I tried to evoke a lot of old man Chinaski in a lot of my earlier work. Can you blame me? Widely renowned at least nowadays as one of the greatest “punk-poets” of his time, there’s something oddly hypnotic about the way that his words ring out on the page – some of his lines ruthlessly spat and glaring in all their rawness. The combination of his kind of narrative voice and the domain of “dirty realism” strike such a distinct figure against the attention to form and structure and floating imagery that I was sort of pre-conditioned to assume back in my university days.
So as someone who loved poetry, and wanted to write more and more, I latched onto his voice. Fastened it like a backpack over my own words, so it could carry my images in its shell.
But the thing about poetry is that it’s such an intensely individual medium – you can adopt a style, use the same diction, assign places on the page much in the same manner as any other acclaimed poet, but you don’t have the same soul as they do. Your story, your baseline, isn’t their baseline. And while mechanically you might evoke the same effect by adopting a similar voice, your poetry is always your own. Not Bukowski’s. Not Byron’s. Not that four word poet with an ocean of followers on Insta. You’re in this constant state of observing other styles next to your own and seeing how they interact – whether you create an echo, or whether you veer off in another direction completely. It’s a process of constant evolution, and every time I sit down in front of my laptop to write, I want my style to be in a slightly different place than it was last week. A few days ago. The night before.
Not a different voice. Just maybe more defined.