Write like the greats: Charles Bukowski

Emotion breaks across the page in poetry. I examine how Charles Bukowski hid vulnerability in his strength.

Understand me.
I’m not like an ordinary world.
I have my madness,
I live in another dimension
and I do not have time for things
that have no soul.”

Writing like Bukowski

I don’t know much about Charles Bukowski. I know his reputation of being a … less-than-pleasant person. As Modest Mouse said, “God, who’d want to be such an asshole?

But I know poetry (like ee cummings). I know good writing. Every now and then, I stumble across some writing from Bukowski, and it slaps me across the face. 

Bukowski’s writing is raw.

His style is known for being no-frills. Bare-bones. And somehow, as in this example, there is strength in his vulnerability. There is grit ground into his wounds that seem to have scarred over, but he has never forgotten. 

There is anger in these words. But is there not determination? And hope? And a promise for tomorrow? 

The Beginnings

Look at how he begins each line of this poem — as a bold statement about himself. A declaration of truth. 

First, he demands of the reader what they will do. An unapologetic demand that the reader do better, try something different — understanding. Then, he explains what he is (and is not) in a single line, and continues to tell the reader what he has and how he lives.

All these truths command the reader to follow his initial demand. You will understand the straightforwardness of his words, if nothing else. If you understand nothing of what he says, you know by the end what he thinks of you. 

The Last Word

Then, look at the last word of each line. Each thought ends on a noun. A thing. Something real that you can sink your teeth into. Each of these — me, world, madness, dimension, things — evokes an image. Evokes a texture, sound, or feeling. You can picture them in your mind, you could describe them to someone else if you needed to. 

And here is where Bukowski’s vulnerability comes to its head: he needs you to understand him. He needs you to hear what he has to say. Dismiss it when you’ve reached the end, if you want, but for a few sentences, he has made you do something different. He has made you think not only about him and what he is, but perhaps he has made you think about what and who you are as well. 

As tough as he may have appeared, Bukowski needed this connection. With you. He needed you to understand for a moment. And he does not ask this of you — he demands it. 

Poetry tip of the day:

The heart of your poem (or even, your fiction) is what you’re demanding from your reader. Do not ask them for their attention — command it. Do not ask them to let you show your vulnerability, slice your heart open on the page and make it so they can’t look away. 

Because that is the soul of this poem, isn’t it? We all need to be understood. We all am things, have things, and live … but Bukowski reminds us that we do not have time

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