rubber stamps made of each text block.

The publishers were so broke that they printed it on the back of business envelopes. If you look at the top leaf, you can see the verso of the envelope where it was sealed.

These were sold by Jim Lowell at his Asphodel Books in downtown Cleveland. In the 1960's, Asphodel Books sold radical, left wing literature. They were rabble rousers and not popular with the local politicians. One fine day, the Cleveland Police raided the bookstore on trumped-up obscenity charges, closed it down, and confiscated all of its merchandise. It wasn't Cleveland's finest hour. At that point, only approximately 40 copies of The Genius of the Crowd had been sold.

Most of the surviving copies reside in University special collections. There are just a small handful in private hands. To this day, nobody has ever been able to locate the 63 copies that the Cleveland Police absconded with. Presumably, they rotted away in an evidence locker in the bowels of a Cleveland police precinct.

The poem put Bukowski on the map and the raid by the police gave it a prescience and a special gravitas. (They will attempt to destroy/anything/that differs/from their concepts) It's important. But $12,000? Give me a break. At auction it would probably fetch a quarter of that. Still a lot of money, but rare book dealers live in a fantasy world.

Finally, here's a recording of Bukowski reading The Genius of the Crowd with his surprisingly soft-spoken, slow, Pasadena drawl. Beautiful graphic transitions of the text in this as well.

Class dismissed.


Blogger dinahmow said...

I've read this poem before.Late 60s, at a university writers' meeting. There were copies of various "revolutionary tracts" and this was one.I actually kept my copy for years.It disappeared, somewhere along my travels. Bugger!
But I'll keep it this time. Thank you, sir!

Is it likely a policeman recognised valuable material and hung on to a copy or three? Nah, probably not!

April 20, 2013 at 11:24 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

You don't know how many times I've wanted to scour the Cleveland police management records to try and locate these copies. They're probably destroyed but, optimist that I am, I can't help wondering if they're somewhere in perfect, well-preserved condition.

April 20, 2013 at 11:48 PM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

Well, call me crazy, but I don't think $12,000 is out of line. I believe there will be a buyer for this at that price and there could even be a Bidding War! I mean, think of how rare this is---no matter how it was printed or on what----It is so very rare and such an oddity just because of how and on what it was printed. Someone who loves Bukowski and who has the money will by this. Well, this is my belief, anyway. Is it worth that? It IS to that "true collector" who must, must, MUST, have it. It isn't to me, but then....I'm not that true collector. But I'm willing to bet someone out there is. I love this story and,
I love hearing him speak the poem.

April 21, 2013 at 3:09 AM  
Blogger OldLady Of The Hills said...

I don't know what happened to the "U" in the word it's with all those copies in!

April 21, 2013 at 3:11 AM  
Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

"Beware Those Who Are ALWAYS READING BOOKS" sounds like something Chairman Mao might have said during the Cultural Revolution. People always reading books would probably be short-sighted anyway, which would lessen the threat from hand-to-hand combat. I'm glad he didn't try to get a cheap laugh by writing "Beware the poet" - it would have ruined the tone of the piece.

April 21, 2013 at 3:46 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Bukowski, another interesting post from you, but he was not the first man to see the light after getting totally lallied in his youth. Based on that fact alone, half of Glesca should be placed on tall pedestals to be admired. An interesting poem, but am I the only one who recognises the familiar Germanic influence when it comes to speech making?

April 21, 2013 at 4:28 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

I thought that was your poetic statement. No?

April 21, 2013 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Okay, you're crazy! Just imagine what you could get for that $12K instead of this. You could lay your hands on signed copy of A Farewell to Arms or a first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird. Titles that are WAY more important and will retain their value longer.

What a crazy game we're playing. Who has $12K to spend on a stupid book that you can't read because it's too valuable?!

April 21, 2013 at 7:25 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

I've read this poem dozens and dozens of times and have always wondered about that stanza. Who does he mean? It seems completely out of synch with the rest of the piece. What! I read books! I'm not the enemy!

April 21, 2013 at 7:31 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Thank you, sir. It's nice to see you again. Another successful holiday, I presume? Bukowski was, in fact German, and immigrated from Andernach when he was a child. He was raised in a strong Germanic household. You, my friend, get an A for this course.

April 21, 2013 at 7:34 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not quite a holiday UB, more a case of preparing the way so to speak. As for Bukowski, his poem entitled 'Freedom' came straight from the mind of a man who knew much suffering back in the day. Intrinsic, yet unstable best describes his preamble through a moderate hell.

April 21, 2013 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Kono said...

Hank read a ton of books, the art of poetry is in the bullshit, Hank was a top notch bullshitter which in turn made him a better poet, it's why most poetry sucks pink ass, the ivory tower set are all dwelling on the truth, and really as we know truth ain't nothing but a four letter word...

April 21, 2013 at 9:27 PM  
Blogger Pat said...

You should ban anons IMO.

When I first read it I was put off by its negativity.
Listening to his reading somehow made it more acceptable.

April 22, 2013 at 4:18 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

I simply delete the anons as they pop up. My site is so little-trafficked that it's not really a problem. They don't happen all that often. It's the ONLY good thing about not having many readers.

It's a corrosive poem. Not a very nice message. But up until he found a measure of success in his late 40's, Bukowski had a pretty miserable life. I can see where all the dark matter came from. I don't necessarily agree with his sentiments, but I think they're beautifully stated.

April 22, 2013 at 7:06 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

'Freedom' is ironically titled. It's not what I have in mind when I think of being free. I'll wager it's not your idea of freedom, either.

April 22, 2013 at 7:09 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Poetry for the masses! I have a friend who teaches English Lit at the university level and he can't work Buk into his class syllabus because it's all there on the surface. There's nothing to delve into. He thinks that's the beauty and strength of Bukowski's work. It's raw accessibility. Lots of folks look down their noses at that. You know how I feel.

April 22, 2013 at 7:11 AM  
Blogger sukipoet said...


April 22, 2013 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Do you know his work? He ain't for everyone. And I get that people think his poetry is slight. But it works for me.

April 22, 2013 at 8:11 AM  
Blogger savannah said...

have you seen this documentary, "Bukowski: Born into This" it's available on netflix. we came across it this weekend and i immediately thought of you. and yes, his speaking voice is not what i expected at all. xoxoxo

April 22, 2013 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Netflix, Schmetflix. I OWN a copy! A document like that needs multiple viewings. Actually, that video I posted is from Born Into This.

The post card is on its way.

April 22, 2013 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Indeed sir, no it is not.

April 22, 2013 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Jules said...

I LIKE that. A lot. Most of it is very accurate.

Yeah, that's a lot for a book, but it's very arty and I like that about it, still, it's a lot for a book.

April 22, 2013 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

It's pretty dark and I don't necessarily agree with him but it is a nice piece. I've always wondered how much the back-story figured into its popularity and my own view on it.

$12K. Please. Even if you had the money, you'd be nuts to pay that much.

April 22, 2013 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Eryl said...

You are the teacher I always dreamt of when I was a child, still do. You know I love Bukowski, and I hadn't read this poem, so thank you. The story is marvellous, and his reading... Oh my! If I had lots of $12Ks I'd definitely buy it, the colour of the cover alone is too seductive. And the envelopes!

April 22, 2013 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

I was hoping you saw this post because I know you're a fan. As I mentioned above, I think much of the appeal and luster of this piece is because of the fantastic story behind it. Part of its value is certainly the small print run, but would he dare ask $12K if it were just a chapbook without the backstory? Nay, I say.

April 22, 2013 at 5:08 PM  
Anonymous daisyfae said...

Gonna have to ship this link to The Boy, who has become quite enamored with Buk. You are a good teacher. Nice courdoroy jacket, with those goofyassed elbow patches, and i think you could pass... maybe a bowtie, too!

April 23, 2013 at 6:08 PM  
Blogger savannah said...

there's an award for you at my place! ;) xoxoxo

April 23, 2013 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

And a pipe. And a co-ed starring at me dreamily. I'm that kind of teacher.

Tell The Boy that Bukowski's Mockingbird Wish Me Luck is a good one.

April 23, 2013 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Is it a food award? If it's your place, I want a food award. Demand it, actually. No room for negotiations.

April 23, 2013 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

I suspect he's referring to ideologues, who are always reading books that reinforce their point of view.

April 24, 2013 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Excellent point. Such clear thinking from someone who picks the lice out of a friend's head and then eats it.

April 24, 2013 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger MommyHeadache said...

Interesting poem I'm not sure where I fit in.
I seek crowds but just as background noise I'm more like a superhero who dangles from the ceiling observing the masses.
I don't preach about God so you are safe there!!
Vote for me in the Expat Culture Shock comp if you have a mo

April 24, 2013 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Come to NYC and you can observe the masses until you're blue in the face. I find it great sport and think that Mr. Bukowski's assessments are a tad harsh. But he was on hard times.

I'll vote. I'll vote!

April 25, 2013 at 7:12 AM  

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