On the subscription film channel, MUBI, there’s a documentary about the writer Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994), who wrote acerbic, dark and very funny semi-autobiographical novels. He was a rough character, and drank a lot, and controversy followed him throughout his life, but the novels he wrote are still regarded as some of the best ever written about poor, downtrodden Americans. They are Post Office (1971), Factotum (1975), Women (1978), Ham on Rye (1982), Hollywood (1989), and Pulp (1994). My personal favourites that I have read countless times are Post Office and Hollywood.
What I did not know, until I saw that documentary, The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1985), is that Bukowski was also a poet.
How would that go? I wondered. Could Bukowski, who was quite sweary and rough in his writing, have written good poetry? Was I ever surprised. That intensity which comes through so clearly in his novels, the burning passion, is also in his poems. And so is his understanding of what it means to be a writer.
So here is a fantastic poem by Bukowski, which, when I read it, seemed to be written for me – every line in it I recognized as how I have felt. I thought, this would’ve been useful a couple of decades ago before I gave in to the daft compulsion to write poetry.
It is called, so you want to be a writer, and if you want to be a writer – a novelist, a poet, a lyricist, whatever, and are contemplating whether you’re up to it, or you are already a writer but you’re having an extended run of “those days” – read this. All the way to the last line, mind you.
so you want to be a writer, by Charles Bukowski
if it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it. unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don't do it. if you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don't do it. if you're doing it for money or fame, don't do it. if you're doing it because you want women in your bed, don't do it. if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don't do it. if it's hard work just thinking about doing it, don't do it. if you're trying to write like somebody else, forget about it. if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently. if it never does roar out of you, do something else. if you first have to read it to your wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend or your parents or to anybody at all, you're not ready. don't be like so many writers, don't be like so many thousands of people who call themselves writers, don't be dull and boring and pretentious, don't be consumed with self- love. the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind. don't add to that. don't do it. unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don't do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don't do it. when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you. there is no other way. and there never was. ___________________________________________________________________________ From sifting through the madness for the Word, the line, the way by Charles Bukowski (Source: Poets.org)
These lines – absolutely sublime, they hit me right in the feels, as they say:
when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you.
I’m still writing poems, despite all that stuff, so maybe there is a bit of sun in my gut that wants out.
Feeling better now? Thought so. Thanks, Mr. B., belatedly.