Author photo by artist, Walter 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


  1. To any visitor who focusses, West's LA is evident today, and fascinating.
    Now I have to look for Hollywood Ending, while wondering where in Paris you were when reading those 3 books. I too, am a pig with books - closing one and opening the next immediately, but not sure I could do it in Paris.
    Best wishes to you all that you avoid the retail excess of celebrating the birth of the infant Jesus. He had the first Hollywood Ending.

  2. Dear BwcaBrownie,
    In the 1980's I went travelling for seven years. A lot of that was alone, too alone. Sometimes I'd hole up in my hotel room/rented room and read books. That it was Paris, Merida, Khartoum, London or San Diego, didn't matter, when I was feeling blue.
    One can be bummed out/feeling retreatful in some beautiful places.
    Paris is not all beauty.
    Every good wish,