“Christmas poem to a man in jail” by Charles Bukowski

hello Bill Abbott:
I appreciate your passing around my books in
jail there, my poems and stories.
if I can lighten the load for some of those guys with
my books, fine.
but literature, you know, is difficult for the
average man to assimilate (and for the unaverage man too);
I don’t like most poetry, for example,
so I write mine the way I like to read it.

poetry does seem to be getting better, more
human,
the clearing up of the language has something to
do with it (w. c. williams came along and asked
everybody to clear up the language)
then
I came along.

but writing’s one thing, life’s
another, we
seem to have improved the writing a bit
but life (ours and theirs)
doesn’t seem to be improving very
much.

maybe if we write well enough
and live a little better
life will improve a bit
just out of shame.
maybe the artist haven’t been powerful
enough,
maybe the politicians, the generals, the judges, the
priests, the police, the pimps, the businessmen have been too
strong? I don’t
like that thought
but when I look at our pale and precious artists,
past and present, it does seem
possible.

(people don’t like it when I talk this way.
Chinaski, get off it, they say,
you’re not that great.
but
hell, I’m not talking about being
great.)

what I’m saying is
that art hasn’t improved life like it
should, maybe because it has been too
private? and despite the fact that the old poets
and the new poets and myself
all seem to have had the same or similar troubles
with:
women
government
God
love
hate
penury
slavery
insomnia
transportation
weather
wives, and so
forth.

you write me now
that the man in the cell next to yours
didn’t like my punctuation
the placement of my commas (especially)
and also the way I digress
in order to say something precisely.
ah, he doesn’t realize the intent
which is
to loosen up, humanize, relax
and still make as real as possible
the word on the page. the word should be like
butter or avocados or
steak or hot biscuits, or onion rings or
whatever is really
needed. it should be almost
as if you could pick up the words and
eat them.

(there is some wise-ass somewhere
out there
who will say
if he ever reads this:
“Chinaski, if I want dinner I’ll go out and
order it!”)

however
an artist can wander and still maintain
essential form. Dostoevsky did it. he
usually told 3 or 4 stories on the side
while telling the one in the
center (in his novels, that is).
Bach taught us how to lay one melody down on
top of another and another melody on top of
that and
Mahler wandered more than anybody I know
and I find great meaning
in his so-called formlessness.
don’t let the form-and-rule boys
like that guy in the cell next to you
put one over on you. just
hand him a copy of Time or Newsweek
and he’ll be
happy.

but I’m not defending my work (to you or to him)
I’m defending my right to do it in the way
that makes me feel best.
I always figure if a writer is bored with his work
the reader is going to be
bored too.

and I don’t believe in
perfection, I believe in keeping the
bowels loose
so I’ve got to agree with my critics
when they say I write a lot of shit.

you’re doing 19 and 1/2 years
I’ve been writing about 40.
we all go on with our things.
we all go on with our lives.
we all write badly at times
or live badly at times.
we all have bad days
and nights.

I ought to send the guy in the cell next to yours
The Collected Works of Robert Browning for Christmas,
that’d give him the form he’s looking for
but I need the money for the track,
Santa Anita is opening on the
26th, so give him a copy of Newsweek
(the dead have no future, no past, no present,
they just worry about commas)
and have I placed the commas here
properly,
Abbott?
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Charles Bukowski,What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire

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