January 11, 2008

Poetry Friday: Hades Hath Frozen Over: I like a Bukowski poem.

"fame," by Charles Bukowski. From Open All Night: New Poems (Black Sparrow Press).

some want it, I don't want it, I
want to do whatever it is I do
and just do it.
I don't want to look into the
adulating eye,
shake the sweating
palm.
I think that whatever I do
is my business.
I do it because if I don't
I'm finished.
I'm selfish:
I do it for myself
to save what is left of
myself.
and when I am
approached as
hero or
half-god or
guru
I refuse to accept
that.
I don't want their
congratulations,
their worship,
their companionship.

I may have half-a-
million readers,
a million,
two million.
I don't care.
I write the word
how I have to
write it.

and, in the
beginning,
when there were no
readers
I wrote the word
as I needed to write the
word
and if all
the half-million,
the million,
the two million,
disappear
I will continue to
write the
word
as I always have.

the reader is an
afterthought,
the placenta,
an accident,
and any writer who
believes otherwise
is a bigger fool than
his
following.

I had to read Bukowski in grad school. His violence, aggressive language and sexually charged fiction wasn't my favorite by a long shot, but with this one poem, I agree. Fame isn't anything all that desirable to me. I'm not sure if it's possible to make a living from writing without achieving some measure of fame, but I'd like to think I would still write every day if I won the lottery... so it must mean more than money to me. (Good thing, huh?!) If fame means having every facet of my life scrutinized and more attention paid to my couture choices than my writing, then I'm definitely not interested.

I wonder what the perks and drawbacks are for people who are 'famous' in YA circles... other than JK Rowling, of course, who is just having fun being a celebrity. If you don't flash your cash or own a castle like Rowling does but can make a living from your writing, are you still considered famous? What really makes fame? I wonder.

Someone posted the Naomi Shihab Nye poem on fame last week, which really got me thinking. I love her concluding stanza:

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do


Is that fame enough for you and me? I wonder...

(I also wonder why all the "kids" from Fame look about thirty five. Anyway!) More poetry people have gathered at The Book Mine Set, get thee thence!

16 comments:

jama said...

Great poem. Don't fully believe him, though. Why publish if you don't want readership/recognition?

There are degrees of fame, and conditions. Many of us would like to know our writing has touched someone, somewhere in the world. But we don't necessarily want that person scrutinizing our every move.

Maybe we write because we seek immortality, not fame.

I posted about Ginsberg today, who said anyone who writes and says he doesn't care about recognition is lying. Ginsberg himself donated all his writing stuff to Stanford for $1 million. He also asked the Academy of Arts and Sciences for a lifetime achievement award months before he died.

So we want recognition, but not necessarily fame. The two go hand in hand, much of the time.

Karen E. said...

Interesting thoughts, from Bukowski, you and Jama ... I think it's such a neurotic mix sometimes. I do want my writing to touch people, but I don't want anyone taking pictures of me in sweatpants at the grocery store. That kind of thing. :-) Fortunately, as a little writer in niche markets, I will never have to worry about the kind of crazed fame that makes people *want* pictures of someone at grocery store. :-)

Kelly Fineman said...

I don't like much Bukowski, either. But I'm glad I read this one. Thanks.

TadMack said...

Definitely there's a difference between recognition and fame and while I do hear the 'righteous' voice in this poem, I still don't think I want fame - although I think it's just that steely-eyed Puritan heritage (culturally American) which discourages most of us from saying that the flash/cash of fame is desirable - at least it discourages us from saying it out loud!

The word 'fame' to me conjures up "fifteen minutes of." I don't want anything that transitory. Something that lasts a little longer, please (but burns less brightly, and is easier to touch), like a book you can come back to and read again...

Sara said...

There's something wrong with me. After reading the Bukowski poem, and your intelligent discussion of fame, I'm nevertheless fixated on why those "kids" look thirty-five. I'm feeling weirded out, as if I had just seen Liam Neeson in the grocery store and he was wearing bunny slippers.

And I don't like being called a placenta much, either. Although I guess he's MY placenta, if he ever read one of my poems.

FAME! Remember my name! (Sorry, I'm over 35 so I thought I'd fit right in.)

TadMack said...

They DO look ancient, though, don't they?? I mean, it's not just me, is it? I always get a kick out of old yearbooks from the 40's - 50's -- those people look ANCIENT at 18, like they're ready to go out and start ...businesses or go to war. Oh, wait. That's what they did, isn't it?

(That still doesn't explain this picture.)

TadMack said...

And yes: agreed. I'm not big on the placenta, and I think the idea that the reader is a total afterthought is a pile of horned bovine excrement.

a. fortis said...

Great, now I'm gonna have that theme song in my head all day...

I think Bukowski does have a point when it comes to certain types of writing--for instance, I think audience can be less of a consideration in the writing of poetry, depending on what sort of poetry you're writing. But in the end, writing is...communication, right? Even if you're your own audience and you're writing only to know yourself better.

writer2b said...

Couple of thoughts: "Fame" for a writer is proof that we're connecting with people, which is why we write and don't stop at unexpressed thinking. Also don't writers believe in words to shine some light on life, somehow? To realize things? Is the real desire for fame, or for evidence that the writing is legitimate, or real, or whatever the right word is? That's why having readers matters. Not so much the money, and definitely not sweatpantsinthegrocerystore photos.

If Bukowski is so self-sufficient, why does he feel the need to publicize it in this poem?

Sorry if I'm going on and on. This just gets me thinking.

Thanks for this engaging poem, and for the photo tour down memory lane.

Liz in Ink said...

I have to admit to have gone through a Bukowski poetry stage. This one is really nice...

The Cole Mine said...

On Fame- I think I'm happier hiding in the shadows but could handle a glimpse of fame if people only knew my writing or my invention - not my face...I'm with JAMA - recognition is nice - as is touching minds through word. Cool poem - thanks for sharing and making ME think. ;)

liquidambar said...

I wrote when nobody read my words, and I would still write if nobody read them again, so in those ways I agree with the poet. However, the fact is that I want people to read me. I don't view my readers as placentas. (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.)

I want the kind of fame where my name on a book jacket makes people grab the book, but nobody knows (or cares) much about my private life. Fortunately, writers can have something close to that kind of fame--actors really can't.

As for the "kids" from Fame--a couple of them in the picture are teachers. I'm embarrassed that I know that.

John Mutford said...

I only discovered Bukowski last year and was after much deliberation, I consider myself a fan. Sometimes yes, the hubris could get annoying but I think he balanced them when self-deprecation. Undoubtedly the sycophants made him uncomfortable.

eisha said...

I've always thought that the level of fame that most well-known writers achieve would be the best compromise. You can probably throw your name around and get into exclusive restaurants, but most people wouldn't recognize you if you need to run to the pharmacy in your jammies.

I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly...

Mary Lee said...

I'm glad you brought up Nye's poem. That's a little more realistic view of fame...or at least the spectrum that can be considered to be fame.

I get gasps and giggles and pointing fingers when I'm spotted at the grocery store...by children who go to my school or who are in my class! Too bad that kind of "fame" isn't also accompanied by "cash to flash" and a castle!!

DaviMack said...

It occurs to me that perhaps the money should be the afterthought ... and as I think upon certain famous authors, it seems to be sadly at the fore of things.