the difference between a bad poet and a good one is luck

By Charles Bukowski 1920–1994 Charles Bukowski
I suppose so.
I was living in an attic in Philadelphia
It became very hot in the summer and so I stayed in the
bars. I didn’t have any money and so with what was almost left
I put a small ad in the paper and said I was a writer
looking for work . . .
which was a god damned lie; I was a writer
looking for a little time and a little food and some
attic rent.
a couple days later when I finally came home
from somewhere
the landlady said, there was somebody looking for
you. and I said,
there must be some mistake. she said,
no, it was a writer and he said he wanted you to help him write
a history book.
oh, fine, I said, and I knew with that I had another week’s
rent—I mean, on the cuff—
so I sat around drinking wine on credit and watching the hot pigeons
suffer and fuck on my hot roof.
I turned the radio on real loud
drank the wine and wondered how I could make a history book
interesting but true.
but the bastard never came back,
and I had to finally sign on with a railroad track gang
going West
and they gave us cans of food but no
and we broke the cans against the seats and sides of
railroad cars a hundred years old with dust
the food wasn’t cooked and the water tasted like
and I leaped off into a clump of brush somewhere in
all green with nice-looking houses in the
I found a park
slept all night
and then they found me and put me in a cell
and they asked me about murders and
they wanted to get a lot of stuff off the books
to prove their efficiency
but I wasn’t that tired
and they drove me to the next big town
fifty-seven miles away
the big one kicked me in the ass
and they drove off.
but I lucked it:
two weeks later I was sitting in the office of the city hall
half-asleep in the sun like the big fly on my elbow
and now and then she took me down to a meeting of the council
and I listened very gravely as if I knew what was happening
as if I knew how the funds of a halfass town were being
later I went to bed and woke up with teethmarks all over
me, and I said, Christ, watch it, baby! you might give me
cancer! and I’m rewriting the history of the Crimean War!
and they all came to her house—
all the cowboys, all the cowboys:
fat, dull and covered with dust.
and we all shook hands.
I had on a pair of old bluejeans, and they said
oh, you’re a writer, eh?
and I said: well, some think so.
and some still think so . . .
others, of course, haven’t quite wised up yet.
two weeks later they
ran me out
of town.

"the difference between a bad poet and a good one is luck" by Charles Bukowski, from Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973. Copyright © 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1974 by Charles Bukowski. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers,

Source: Burning in Water Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973 (Black Sparrow Press, 1996)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Charles Bukowski 1920–1994


Subjects Arts & Sciences, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Activities, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Charles  Bukowski


Charles Bukowski was a prolific underground writer who used his his poetry and prose to depict the depravity of urban life and the downtrodden in American society. A cult hero, Bukowski relied on experience, emotion, and imagination in his work, using direct language and violent and sexual imagery. While some critics found his style offensive, others claimed that Bukowski satirized the machismo attitude through his routine use . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Eating & Drinking, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Activities, Poetry & Poets


Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.