5 Things Charles Bukowski Taught Me About Life And Writing

Jake Wells

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Charles Bukowski had a very unique life: most days he would work all day at a job he hated, argue with his wife or whoever he was sleeping with at the time, drink a case of beer and then write stories all night at his typewriter. Most nights he would only sleep a few hours, if that. Then he’d do it all over again the next day.

1. Be Dedicated to Your Craft

You can question a lot of things about Bukowski’s life, but you can not question how dedicated he was to writing. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels.

Overall, he published over sixty books.

If anyone ever could have made up excuses not to write, it would be Charles Bukowski. Despite massive hangovers, herpes and who knows what else, Bukowski wrote and wrote and wrote.

2. Tell the Truth (Even if it is ugly)

Bukowski’s work is raw, dark and dirty. He wrote about many topics: relationships, love, drinking, writing and pretty much anything else that he felt like writing about. He never sugarcoated any topic. He told it like he saw it, without censoring in any way, shape or form.

Bukowski’s work is often coated with what can best be described as a beautiful sadness. For a great example, check out his poem Bluebird. It reads more like a story than poetry. To capture the moments with such clarity is incredible.

3. Forget the Fluff

Stick to the story and only what serves the story. Many times, less is more. If you choose the right words, there is great strength in brevity. This forces you to edit more and respects the reader.

4. Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater

Don’t be so quick to judge an artist by one piece of work. At times, I find Bukowski’s work very offensive. If someone uses a word or sentence that you don’t like, that doesn’t mean it is a bad piece of work. That being said, some of Bukowski’s writing is terrible to me — especially the few poems he wrote about bowel movements (not kidding). But to abandon all of Bukowski’s work (or any artist for that matter) altogether is a sure-fire way to miss out on a lot of great work.

5. You Will Offend Some People No Matter What

Get over it. It’s better to offend a few people and to be authentic than to have people like you for being a fraud.

The first time I heard the following poem, I had to abandon everything I thought I knew about poetry. It’s not a nice, clean poem. Several lines make me uncomfortable. Had I written it, I would have changed a few words. But it is still really beautiful and hope-filled — if you look for it.

The Crunch

too much
too little

too fat
too thin
or nobody.

laughter or


strangers with faces like
the backs of
thumb tacks

armies running through
streets of blood
waving winebottles
bayoneting and f*cking

an old guy in a cheap room
with a photograph of M. Monroe.

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock

people so tired
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-a*s winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place

unspoken to

watering a plant.

people are not good to each other.
people are not good to each other.
people are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.
I don’t ask them to be.

but sometimes I think about it.

the beads will swing
the clouds will cloud
and the killer will behead the child
like taking a bite out of an ice cream cone.

too much
too little

too fat
too thin
or nobody

more haters than lovers.

people are not good to each other.
perhaps if they were
our deaths would not be so sad.

meanwhile I look at young girls
flowers of chance.

there must be a way.

surely there must be a way that we have not yet
though of.

who put this brain inside of me?

it cries
it demands
it says that there is a chance.

it will not say

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