Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski – Don’t Try

Alexander Maxwell


Charles Bukowski was a German born, American writer and poet, born on the 16th of August 1920. He attended the Los Angeles City College for two years, studying art, journalism and literature, before quitting at the start of WWII. In his early 20s he tried to make it as a writer submitting articles and short stories to many of the independent magazines of the time. Although he had some success, Bukowski grew disillusioned with the publication process and quit writing for almost a decade, a time he referred to as a ‘ten year drunk.’

During this time he tried his hand at various menial jobs, and went off roaming the country as a vagabond. Returning to his writing later, his break came in 1969 when he accepted an offer by John Martin of Black Sparrow Press. At the time he was working a dead end job at the US Postal Service. ‘I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy ……… or stay out here and play at writing and starve. I have decided to starve’, he wrote regarding accepting the opportunity.

By 1986, Time magazine called Bukowski, ‘laureate of the American lowlife.’ Something I am sure he would have been proud. In 1994 when he died, he had asked for the words, ‘Don’t Try’ to be chiselled upon his head stone. There are many explanations to why this is, although I believe what he meant was what he finally learned to accept through his experiences. Don’t try to be someone else, be yourself, when he first tried to impress the publishers it led to him despising them.

When he finally began to write what he knew so well, which was the ‘American Lowlife’. Bukowski began to make his name by being honest and true to whom he was and it is a possible reason why he left ‘Don’t Try’ upon his gravestone, as imitation is suicide.

Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses this sentiment is his essay Self-Reliance “There is a time in every mans education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, or worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is, which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”


Alexander Maxwell