Author photo by artist, Walter Bakowski

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


  1. Hi Peter,
    some interesting points you make.

    My name is Sebastian we met on Sunday (the young man with the Jean Luc-Godard shirt). I'm sorry I didn't talk to you at the time further about your writing but suppose I got carried away talking about film.

    In any case I am glad to have found your blog to read your poetry, critical thoughts and wider reflections. From what I have read so far it may be one to follow.

    The poem you posted on the art of writing poetry was intriguing to read. Especially as a young sometimes writer who often spends hours buried in the words of those no longer with us e.g. Charles Bukowski.

    On another note I realise now how come your voice sounded familiar...The Book Show on Radio National not so long ago, yes?

    Sebastian Hall

  2. Dear Sebastian,
    Yes, I was on The Book Show on Radio National, late last year.
    Reading Charles Bukowski gave me the go ahead to write clearly, to write about the urban, to write about the domestic.
    Two favorite living poets are Ted Kooser and Billy Collins.
    I'm trying to be visual in poems without over-describing. To show via the camera of the poem.
    I like the sumptuousness possible in filmed scenes. Some eye nourishment in BROKEN EMBRACES and BRIGHT STAR.
    Every encouragement to you,
    Peter Bakowski