As a poet, I am often asked why anyone aside from writers should read poetry. I have to admit, I am, at this point, so immersed in my craft that at times I forget its purpose. And at first, the question annoys me. L’art pour l’art, I think. Art for art’s sake. The first explanations that come to mind include words like truth, beauty, elevation. Not all poetry, of course, delivers such qualities. But even poetry that is deliberately ugly appeals to a higher state of mind: it makes you uncomfortable and compels you to think. Still, I can see on their faces that my audience is not convinced. This is a problem.
But it is not their fault. If a craft is useful, it is up to the craftsmen to make that purpose known. If poetry has been forgotten, it does no use to sit on our hands and complain that this generation has no education. Teachers do not complain that children do not know what they are about to teach them. Long before the French philosophers declared that art was useful in and of itself, poetry was considered a vessel for useful messages, often those of a religious or moral nature. The bards were sensitive to the deeper needs of their age, as should we be.
That being said, I would like to offer a much more practical and yet sorely needed use for poetry: a cure for the exhausted modern individual, so harassed by the distractions of the digital age and the demands of 21st century work life.
That this cure is needed could not be more obvious. Look at meditation, for example. It has soared in popularity recently, and it doesn’t take a sociologist to make an educated guess as to why. From books to apps to blogs, the balm of stillness, stress alleviation, and potential spiritual and self-awareness benefits of meditation have become an industry. In our distracted and anxious age, when “productivity” is king, sleeplessness a badge of honor, and the black-mirrored devices in our pockets nag for attention more than a needy child, something has to pierce through this riot. Many need an excuse to say “no” to the noise, and fifteen minutes of meditation seems excusable. Many need a reason to pause for a moment to reflect on who they really are and what matters. Five minutes of quiet seems a reasonable request. Five minutes begins to grow, into fifteen, into thirty, into an hour, until one begins to wonder why she lives a life that makes her feel more like a workhorse and less like a human being.
Reading poetry has a similar effect, although the process is different, and perhaps more attainable to those unfamiliar with the practice. Meditation calls you to empty yourself, but we may not be ready to be emptied just yet. If you’ve ever tried clearing your head of all thought, or even just focusing on your breathing, it is a noble but nearly impossible task. Poetry, on the other hand, asks you to allow yourself to be filled. We have been allowing ourselves to be filled all our lives; this comes easily.
The focus and stillness necessary for reading poetry is the antidote to anxiety and distraction. To understand the meaning of the words you have to let yourself become absorbed in them. Often, we will seek a quiet place to do this, but the world soon melts away once we become engrossed in Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Deciphering the dense riddle while enjoying the play of words, hearing in our head the sound of rhymes and melodic lines, or that feeling like a hand clasping around the heart as you finally understand, aha, it was not really about the urn at all, he is lamenting the passage of time—this experience is as transformational as meditation. You come out renewed. I would even go so far as to say it is a mental, as well as emotional, restorative process.
This is because a good poem will, in the end, turn your gaze back on and into yourself. First, it guides you through the experience crafted by the poet, as you are constrained by his words. But, as you unravel them, you realize that what is being said is not something that was made to sit on the page. Immature poetry exists only for itself; good poetry, even that which espouses l’art pour l’art, was made for you. The words were written, maybe in inspiration, maybe painstakingly, perhaps in sorrow, perhaps in hunger, to help you understand something that matters, and yourself most of all.
For the sleepless and harried modern individual, I suggest a small dose of medicine that is not bitter in the least. On your day off, take fifteen minutes to read a poem. One is enough. Take your time to understand, and search for what the poet has to offer you. If you don’t know where to start, Keats’s “To Autumn” is beautiful and short. Consider it self-care, like drinking enough water, exercise, or sleeping at least seven hours. Next time I encounter people who ask me why poetry is needed, I am prepared with a better response. We need poetry because we are not hamsters on wheels. We need someone to show us the way back to being human. As a poet, I hope to help guide you to a quiet place amid the chaos, where you can rediscover who you are. It is true. It is beautiful. It is elevating. And it is a purpose worth all the struggles of the poet, who walks out ahead to help us find our way back to ourselves.
Glum gray skies peered through my barely opened blinds. A familiar face unwelcome- my old pal writers block, she came in and sat on the edge of crisp unwatered plants throughout my apartment. Icouldn’t escape the unshakeable feeling of wanting to stay in bed, on the couch, and close to the refrigerator. Writers block screamed at me in the loudest silence. I drowned out her echoes and escaped her clenching fists, picked up my house keys, and I found myself in the home of temporary ease- The Landmark theater on Pico & Westwood.
Sitting in a seat assigned to the fifteen dollars paid at the door, I felt coddled in the safety of faulty memories' arms. I took a chance on the love story of a controlling artist with the qualities of many of my almost lovers. Reynolds Woodcock, a talented clothing designer, meets a woman who challenges his calculations for a successful life. “Phantom Thread,” directed by American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, gave me back an ounce of hope for an inspired tomorrow.
In one of its first scenes the film set me up for heartbreak at the hands of an overwhelming involvement in the journey of comprehension for such a charming yet prick artist. Alma, a free spirited waitress, reminded me of reality & my current situation. Accepting an invitation for dinner from, “the hungry boy,’ who dressed with effortless style would be the start of a romance that could pull the tears from every cynic witnessing true loves trials. Its a familiar story about two people with very different worlds and how one day those worlds collide. The momentum of their romantic love story jolts you around a not so traditional courting-, “This is your room,” Reynolds leaves his date to sleep across the hallway from him.
The crunching of Alma buttering her toast at Reynolds house makes me giggle but for only one instant. Reynolds quickly interrupts the creases of my mouth smiling to open wide in bewilderment when he barks at her to sit still: “Its like you just rode a horse across the room!” A self important artist like Reynolds has little patience for a lover to come into his life and suddenly change the quietness of perfection. Sought after by the most elite ladies of 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock promises to paint them in one of a kind designs which hold time still by the lacing of his creative genius.
The excruciating repressed life which Alma becomes a part of is nothing short of interesting. Holding a book of poisonous Mushrooms I see their love take a turn for the worst. Her most cherished fantasy becomes to kill Reynolds. A little lost in translation, I am suddenly pondering how the film could end and not break my heart. Mr. Woodcock becomes terribly ill. Alma gently caresses his hand in love forever by his side. Handling all pain the way she knows Reynolds would desire- with privacy and mistrusting of all intruders. Alma and Reynolds love each other in a most puzzling sense of the word-love.
Their romance holds the truest way to love another human being for all their humanness. Forgiving and unforgiving every detail, Alma looks past Reynolds Woodcocks capricious fussy demeanor to find a man most needing of her every intention. For richer or poor, better or worse, and until the last scene I fell apart and put myself back together reacting to their story- unforgettable. For the next time your dear old unwelcome friend, writers block, holds you hostage in her trap, I propose a trip to the Landmark theater and wish your choice to be as detoxifying of your reality as mine with “Phantom Thread.”
The Comedy Store—a quintessential tourist attraction—is located in West Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard. Its black and red drapery, dim lighting, and worn furniture leave the impression that not much has changed since the 70s, but don’t let that fool you! If you can look past the average bar food and two-drink minimum, The Comedy Store is an incredible LA experience—a writer’s hidden gem.
The Performers Keep You Engaged
If you are anything like me, then chances are you’re lost in your head more than you’d like to be. That’s why The Store is a great spot to catch a break. Once you are ushered to your seat, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the laughs. Legends like David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, and Richard Pryor have made their rounds there, and for 15 to 20 bucks you’ll see some of the best talent in the business. Comedians like Dave Chappelle, Joe Rogan, Ali Wong, Daniel Tosh, and Dane Cook, work through material in the main or belly room, and each comedian varies in style. The lineup is fresh, the patrons are hooked, and the dark lighting and casual vibes make it easy to unwind.
You’ll Be Full of Energy
I must warn you, you will probably leave a bit riled up, but that’s a good thing! Comedians tend to say what many would not dare think out loud, so be prepared for humor that will make you uncomfortable, get you fired up, or leave you totally perplexed. Great art should be that way— you may walk away feeling ready to write or with a sudden urge to have your own opinion heard, so once your emotions subside, let the pen roll and see where it takes you.
Learn How to Edit and Create Characters
The material is drafted and revised in front of you, which can be an amazing learning opportunity for writers at all levels. Comics want you to laugh, but not every joke sticks the landing, and no matter what the outcome may be, some performers will walk you through their thought process: “Hmm that didn’t work, how about this joke?” Others will sweat profusely and develop nervous tics, and occasionally, some comedians might get angry (I’m sure you can imagine a few).
As writers, our creative process is similar—an absolute emotional rollercoaster. Watching others take chances and make mistakes offers a fresh perspective on a process we often stress over.
Comedians Hustle, Hustle, Hustle!
They are relentless, and you can be too! A serious comedian performs several times a week— open mic, after open mic, they get up on stage and gear up for wherever the night takes ‘em. At the Comedy Store, you’ll see greats like Marc Maron or Chris Delia have a bad night, but no worries, they’ll be back! Quite often, writers tend to sit on their material and they’re scared to put it out there, but what if you take the comic approach? No matter what, always keep the momentum going, send out your story, sign up for a reading—whatever you have to do!
It Helps You Grow as an Artist
After a couple visits to the Comedy Store, I knew I wanted to give performing a shot! The very next opportunity I had, I signed up for a reading with pspoets and was hooked! Not to mention, the poetry crowd is a lot more forgiving than a comedy crowd! Do yourself a favor and plan a visit to the Comedy Store, who knows where it will take you next!
We all have an image of ourselves typing away late into the night. Our creativity is flowing at maximum levels, the words seem to spill onto paper like water over the falls, and time feels more like a friend than a critic. It’s hard to get into the mindset of the craft, but there are many things you can do to set yourself up for a promising session.
All of us at pspoets want to see your artistry thrive, and that means that we want to do everything we can to make sure you’re getting the most out of your work. Sitting down and forcing yourself to hammer out a few words will only get you so far, so here are # ways for you to get inspired before writing.
1. Make a Cup of Coffee or Tea
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to start your writing sessions with a ritual. For me, I automatically put myself in a position to focus and create when I make a hot cup of coffee or tea. Since 2018 came around, I made a resolution to scale back on the java (each day is a struggle), but I’ve found that making a cup of black tea with a little almond milk is a close second.
The simple act of putting water on the stove, choosing a special mug, steeping a favorite flavor, and sitting down at the desk inspires me to get to work. The warmth of the beverage helps shake away any anxieties about starting, and I always love to see the steam rise from the cup as I’m contemplating the last lines of a stanza.
p.s. Having a beer or a glass of whiskey can also be a great way to get in the mood if that’s more your taste. After all, Bukowski is sort of our mascot.
2. Open the Windows
At times, I can get so caught up in an assignment or a creative project that I’ll keep myself in a dungeon for hours—ultimately weakening the quality of my work.I’ll realize that I completely squandered a beautiful morning, or maybe the rain has been falling all afternoon, and I haven’t even opened the blinds to enjoy it!
Now, I always make it a point to pull back the shade, open the windows, and let the air stream in unencumbered. Even if it’s a small amount of interaction, recognizing the day will ignite you with energy. Plus, if you’re aware of how beautiful it is outside, you’ll be encouraged to get your work done and experience it!
3. Write Outside
To go along with #2, if you’re fed up with your space indoors, pack up your work station and transfer it to a patio or front porch. Maybe there’s a park close by to your house, or maybe you’re only a mile or so from the beach? For me, most of my writing has to happen online for other clients and deadlines, but that doesn’t stop me from pulling a Thoreau and embracing nature. I’ll grab an extension cord from the closet, run the cable out to my little alleyway on the side of my building, and I’ll post up in a lawn chair with an ice cold Pacifico.
Getting some sunshine brings a whole new approach to your writing, and the environment will always instill passion into whatever you’re creating.
4. Do Some Reading Beforehand
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down at my typewriter only to stare at it for an hour before I wrote something down. Throughout my development as a writer, I’ve learned that unless I have an idea gnawing away at me, or a feeling that I’ve been ruminating with for some time, I always need a little bit of guidance from other writers to get my poetry in motion (pun intended).
Who better to seek advice from Kerouac,Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe? We collect books and pile them onto our shelves and dressers for a reason—to help us find a voice of our own in the midst of humanity. If I’m feeling at a loss for words, I turn to those who have multitudes to say, and their words always help me find a place of my own to start from.
5. Take a Nap
This may seem counterintuitive to the writing process, but for me, taking a nap—anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour—always revitalizes my brain and energizes my body. Think about it, if you’re straining to keep your eyes open, and a 3 O’clock lull hits you like a freight train, why not unplug and find a quiet place to realign?
I equate it to driving while your eyes are heavy. You can’t just power through the freeway and nod off, so you might as well pull over, roll the windows down and count a few sheep. When you wake up, you’ll feel refreshed, and you can make up the time later by burning the midnight oil.
6. Use a Typewriter
If all else fails, the best thing you can do for your creative writing is to use a typewriter.
There’s something comforting about using a device with a specific purpose. Too often, we resort to logging onto the computer or pulling out or phones to capture our ideas, but our reliance on electronics stifles our overall efficiency. I don’t know about you, but when I’m typing on my laptop, I constantly am distracted by emails, Facebook messages, and catchy news articles. In the span of an hour, I’ve probably only had 20 minutes of pure writing, which is basically a total waste when it comes to getting something finished. At that rate, it will take me years to finish a novel, and I don’t want to be an old man at my book release.
Switching your weapon of choice to a typewriter will keep you on track and eliminate outside variables. You feed paper in the top, set your margins, adjust your spacing, and then you let your soul do the work. You’ll be surprised at how much you can write when nothing else grabs your attention.
What’s Your Favorite Way to Get Inspired?
Keep in mind, these things are just suggestions based on what works for me. Everyone is different, and everyone will approach their work in a unique way, but hopefully these ideas will help you stay on track if you’re going astray.
We would love to hear about your writing tips and tricks! Post a comment below or send us an email to let us know how you get creative! We are always looking for contributors to our blog, so please inquire today!
Charles Bukowski has long been an influence on me. I am not sure exactly what attracted me to his writing first. Was it his grittiness? His openness? I’ve always liked ’em a little rough around the edge… my favorite writers, my man, my friends, my life. There is a certain precarious charm to living on the fringe. I suppose I felt that I related to the old man in some ways. He wrote about being ordinary and I liked that. I think the first book I read was his very last novella, Pulp. I loved it. I read Post Office, Women, a couple others. Then I started delving into his poetry.
It is easy to see Bukowski as a surly, chauvinistic alcoholic man pig who can’t stop writing about his grubby life “mounting” as many fast women as he could in shitty 1970’s Los Angeles motels and rundown apartments, his weekly trips to the Hollywood Park Race Track and his general distaste for humanity. Not exactly a feminist icon or a role model at all. Most people probably wouldn’t even want to have a drink with him. But, fuck- was he real? Was he raw? More than any writers I can think of, especially of his time. He said things in his poetry that most people would not even consider saying out loud, let alone print on paper.
He chronicled his dirty, desperate drunken nights in bars across the city, at home with his women or alone with his typewriter. He did this in simple, poetic, relatable and at times, beautiful ways. He had a weak spot for horse races and Heineken. He liked classical music. He loved his cats. He even loved some of the women he wrote about, though he may have had a funny way of showing it at times. Chuck was a real blue-collar type. A somewhat average Joe with a poetic soul writing about the mundane and seemingly meaningless existence of someone who works at a post office or some other mind-numbing job. He was a regular guy with gambling problems, relationship issues, possible struggles with alcoholism. A guy who could be very blunt about his obvious disregard for what you think, what Academia thinks, what the world thinks. He was someone who went home alone with a bottle of who the fuck cares and a pack of smokes to a machine with letters to type away the boring staleness that is unavoidable in all human existence. He was a cranky old bastard who was also a realist. No shame in telling you exactly what you don’t want to hear. This quality in a human can be abrasive but refreshing. I would have a drink with him.
I just picked Storm for the Living and the Dead: Uncollected and Unpublished Poems, the latest release of Bukowski’s works. The editor Abel Debritto intended to keep the newly published poems for the most part as they were originally written. Debritto has edited several other Bukowski editions and I think does a good job. So far, I am digging the Storm. I also hear that City Lights will be releasing something of Bukowski’s next year, which will be rad.
Philosopher’s Stone Poetry’s next event is BUKOWSKI POETRY NIGHT on December 5th at Gravlax in Los Angeles. We will be honoring the dirty old writer in his city of fallen angels by reading his iconic poems and sharing our most Bukowski-inspired work. I will be reading a poem from the new book and raffling off some of my artwork. Bring a friend, have some drinks and cheers to Chuck!
“To do a dull thing with style-now that’s what I call art.” – Charles Bukowski
Nisi is a creative, talented friend who's also our social media manager here at pspoets. If you haven't met her yet, this interview will give a little insight into her awesome soul.
1. What is your name? Denise "Nisi" Mckenzie 2. Where are you from? Northwest Ohio 3. What is your profession? Poet, Creative Human... at my paying job I am a "Pinterest Specialist". 4. What are your hobbies? I like to travel, write, read, take photos, make art, listen to music, garden, cook...anything that allows me to be creative. I also took up snowboarding last year. 5. Why is writing special to you? For as long as I can remember, I've kept a notebook with my scribbles, poems, journal entries, etc. Writing has always been there and always will be. 6. Who is your favorite writer or poet? Lately, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. 7. What is your favorite book? Also a hard one! The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. 8. What inspires you to write creatively? Life, death, the seasons in between, the places I go, the natural world vs. the mandmade. 9. What is your best advice for other writers? Keep living. Don't get too caught up in yourself. Find the unsaid in the world around you and create a voice for it. Let everything inspire you. 10. What is your favorite thing about being part of pspoets? I've been looking for a group like this since I left college. After living in 3 major cities, I've found it! It's awesome to be a part of something that I am passionate about, and to watch it grow is pretty exciting.
Thank you for being you, Nisi! Check out her work and photos @nisipoesy.
What is your perfect writing environment? Describe the temperature, lighting, and furniture arrangement from your perspective, as if you were sitting in the room. What color are the walls? Elaborate on the details of the space.
In 100 words or less, construct those observations into a poem.
Share your work below, or enter our poet of the monthcontest for a chance to be featured on the home page. Happy writing!
Need some writing inspo? Check these out and give one a try!
1. Describe the sound of the woods breathing. 2. Describe the essence of a full moon on a cold night. 3. Write a poem from the perspective of a falling leaf. 4. Describe something you see everyday outside of your home. 5. What is silence? 6. Write a haiku about your favorite food. 7. Write about a place you only see in your dreams. 8. The open road is yours. Where are you going? 9. Write a poem about your lover as you would describe a fruit. 10. Find an object near you. Write a poem from the perspective of that object.