Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Poetry Break: Thinking About Robin Williams this AM

Poetry & the Other Williams (Reilly, 2014)
When Dead Poets came out I was a high school English teacher and I can still recall smiling when I watched Robin Williams in the role of John Keating uncover the idiocy of measuring the value of poetry.  One year when I was teaching a British Literature survey course I had students read the opening bio sketches for Chaucer, Spenser, Morrow, Donne, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and so on only to learn that each was the greatest, best writer in England, the word, ever.  Such pretentious crap. At the front of that anthology held over form the days of news critics (close reading) was a long winded essay similar to the fictive Pritchard essay the boys tear out of their anthologies.  This too was about the correct way to understand literature.  I appreciated the idea that there's an intimacy with literature, especially with poetry, that is impossible to define wholly or holy.

So thinking about poetry and Robin Williams, today's poetry break is a grand one from Charles Bukowski: "so you want to be a writer?"  I like to think the irreverent tone is one Williams would have liked.


so you want to be a writer?

Charles Bukowski
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

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