A review of the STORY

“Cacoethes Scribendi”

by Charles Bukowski

Central Question:
How does an early Bukowski story differ from,
yet point toward, his mature work?
Year of first publication: 1947; Place of first publication: Matrix, volume 10; Origin of title: Juvenal’s Satires VII, 50–52; Year of most recent publication: 2010; Place of most recent publication: Absence of the Hero: Uncollected Stories and Essays, Vol. 2. 1946–92; Publisher: City Lights; Editor: David Stephen Calonne; Print run: 10,000; Cover design: Jeff Mellin; Interior design: Jeff Mellin; Typefaces: Junicode and Bank Gothic; Representative passage: “He looked half-ritually at his sheet a moment, the eyes becoming round, dog round; the little glitter funneled to his reading. Then the spherical head came up.”

The title of the Charles Bukowski story “Cacoethes Scribendi”—Latin for “incurable itch to write”—will be startling to readers of, say, “Christ on Rollerskates” or “All the Assholes in the World and Mine.” The Bukowski we think we know is as terse as Hemingway nursing a bad hangover, more likely to reference jock itch than some fruity Latin phrase. But here his diction is downright ostentatious: “It was a woman, looking diacritic, argute.” He uses words like zebu and acephalous. This from the guy who wrote “Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Andrew Madigan

Andrew Madigan lives in Al Ain, UAE, where he plays rugby, rides a skateboard, and teaches creative writing.

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