Author photo by artist, Walter Bakowski

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where words take us

(for Adam Ford and Dennis Wild)

I write poetry—

because it puts windows where there were walls

because today is a mountain

I’d like to reduce to a few stanzas

because now is the time to write it.

I write poetry, hoping to astound myself.

I write poetry because I enjoy

coaxing words

out of the corral of my ribs,

letting them graze

upon the blank page

under the shade of an adverb.

I try to write poetry clearly, use words sparingly,

each word, a small cog or spring needed

to make the poem tick.

Don’t want to fog or flood

any readers proceeding to the end of my poem,

where they may rest

in the quiet clearing

just beyond

the last full stop.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A second open letter to Kathy Charles and other writers/poets

Dear Kathy,
I've recently read some of your blog posts. Here are some literary tennis balls I'm hitting over the net to you and other writers/poets:-
From twenty years of working in record stores, bookshops and CD stores and visiting public libraries around the world, I believe/know it in my bones that it's very important for an author to really think about the title of their book. You want to make that title one that will make the browser take it down from the shelf - make that title "a grabber".
As my track record shows I take a minimum of three years to realize a book of poems. When I've broken the ice and written the first poem of the next book, I'm already thinking of a title. Before I nailed BENEATH OUR ARMOUR as the title of my latest book, I wrestled for over two years with several working titles - "Inner Weather", "The Weather Inside" and "The Weather Inside A Person" - I did a Google search and found out an American poet has written a collection titled "Inner Weather" and an American recording artist has released a CD titled "The Weather Inside"
I encourage you to really to walk around, rub your chin and indian-wrestle with the title of your next book. Make it original. Make it yours.
I consider titles to be very important - part of their attraction and shelf-life.
Realize your next book, but while you are writing it, think about its title night and day.
In the twenty-first century, serial killers, hit-men, war, acts driven by revenge, prejudice and greed exist and continue. Writing is about illuminating and exploring in order to understand,
to understand oneself/one's selves and others.
The media presents us with the shocking headlines and deeds. It will be the fiction writer, the investigative journalist, the poet, who delves deeper, and in doing so must try to enter the head space of perpetrator/assassin and victim.
A writer/poet/painter/photographer goes with their obsessions. That is their arena, their mine, the territory they are impelled to enter/re-enter. They must convey their honest responses of intrigue, repulsion, guilt, moral see-sawing/reckoning, shame.
For example of an honest responder go to the books of Primo Levi.
My Dad, once said "Why can't you write a nice poem about how the bees make honey?". I never have but I've written a poem about my father taking me to my first public library (a giant honey jar).
Forget that you've written a published book. Concentrate on the book you're writing now. I encourage you not to allow or listen to voices saying "Is this next book going to be as good as my last one?"
Roger Federer concentrates on the ball in front of him. He's not thinking of past sets/past victories and defeats. He's concentrating solely on the ball in front of him right now.
Robert Frost did say "Make your next poem different from your last"
By this he means don't rest on your laurels, don't fall back on phrases/scenes/outlooks/symbols you've used before.
Forget about your past book, it have left the 'hood, have taken on a life of its own.
I reckon the autobiographical is the indisputable diving board for most fiction.
Having written poems about real people, my parents, in BENEATH OUR ARMOUR and DAYS THAT WE COULDN'T REHEARSE I have resisted diluting and cosmetically altering them.
I would encourage you to write about real people. Certainly you can change their names or have them without name '"the couple who lived next door..."
One can get powerful 'knock your socks off" writing out of writing about real people. Certainly use your intuition and maybe give a certain character one, two or three attributes, mannerisms and philosophies that the real person mightn't have, to throw them the curve ball of a smelly herring.
Writing about imaginary people in a poem/novel is addictive. Giving them a back story, unpacking their suitcases to the reader's eye, giving them an obsession/tic, a world-weary/wacko film noir outlook is exciting for the writer - if your character excites/repulses/intrigues you and you can reveal them empathetically, then you're on to a winner.
If someone chisels on my tombstone, "He wrote clearly" I'll be a happy corpse.
Writing clearly is the lighthouse by which I steer my craft. I want to write as clearly as possible. Charles Bukowski said "Writing is painting". Those three words are written on the inside of my lower front teeth. I'm trying to be visual in my writing without over-describing. Over-describing is the sleeping pill of writing.
Hope the above is useful.
Every good wish,
Peter Bakowski

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An open letter to Kathy Charles and other writers/poets

Dear Kathy, I read HOLLYWOOD ENDING in two sittings. Reading it has made me order as an inter-library loan, DAY OF THE LOCUST to re-read. It also made me think about the welfare hotel where I lived (not on welfare) in downtown LA in the 1980's, catching LA buses, admiring the labels of NIGHT TRAIN (white wine) more than the contents and lining up at downtown soup kitchens. Looking at your blog has also reminded me of a weekend in London where I read three John Fante novels in one sitting, 14 hours straight and a weekend in Paris where I read three Earle Stanley Gardner novels in one sitting. I've been writing poetry exclusively for 26 years and it's still a case of facing the blank page non-anxiously - non-anxious about time and non-anxious about one's capabilities - to remind yourself "I've written before, I'll write again, I've been published, I've received praise for my writing". Charles Bukowski said "A writer should be writing". Also on his gravestone the epitaph is "Don't try" - by this I reckon he meant "When writing a novel, don't make a big deal about it and say "I'm writing a Novel" I reckon facing the blank page is a admixture of focus and calm. In the physical, emotional act of writing, you learn. Personally I've got to toil and discard, toil and discard, before I realize the engine, the guts of the piece of writing, the writing "steered" by the burning reason for that piece and in that writing I'm always checking the rear view mirror, asking "What am I trying to say in this piece of writing about people and life and have I said it clearly and strongly?" When facing the blank page I have my three P's - positivity, practice, perseverance. Often I see each line/each stanza as a hurdle. I stay at the writing desk until I hurdle that line, that paragraph/that stanza. A piece of writing has to have a beginning, a middle and an end - any section can be sparse but not skeletal, not uninteresting scaffolding through which a cold wind yawns - there has to be a world/a tableau created and the reader at best succumbs, is right there in that world for the whole revelatory, symphonic ride. Writing is about devotion, devoting protected time to writing for the whole of your life. It is anchor, flying carpet, mirror, diving board, coal miner's shovel. I encourage you to not lose one minute's sleep about similes. For close to a decade I've refrained from using the word "like" - "x" was like a picnic table etc" because I find the majority of similes are not plausible/believable/they don't work. Flannery O'Connor talked about "a reader" looking over her shoulder whenever she wrote lazily/inaccurately, saying/screeching "I don't buy it" You can write a lifetime's worth of books without using one simile. When you are feeling despondent or have the "difficult follow-up book" syndrome remember those three P's - positivity, practice, perseverance. US President, Harry S. Truman said "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen" - When writing is extra-difficult/daunting I say "I want to stay in the kitchen of writing" Every good wish to you and yours, Peter Bakowski