In a letter to good friend, fellow poet, and founder of New York Quarterly magazine William Packard in 1990, then-70yr-old Charles Bukowski discusses the art of writing, reiterating his belief that a writer’s words and ideas should come naturally, and not be forced. Four years later, Bukowski passed away. Carved into his headstone are the words, “DON’T TRY”.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Bukowski.net.
Dec. 23, I990
Hello Wm Packard:
No, you’re not down, maybe I’m down, sometimes I feel like my skivvies are down around my ankles and my butt is a target for hyena turds.
Listen, your Pincus is awful hard on the poets. I thought I was hard on the poets. Well, I’m glad I get by him. And he’s right on WAITING. Only if the octipus has you in its tentacals you can’t wait too long.
On WAITING I know what he means. Too many writers write for the wrong reasons. They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with bluebells in their hair. (Maybe that last ain’t a bad idea).
When everything works best it’s not because you chose writing but because writing chose you. It’s when you’re mad with it, it’s when it’s stuffed in your ears, your nostrils, under your fingernails. It’s when there’s no hope but that.
Once in Atlanta, starving in a tar paper shack, freezing. There were only newspapers for a floor. And I found a pencil stub and I wrote on the white margins of the edges of those newspapers with the pencil stub, knowing that nobody would ever see it. It was a cancer madness. And it was never work or planned or part of a school. It was. That’s all.
And why do we fail? It’s the age, something about the age, our Age. For half a century there has been nothing., No real breakthrough, no newness, no blazing energy, no gamble.
What? Who? Lowell? That grasshopper? Don’t sing me crap songs.
We do what we can and we don’t do very well.
Strictured. Locked. We pose at it.
We work too hard. We try too hard.
Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. It’s been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb.
There’s been too much direction. It’s all free, we needn’t be told.
Classes? Classes are for asses.
Writing a poem is as easy as beating your meat or drinking a bottle of beer. Look. Here’s one:
mother saw the racoon,
my wife told me.
ah, I said.
and that was
the shape of things
HAPPY NEW YEAR