nothing is as effective as defeat
by Charles Bukowski

always carry a notebook with you
wherever you go, he said,
and don't drink too much, drinking dulls
the sensibilities,
attend readings, note breath pauses,
and when you read
always understate
underplay, the crowd is smarter than you
might think,
and when you write something
don't send it out right away,
put it in a drawer for two weeks,
then take it out and look
at it, and revise, revise,
REVISE again and again,
tighten lines like bolts holding the span
of a 5 mile bridge,
and keep a notebook by your bed,
you will get thoughts during the night
and these thoughts will vanish and be wasted
unless you notate them.
and don't drink, any fool can
drink, we are men of
letters.

for a guy who couldn't write at all
he was about like the rest
of them: he could sure
talk about
it.

This is for every one of you with one of those "How to Write X" (etc.) books on you shelf, your desk, whatever. You want to know how to write? You want to know how to write poetry?

Too bad.

You can teach (you can learn) how to avoid looking like a fool or a kid when you're read; you can teach how not to make dozens of common mistakes, how to show and not fucking tell, how to be so inoffensive to our collective sense of literary aesthetics that your output shares the taste and texture of dry corn meal; you can learn, so easily, to be mindnumbingly neutral. You can teach this—all you have to be is, at the very least, neutral yourself.

Poetry isn't too popular around here—this site, this society. We could blame the teenage angstfests, the sickly love poetry, the sort of language that's fixable via How to write poetry. We could say "you learn these rules, you'll be all right"—but you won't. The reason a lot of us deride poetry is not because of the amateurish attempts, it's because there's so much corn meal, so much passable language saying a grand total of nothing. There's this feeling—many of us have it—that goes like this: "I should write, I should write, I should write..." And many of us do...without having anything to say.

I'm not saying stop writing, I'm saying throw the advice books away. Burn them. Forget the classes, the groups, whatever. They can improve your writing, but only superficially. Read poetry, read good poetry, in close proximity to when you write. If you are any good, you will pick up the rules. And if you have anything worth saying, you will find and develop it. There is no shortcut to this step.

This too (of course) is advice on writing, and you may quite appropriately call me a hypocrite and /msg me something beginning in "ironic that..." Fine. If you took anything from the above poem, from the message here, you wouldn't have read this one to the end anyway.


Bukowski, Charles. "nothing is as effective as defeat." Play the Piano Drunk / Like a Percussion Instrument / Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1979. 82

"nothing is as effective as defeat" is Copyright © by Charles Bukowski; permission to reproduce this poem has been requested, though no response has yet been received.

This writeup is CST Approved.

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