Charles Bukowski’s right: sometimes a poem just sounds too much like a POEM. You know it’s been worked up, affected, to make it sound like a poem should. Rather than being its own thing, an expression of something unique and new.
All writing has this problem, however authentic it is. You need to “reach into the ages” for the form that fits, or you won’t be understood. This means using technique, and going over and over it to make sure it’s right.
The thing is not to show your working. It has to seem effortless. And that’s what some poems don’t do: they seem like they’ve been worked over.
The thing is not to show you’re working. Bukowski claimed he just couldn’t work on a poem, couldn’t keep at it, and so what he sent off was raw, a real moment, something that went onto the page then and there and could never be repeated.
George Orwell said that writers are lazy. Right or wrong, they must appear lazy. That’s part of the art, and a matter of survival. Because if it seems they’re working so hard to create so little it’ll just seem depressing. No one much cares for the arts anymore anyway. People will just say “Why bother?” and writers finally won’t be allowed to exist, unless they write for the papers or the television.
Bukowski gives us the only good reason for writing: in order to live. Not in order to make money: at one point he writes he’s only made forty-seven dollars in twenty years. But in order to live: because unless you’re writing you don’t feel alive. And if you don’t need to write in order to live, he tells us: “Don’t do it!”
(I’ve been reading On Writing, which is a collection of letters by Charles Bukowski. It was published in 2016 by Canongate Books.)