Why do we write? Every writer knows that some time or the other, this question has lingered at the back of his or her skull. What is it that compels us to scratch gray marks against a page? we ask ourselves. What is it that brings such ecstasy to hear the ping of keys as our fingers type letters onto a screen? In other words, what are we writing for? In his poem “Poetry Readings”, Charles Bukowski explores the purpose of poets. Born in 1920, Bukowski was raised in Maryland by an abusive father. He was shy as a child, and later diagnosed as mentally unstable.
However, when he moved to New York in his twenties, he became a writer for a local magazine. “Poetry Reading” was published at the end of his life. In this poem, Bukowski critiques that writers nowadays seem to be focused on receiving personal glory rather than being a “creator” with a desire to inspire others (32) . Instead, he notes humiliatingly that poets seem to only “[sweat] for applause” and have a “lack of guts” (11) (32). Although Bukowski uses straightforward diction and minimal rhetorical devices (like his description of poets above), he still constructs language in such a powerful way that leaves a strong message. He connects with the reader as a casual observer of society, but also gives surprising insights for aspiring writers.
I was captured by his first few lines, and I soon found myself wonderstruck at the concision with which he expressed his ideas. There was so much vivid imagery constructed from simple vocabulary, like “a drunk sleeping in a deserted doorway” and “a dog munching a dry bone” (41) (42). Left with a feeling of admiration and slight degradation, I truly began to question myself: why do I write? Is it for pride, or is to to create beauty and hope? The way in which Burkowski expresses his message is so blunt, yet moving, that every lover of language must read this poem. It questions the essence of writers, and while I encourage you will read Bukowski’s other work, I urge you to take the time to experience this one.