The Adventures of Bluey and the Childhood Writings of Paul Bowles
“Drugs, bigamy, desertion, lawsuits, the plague: these are hardly the elements one expects to find in the writings of a nine year old.”
—Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, biographer of Paul Bowles
When Paul Bowles was 9 years old, he created a diary that documented the adventures and pitfalls of imaginary characters who went on wild journeys and were continually surrounded by death, disease, chaos, and crisis—all of which were conveyed by little Paul in a tone that is eerily mute, terse, and affectively stunted while also being intellectually sophisticated and highly developed in terms of narrative. The 3rd person diary entries have a strange and disturbing quality to them—we immediately pick up on Paul’s obsessive preoccupation with names (characters, places), numbers, measurements, etc. In the entries, Paul invented, among other things, a drug called “postage hypodermic” and a plague called the “Green Horror” (“Marshelle gets Green Horror. Marshelle dies of Green Horror…. Dukol Whitman dies of Green Horror….”). We also get a sense of the way he was trying to emulate the adult world and—in doing so—revealed its utter absurdity. I can’t get over how evocative and fascinating Paul’s childhood writings are—and to think that he had to pen them in secrecy, fearing the disapproval of his father, who once beat him and took his journals away for 2 months when he was caught scribbling.
Below the cut is a brief excerpt from Paul’s childhood narrative, which consists of over 450 entries in total. This particular passage, which was published by surrealist literary magazine View, deals with the mishaps of Bluey Laber Dozlen, who travels to Wen Kroy (“New York” spelled backward) from an unknown European city.
This excerpted is scanned from a book of fantastic short stories titled A Night With Jupiter published in 1945 by surrealist literary magazine View. The book is quite amazing—it even has two short stories by surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, who—known primarily for her art—is troublingly underrated as a writer. View existed from 1940-1947 and featured writers such as William Carlos Williams, Joseph Cornell, Edouard Roditi, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin, Philip Lamantia, Paul Goodman, Marshall McLuhan, André Breton, Raymond Roussel, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet or Jorge Luis Borges and artists like Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Georgia O’Keeffe, Man Ray, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Marc Chagall, René Magritte and Jean Dubuffet. When “Bluey” was published in View Magazine, the piece caused such a stir that Paul was asked to guest edit an issue of View.
Regarding his childhood literary passion, Paul said: “I wrote all the time, and I used to read stories in school to the class. And the teacher would say, ‘Those who wish to remain and hear Paul Bowles read may do so. The rest may now go.’ Strangely, almost all of them stayed.”
The following excerpt, taken from An Invisible Spectator: A Biography of Paul Bowles, discusses Paul’s childhood creative output:
Aside from the imaginary diaries. Paul also produced a daily “newspaper.” Printed in pencil and crayon and issued in an edition of one copy, the paper was, like the diaries, fictional. A daily feature was a report made by the newspaper’s “correspondents” on a long sea voyage. Aided by a loose-leaf atlas of the world, Paul charted the journey from port to port, island to island, country to country. The trip, it seems, was more of an excuse to study the maps-which Paul did for hours-than to recount startling adventures in exotic locales.
Another major project for Paul at the time was the creation (on paper) of a gigantic real estate development. This activity seems to have come out of his earlier preoccupation with place names, but is greater in scope and scale. Much of a small red notebook, which has survived the years, is filled with drawings of houses, to which Paul appended the price, location, and imaginary purchaser. Typical entries consist of a two-dimensional, but detailed drawing of a house, and underneath the picture, information like this:
Pinetops Ave 5 14 to 523 West
1,0,000,000 Dollar House
Land 1,000 Acres
Also included in the journal are a detailed map of the fictional Wen Kroy and a list of addresses; various financial entries in ledger fashion; a list of holidays, among them Candy Day, Clock Day, and Mountain Day; and a poem entitled ” In the Pickled Woods”:
Oh Do you know? I saw
a lovely Plan—
Plant I mean. It had the
beautifulest Pink blosse—Blossems.
Did you know that
I had a sour walk
in the pickled woods
in the bitter town.
[At the end of the diary is a detailed index that gives page numbers for the various entries.]
I love this pickled woods poem….