TIPS FOR WRITING BETTER GOD DAMN POETRY, PART TWO

A Response to Vincent Wolfram and the Comments on November, Revisited

The first thing I feel weird that I have to mention is I do not think poetry is dead. I think poetry is very much alive. We live in a time where poetry is all around us. Mostly, I think this is the acknowledgement that good writing often is poetry. The dialogue in movies, songs on the radio – I won’t patronize you anymore – the point is poetry is everywhere.

What my last article is a challenge to is writing like yourself and writing to push the envelope. I respect people who write in a classic style of poetry; there is a lot of classic poetry that I love. The last article, and this one are simply a calling. For those of you out there who want to escape the cobwebs of the basement and climb the stairs to the world around you, to being heard, I challenge you to write like yourself.

And now, we backstep. Write like yourself. “I can rhyme, and still write like myself,” “I can use a formal rhythm and write like myself,” True. But I want to hear your god damn heartbeat. I want to hear the speed at which blood flows through your veins. I want to see the soul in your eyes without a pair of Oliver People’s glasses warping my view point. I want to hear what you sound like naked.
And so do the masses. The conundrum I face, and lots of writers face, is how to write what you want to say, but also write to be heard. I spent a long time trying to write what people wanted to hear, and that failed miserably for some reason. Never write to be relevant. Never write to be outlandish. Never write to be political. Just write your heart.

I just watched a documentary on Lenny Bruce, Looking for Lenny, and this said a lot on this subject. Every good comedian today knows who Lenny Bruce is, and many of them spend their whole careers trying to be Lenny Bruce, and therein is the problem. They are not Lenny Bruce. If you are not familiar with Lenny Bruce, Reader’s Digest version, he is a God because he was completely, no-holds-barred, honest to himself. He was speaking on social issues in comedy in a time no one else was, but that’s the thing. Every comedian since has said “I’ll speak on social issues.” No. Lenny Bruce didn’t speak on social issues. He spoke what was on his mind. Gut-to-mouth. Heart-to-mouth. No filter tip.

Ginsberg didn’t write Howl trying to change the world. He simply howled. That’s the whole thing.

One user said I have a “hijacked mantra,” and that’s simply not true. Yes, I’m not saying anything that’s not been said before, but it’s no “mantra”. People speak from their hearts and sometimes someone comes along and labels it “Dadism,” labels it “The Beat Generation,” labels it “Second-Wave Feminism”. William Burroughs was adamant about not being labeled, and I don’t really think anyone ever wants to be labeled, but that seems to be the way of art. The outrageous becomes the mundane, and the original becomes the status quo. The upside of it all is we are born with a bullshit meter that allows us to see the truth; some of us just choose to use it more than others.

Part of me wants to say we’ve all become afraid to say what’s on our minds, but I think the truth is this battle is always there, and what I’m writing is my miniature battle cry to the poets to take advantage of the opportunity they have. What better chance to amplify the rust that’s grinding your gears than poetry? Another user quoted Ginsberg: “Follow your inner moonlight.” Yes. Follow your inner moonlight.
Chase the roads inside of yourself and eventually when they can no longer stand it, they will burst out of you and into the world around you.

Changing notes a bit, I’d like to say Vincent Wolfram made my day. In his article, he tears down a lot of things that I said, but it was so refreshing to hear someone doing just that, and tastefully too.
Vincent seems to be a proponent for formalism, and for poetry that you have to dig a little deeper to get into, and for that, I can only applaud him. If you want to write formally, who am I to stop you? Clearly there is a passion there. I really think it boils down to a matter of style and substance. Don’t get me wrong. That’s not to say that Vincent’s poetry is less substance and more style. It’s all just a matter of how you choose to combine the two. I don’t think I could do it. I couldn’t write the formal verses. I mean, with time and dedication, I’m sure they would come, but it’s not what drives me.

Pardon my ADD, but changing gears a bit again. Reading over Vincent’s article I just found where he says “Don’t trust poets that say they don’t read poetry.” I agree. All poets have read other poets. Bukowski said don’t read other poets. Bullshit. Read away. Just don’t try to be other poets. That’s the problem, I think. Ginsberg said “Find your inner moonlight,” not “Find someone else’s inner moonlight.” Your soul, I think, should be your ultimate inspiration, and whatever gets thrown into the machine while its processing the parts is just bonus.

It’s true when Wolfram says I’m suspicious of formal poetry. Mostly, because I don’t see it on the bookshelves. I don’t hear it in the poetry cafes. I don’t see it on the billboards. Maybe I hear it on the radio, I haven’t decided on that one yet. (Please, opinions are welcome on that one.) I want to hear poetry through a loudspeaker, because if poetry is quiet. If poetry whispers and asks you to sit down with it and hear it out, it so easily could be overshadowed; lost underneath the sound of a million more vibrant things. Poetry, whether you want to admit it or not, is in a battle against television, against movies, even music in some regards. (Music and poetry have a love hate relationship, I think.)

Ooh. Here’s a big one I need to address. In my previous article, I called haikus “small words.” I need to clarify that. The idea of any writer calling any words “small words” is a bit ridiculous, really. What I mean to say is a haiku is a form, where in its most common form , it is five syllables, then seven syllables, then five syllables. Great things have been said in haiku, but to me, it’s like writing from inside of an iron maiden. Why would you condense yourself like that? It feels almost lazy to me. I could see the appeal of the snapshot. Maybe what it boils down to, is if you’re writing haikus, I hope you’re writing other things too.

This article is called “Tips” and I apologize that it’s seemed to turn more into a rebuttal to the first article, but I think this is an important part of learning how to write poetry, maybe the only way. To question what poetry is. What makes good poetry, what makes the bad. Really, I’m just trying to figure it out like anyone else, and I think I have to say that every bad poem out there is just a prerequisite to a good poem.

You know what? This isn’t even about poetry. This is about every damn aspect of your life. I want to see the real you. Yes, “to not know what happened before your born is to remain forever a child,” but what’s more important is to learn from it, to add to it. And I think the only way we can grow as people is to listen to the ghost in our machine; to exhale more viciously than any generation before, and more importantly to open our mouths wider for the inhale.

READ “TIPS ON WRITING BETTER GOD DAMN POETRY, PART ONE”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHARLES BUKOWSKI

P.S. You’re a sod and a womanizer.

The People Look Like Flowers at Last

My friend Tim Becker introduced me to Bukowski about a year ago.

We met up at a coffee shop, he threw this skinny orange book of poetry across the table to me, Play The Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. He said to me “I got this for you. It’s Charles Bukowski. I think you’ll like it.

Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit? Yeah, Tim, I think you’re right.

Tim and I parted ways and I read a few poems. I wasn’t overly impressed until I read this bit:

I got it through the eyes: hatred,
centuries deep and true. I was wrong and graceless and
sick. all the things that I had learned had been wasted.
there was no living creature as foul as I
and all my poems were
false.

That hit me. A poem called I’m in love. I’m in love. It’s not she is so wonderful. It’s not he is so wonderful. There is joy maybe in the first few lines of this poem. This poem is him telling the woman he’s with that he’s in love with someone else, and expecting her to be excited. This poem was filled with the bitter taste of life.

I knew I loved Bukowski when he told me the disdain that was in this woman’s eyes. He was not the hero, and he wasn’t going to pretend to be, because that’s not who he was. His poem leaning on wood revealed him a barfly. His poem the red porsche revealed him a romantic, but I couldn’t care less until I saw that cold honesty.

This man had seem some shit.

Over thirty books of poetry in one lifetime. This man wrote several poems a day, while somehow working several billion odd jobs (see one of his several novels, Factotum, for further details). I was all for Ginsberg until I met Bukowski. Don’t get me wrong. They’re both gods to any poet, Bukowski was just the god that spoke to me a little more.

A couple months later I’d picked up a copy of Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. I was sitting at work at the call center, and for the first time in my two year career at this godless call center, we had two minutes between calls. I devoured the entire 400-some-odd page book in one shift. It was crack for me. What I said in my previous post about having to trick people into reading poetry; Bukowski had mastered it.

You know when you’re eating a good meal, and you’re eating this delicious steak and you’re in love with that delicious steak, but in the back of your brain you’re drooling waiting to eat those delicious garlic potatoes. That’s what I was having with Bukowski. I wouldn’t be half-way through a poem before I started to crave the next course.

Then, I read Post Office. It was the most disgustingly raunchy and innocently heartfelt book I’ve ever read.

Then I read Betting on the Muse. Then I read The Roominghouse Madrigals. Then I read The People Look Like Flowers At Last (on a side note, Bukowski book titles are often something you have to check your book shelf to remember the proper title for.)

As for now, I’m reading Women. You don’t put down a Bukowski book in your right hand until you have the next one ready in your left.

Some of you who read this will be like “Yeah. Bukowski. I was alive when he read in New York. He’s old news…” and I envy you a bit, but I’m writing this more for the person who says “Who’s Bukowski?” Because they desperately need a little Bukowski in their life.

I leave you with Bukowski’s poem so you want to be a writer? and a link to one of my poem’s involving “Henry Chinaski,” as you’ll soon come to know him: ANDERNACH.

so you wanna be a writer?

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.