Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Charles (Hank) Bukowski - so you want to be a writer.

I got more books in my poetry collection by Charles Bukowski than any other poet there is.  Why is that?  Am I such a big fan?  I don’t know.  I think it’s because Bukowski was such a prolific writer (that there are so many books).  Of course I’m a fan – the poet most people try to copy.  I try to copy because Bukowski writes at a social level that I (and I guess, the masses) can relate to.  It’s telling it as it is; no bull-shit.  But Bukowski, more than a lot of others, knew what it was to live and be a writer.  And that’s something I like about him.  He sums it up in his poem, ‘so you want to be a writer’.  I keep this poem pinned above my desk like one of those motivational reminders, ‘every artist was first an amateur’, or ‘you cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind’.  You have got to just love to write no matter where it may not lead or how it may not serve any purpose.  But with Bukowski, is there justification for a writer’s creativity being formed from an alcohol or drug induced state?  I do know that I’m relaxed and free roaming the times at the keyboard when I’ve got a glass of port or a stone’s green ginger wine and the weather outside whips at my window – love it.

so you want to be a writer
                        Charles Bukowski (1921 – 1994)
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
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
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
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
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-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
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.
Bukowski was a ‘beat’ poet, and from this style I am encouraged to lay lines down as I would in a diary – spontaneous, no construction, no revision, conversational, pure ………..  One of my favourite Bukowski poems where I can hear the voice as I read it is, ‘back to the machine gun’.  This has a mundane tone like a dude who knows being hung over.  The tone is created by the line breaks that capture Hank’s voice and delivery in telling the story.  It’s a mundane story; one that any dumb-arse could tell, but there’s a nice ‘hook’ at the end.  That’s something I get from Bukowski – it’s OK to free wheel and write about nothing, but you have to leave the reader with a punch line, something to wrap it up and send them back over the lines to summarise why you were rambling on about nothing
                                                         back to the machine gun
                                                           (Charles Bukowski, 1921 - 1994)
I awaken about noon and go out to get the mail
in my old torn bathrobe.
I'm hung over
hair down in my eyes
gingerly walking on the small sharp rocks
in my path
still afraid of pain behind my four-day beard.

the young housewife next door shakes a rug
out of her window and sees me:
"hello, Hank!"

god damn! it's almost like being shot in the ass
with a .22

"hello," I say
gathering up my Visa card bill, my Pennysaver coupons,
a Dept. of Water and Power past-due notice,
a letter from the mortgage people
plus a demand from the Weed Abatement Department
giving me 30 days to clean up my act.

I mince back again over the small sharp rocks
thinking, maybe I'd better write something tonight,
they all seem
to be closing in.

there's only one way to handle those motherfuckers.

the night harness races will have to wait.
‘back to the machine gun’ acted as an influence when I wrote my poem, ‘Must Be at My Best’.  I tried to capture my own mundane tone (not hung over but similar).  I borrow the dishevelled appearance and clothing of somebody in a fever state, and I put a punch line at the end.
2011.  This was another year sucked quietly from the blood (Kenneth Slessor).  We went to Malaysia for a holiday and then I stumble from one disaster to another.  I come down with some fever-chill virus (Chicka Wu Wu virus for the want of a professional term).  I abandon myself to that relaxed realm where I don’t give a damn.
                                                                        Must Be at My Best.
In the Priceline chemist
the old bird behind the cash counter
has her eyes follow me in,
she stays with me a tad too long,
either suspicious, or
she fancies me,
I’m fighting off the fever chills,
dressed in my old black corduroys,
a black T-shirt beneath the V
of a black sweat top
that I slept in recently.
I think maybe she’s watching me,
but then I’m sitting in a chair
at the prescription counter, and
she comes out from behind the cash counter
through a swinging door, and
talks to the prescription guys
about going to lunch
and could they man the counter
and all the time, I’m sure
she’s taking peek glances at me,
I’m slouched back as much as I can
in the plastic chair
with my corduroy legs stuck straight out
above my brown suede slip-ons.
She disappears out the back to lunch.
The prescription guy takes my money
at the cash counter,
and as I go through the automatic sliding doors
I’m thinking about other missed opportunities.
                                                                                 J.O. White

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