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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Gatekeepers : the emergence of world literature and the 1960s
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Carl Weissner, Literary Entrepreneur and Translator

The third and most important gatekeeper in Bukowski’s life was Carl Weissner, born in 1940 at Karlsruhe, Germany. He was the literary kid at school. After reading about the avant-garde in the Times Literary Supplement, he started an avant-garde magazine. He was a German mimeo guy, as he explained: “I thought if I had a magazine of my own I could exchange copies with some of these editors and just take it from there. So I started a magazine. I called it Klactoveedsedsteeno, after a Charley Parker tune.”39 He published this magazine from 1965 to 1969. Having seen Bukowski’s poems in another mimeo magazine, Weissner wrote to him. His English was proficient from living around GIs and watching US films and TV.40

He was still corresponding with Bukowski while he studied at Heidelberg and Bonn; then he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United States in 1968. But rather than settle down at his host institution, he split his time between New York City and San Francisco. He managed to meet William

Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Nelson Algren, Bob Dylan, and even Frank Zappa, collaborating with the latter on Plastic People.41 Enthusiastic and enterprising, he was briefly literary agent for Bukowski, Paul Bowles, and John Fante in Europe and South America.42 He would eventually translate twenty-eight books of Bukowski’s. As Bukowski later told Jay Dougherty,

His letters were quite incisive, entertaining (lively as hell), and he bucked up my struggle in the darkness, no end. A letter from Carl always was and still is an infusion of life and hope and easy wisdom. I was in the post office at the time and living with a crazy and alcoholic woman and writing anyhow. All our money went for booze. We lived in rags and a rage of despair. I remember I didn’t even have money for shoes. The nails from my old shoes dug into my feet as I walked my routes hung-over and mad. We drank all night and I had to get up at 5 a.m. When I wrote, the poems came out of this and the letters from Carl were the only good magic about.43

The first letters that Carl Weissner wrote to Bukowski were appeals for poems for his magazine. Bukowski’s responses were long and personal, discussing writers, complaining about finances, and ending in maudlin appeals:

I will try to submit more work to you as soon as it comes up, good or bad, something, but just finished the dozen I got rid of . . . out of drink, so end of letter. must go out and get more. see me in these Los Angeles streets, bent of back, aging, trying to hold on, pitiful man, going down the street for whiskey, haha, [Harold] Norse sprawled out on his back dreaming of

spiders____And my old Uncle Fette, over there near you, dear old Heinrich,

Anderach candy maker, either dead or dying, like I am, like you are, everything exploding and sand and full of tears, jesus just jesus too much, I feel like crying, I think I will cry, but first, Carl, dear friend, that small pint, then later and again - the world. My love, Buk. [sic]44

These letters, archived at Northwestern and UCSB, reveal a relationship that turned from the personal/confessional to the literary/commercial. And, of course, there is Harold Norse in the background. By 1968 we find Bukowski using Weissner as a sounding board for the new fatalistic tone that developed during his relationship with Norse:

I’ve just decided to let people think I am a shit; it’s easier than answering all those letters.—on the London publisher Norse was talking about, I am afraid I gave him a wrong steer. The London publisher wanted to SEE some work in POSSIBILITY of doing a book. No promise made of publication. I had hoped to dedicate this book to Hal [Norse]. But you see what a loose thing it is. . . .

See how I am stuck in the mad mud? Inability to MOVE. Norse writes of the same thing and I understand it perfectly. He writes that even the ancients were aware of this same thing. God, I hope it lets up soon. [sic]45

In his letters to Bukowski, Weissner appears to be a young man full of technical expertise about printing, contracts, and distribution.46 He advises on per page typesetting costs in deutschmarks vs. dollars. He knows which bookstores have how many copies of which authors. He writes also to Allen Ginsberg, volunteering to unite all of the poet’s German translations under one publisher, for which Ginsberg was grateful.47

 
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