Vox Populi

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Charles Bukowski: so you want to 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
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-love.

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.

Henry Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994) was a German–American poet, novelist, and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambiance of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column Notes of a Dirty Old Man in the LA underground newspaper Open City. Bukowski published extensively in small literary magazines and with small presses beginning in the early 1940s and continuing on through the early 1990s. As noted by one reviewer, “Bukowski continued to be, thanks to his antics and deliberate clownish performances, the king of the underground and the epitome of the littles in the ensuing decades, stressing his loyalty to those small press editors who had first championed his work and consolidating his presence in new ventures such as the New York QuarterlyChiron Review, or Slipstream. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”. Regarding Bukowski’s enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, “the secret of Bukowski’s appeal … [is that] he combines the confessional poet’s promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero.” Since his death in 1994, Bukowski has been the subject of a number of critical articles and books about both his life and writings, despite his work having received relatively little attention from academic critics in the United States during his lifetime. In contrast, Bukowski enjoyed extraordinary fame in Europe, especially in Germany, the place of his birth.

Poem included in Vox Populi for educational purposes only.

13 comments on “Charles Bukowski: so you want to be a writer?

  1. Georganne Spruce
    April 28, 2023

    No poem on here.



  2. laureanne2013
    April 28, 2023

    “If people tell you to stop
    doing it
    DO IT”


  3. Henry Carlile
    April 28, 2023

    Raymond Carver wrote the best parody of Bukowski, “You Don’t Know What Love Is (An Evening with Charles Bukoski).” Maybe it’s one of the best parodies ever, right up there with Henry Reed’s “Chard Whitlow (Mr. T.S. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Postscript).” Of course I’m not biased. Henry Reed was one of my teachers at the University of Washington, and Ray was a close friend during the last four years of his life. Henry told me that Eliot wrote him a fan letter after “Chard Whitlow” was published. When I praised “You Don’t Know What Love Is” as one of the best parodies I’d ever read, Ray said, “It isn’t parody. He actually said those things. I just wrote them down.”


  4. melpacker
    April 28, 2023

    Granted that I’m biased, having admired Emily and her judgement for 37 years, but she is right and this is exactly why some of what Bukowski wrote and published is not worth one’s time, while some is brilliant. He should have taken the time to reread some of what he wrote and might have decided it was trash. But, as the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure and Bukowski managed to sometimes convert trash in to treasure, at least for him.


    • Vox Populi
      April 28, 2023

      Thanks, Mel. I think Bukowski was brilliant, but he needed better editors. As for his character… if we refused to read anyone who wasn’t a nice person, there wouldn’t be much left..

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rose Mary Boehm
    April 28, 2023

    Here is where I agree:

    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.


  6. Jackie Robb
    April 28, 2023

    Just a heads up – actual poem did not appear on the screen – just info about its author – when I, as always, just clicked on the VP site. Had to get to poem via clicking on Comment – which got me to poem here.
    Some sort of little glitch coinciding w/ switch to new schedule of posting?


  7. Emily De Ferrari
    April 28, 2023

    So if only the geniuses wrote
    what would the rest of us do?
    Deliver their letters to each other?
    Fuck you Bukowski.
    If you have to work to dig it out of you,
    if your voice shakes,
    if you stare into the morning for exactly the right word
    to wake me,
    I want to hear it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      April 28, 2023

      Thanks, Emily. This is exactly in Bukowski’s voice. An appropriate response to his screed.



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