“So You Want to Be A Writer?”

Charles Bukowski - peoplewhowrite

Charles Bukowski

In his poem “So You Want to Be A Writer?”, esteemed poet Charles Bukowski had some strong words for anyone proposing to be a scribe. I don’t agree with all of them (perhaps because I sit “hunched over my [computer] searching for words” at this very moment), but I love it. Like Bukowski, I believe “if you have to wait for it to roar out of you / then wait patiently.” I’ve pasted the full poem below from Poets.org.

so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski

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
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
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
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
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
sleep
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.

Richard Blanco's Inauguration Poem

“One Today”
by Richard Blanco

one
sun rose on us today
kindled over our shores
peaking over the smokies
greeting the faces of the great lakes
spreading a simple truth across the great plains
and charging across the rockies

one light
waking up rooftops
under each one
a story
told by our silent gestures
moving across windows

my face
your face
millions of faces in morning’s mirrors
each one
yawning to life
crescendoing into our day

the pencil-yellow school buses
the rhythm of traffic lights
fruit stands
apples, limes, and oranges
arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise

silver trucks
heavy with oil or paper
bricks or milk
teeming over highways
alongside us
on our way
to clean tables
read ledgers
or save lives
to teach geometry
or ring up groceries
as my mother did
for 20 years
so i could write this poem
for all of us
today

all of us
as vital as the one light we move through
the same light on blackboards
with lessons for the day
equations to solve
history to question
or atoms imagined
the ‘i have a dream’ we all keep dreaming
or the impossible vocabulary of
sorrow
that won’t explain
the empty desks
of 20 children marked absent
today
and forever

many prayers
but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows
life
into the faces of bronze statues
warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children
slide into the day

one ground
our ground
rooting us to every stock of corn
every head of wheat
sown by sweat and hands
hands gleaning coal
or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm
hands
digging trenches
routing pipes and cables
hands
as worn as my father’s
cutting sugarcane
so my brother and i
could have books and shoes

the dust of farms and deserts
cities and plains
mingled by one wind
our breath

breathe
hear it through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs
buses launching down avenues
the symphony of footsteps,
guitars, and screeching subways
the unexpected songbird on your clothesline
hear
squeaky playground swings
trains whistling
or whispers across cafe tables
hear
the doors we open
each day for each other
saying
hello
shalom
buon giorno
howdy
namaste
or buenos dias
in the language my mother taught me
in every language
spoken into one wind
carrying our lives without prejudice
as these words break from my lips

one sky
since the appalachians and sierras claimed their majesty
and the mississippi and colorado worked their way to the sea
thank the work of our hands
weaving steel into bridges
finishing one more report for the boss
on time
stitching another wound
or uniform
the first brushstroke on a portrait
or the last floor on the freedom tower
jutting into the sky that yields to our resilience

one sky
toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work
some days guessing at the weather
of our lives
some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back
some times
praising a mother who knew how to give
or forgiving a father who couldn’t give
what you wanted

we head
home
through the gloss of rain
or weight of snow
or the plum blush of dusk
but always
always
home
always
under one sky
our sky
and always
one moon
like a silent drum
tapping on every rooftop
and every window
of one country
all of us
facing the stars

hope
a new constellation
waiting for us
to map it
waiting for us
to name it
together

Reflecting on Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein's "Reflection" on the Upside-Down Man - peoplewhowrite
I have a few boards on Pinterest where I pin books I’ve read over the last couple of decades and as I was pinning to my “What I read in the ’80s” board, I came across Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I, honestly, couldn’t/can’t remember the story, but I remembered the cover, and subsequently, how it made me feel as a kid.

Many children’s books from my childhood featured either multiple children, children with animals, animals alone, or close-ups of the young protagonist so there was always this feeling that the main character had this brimming social life. Even when the story admitted the protagonist was socially awkward, the close-ups conveyed a connection the reader was supposed to find in the main character.

Where animals were involved, the pets became proxy for the ideas above — which all make sense. These are safe, tried and true tropes for children’s books.  But The Giving Tree cover was a wide shot of a kid alone. Just him, his backpack, and this (his?) tree. The crisp red apple about to tumble into his hands.

I’m sure I didn’t articulate it this way when I was a kid, but today I can say I connected with the image because it validated that, even though I was young, it was okay to be alone in my own head, and mull over the world around me (which I was and did).  So when I came across this image of Silverstein’s “Reflection” poem on Facebook (via Mike Geffner, Founder, Producer and Director of The Inspired Word), it leapt out at me. Gave me that same safe, thoughtful feeling.

Just read these incredibly fine lines. Just beautiful.