Our exploration of the preferred poisons of famous writers takes us further into the lives of some great people. This week we look at cult heroes such as Bukowski, Kerouac, and Faulkner.
Can a compendium of writers and their drinking habits be complete without mentioning Bukowski – star child of millennial angst and famous for his valiant efforts in glamourising alcoholism. Whether intentionally or not, Bukowski made himself synonymous with dingy bars and self deprecating poems – almost a victim of his own vices. Born on August 16th, 1920 Bukowski dedicated a majority of his work spanning over 40 books of poetry and prose to depicting the depravity of his world in a uniquely intimate way. Here is the American dream downtrodden and forgotten in the corners of society with nothing left for solace but a drink, or five.
“Heavy drinking is a substitute for companionship and it’s a substitute for suicide. It’s a secondary way of life. I dislike drunks but I do suppose I take a little drink now and then myself.”
Notorious for being honest, whether it is a seedy adventure with a cat or a woman, or some form of violent outburst against ‘the system’, Bukowski’s work always had its fair share of criticism. He was also painfully aware of this criticism – as most evident in the collection On Writing. What legacy remains, beyond the plethora of poems, is shrouded in an unevenness. Some sources claim that he drank three bottles of wine for breakfast while others say his major love was beer but he drank it with mixed feelings. Either way, the legacy of Bukowski is synonymous with the trope of a poet deep in the trenches of alcohol and self-awareness. For more on his personal life, pick up any of his collected works, he’s perhaps one of the most autobiographical poets of his generation.
Faulkner found whiskey in his teens, eventually developing the habit of stealing some from his grandfather’s reserves. Troubled relations with alcohol ran in the family, among the men in particular with all his brothers abusing alcohol as well. His father, M. Falkner, was regarded among the locals as a ‘mean drunk’. When it came to his literary pursuits, whiskey was Faulkner’s muse and near constant companion. Diving deeper in the pages one can sense it in the brooding aura of his works.
In 1937, he explained his method to his French translator Maurice Edgar Coindreau: “You see, I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach; so many ideas that I can’t remember in the morning pop into my head.”
Famously once said, “There is no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others.” Interestingly, Faulkner remained erratic with his drinking, oftentimes writing heavily under the influence and then returning to the page fresh as a daisy. As his publisher recalled, Faulkner would drive himself into benders, a mint julep being his cocktail of choice, and would suddenly emerge from the recklessness sober and ready to take on the world.
Firmly placed at the apex of the beatnik movement, Jack Kerouac inspired a generation of youth to chase the callings nobody heard. The man who inspired The Doors and Bob Dylan took to alcohol and hallucinogens fairly early in life, believing that it would help him access a new arena of creativity, rising from previously unseen parts of his soul. In a less, poetic sense he drew creativity from a substance-induced detachment from physical reality.
As with most other writers in this list, drinking brought out a machismo in him, with his later years spent in dingy bars engaged in brawls. During his time in New York, Kerouac found himself a regular at the White Horse – a bar also frequented by Dylan Thomas.
Kerouac died fairly young – his body riddled with cirrhosis succumbed to hemorrhaging due to alcohol, injuries from a bar fight, and a self-treated hernia. The man who once wrote novels about his three day parties, a series of road trips in search of home, and other real life events, lived the last days of his life fading from the literary in the seclusion of his home.