Charles Bukowski was a great writer, great lover, and a great drunk. The following passages are from the 2015 collection of his letters titled “On Writing,” edited by Abel Debritto. Bukowski wrote these lines in December 1960-January 1961. Depending on your mood or your outlook on life, you either love Bukowski or you think he’s tiresome. And depending on your mood or your outlook on life, it’s either comforting or disheartening to read the following and think how little things have changed.
It’s very odd, I thought, how people can be so very “shitty” (to use one of their terms) and write poetry too. But now, after meeting a few of them, I know that it is entirely possible. And I do not mean the clean fight, the rebel, the courage; I mean thin-minded glory-grabbers, money-mad, spiritually dwarfed.
[. . .] It’s when you begin to lie to yourself in a poem in order to simply make a poem, that you fail. That is why I do not rework poems but let them go at first sitting, because if I have lied originally there’s no use driving the spikes home, and if I haven’t lied, well hell, there’s nothing to worry about. I can read some poems and just sense how they were shaved and riveted and polished together. You get a lot of poetry like that now out of Poetry Chicago. When you flip the pages, nothing but butterflies, near bloodless butterflies. I am actually shocked when I go through this magazine because nothing is happening. And I guess that’s what they think a poem is. Say, something not happening. A neat lined something, so subtle you can’t even feel it. This makes the whole thing intelligent art. Balls! The only thing intelligent about good art is if it shakes you alive, otherwise it’s hokum, and how come it’s hokum and in Poetry Chi? You tell me.
You can read Bukowski’s poems here.