Stealing From Bukowski

Week 1 – Who is better at stealing from Bukowski? Sam and Corey compete to see who can steal the famous poet’s iconic style.

Competition: Sam and Corey are competing this week to see who can best emulate Charles Bukowski’s style.

Stakes: The loser buys kimchi and hotdogs for Japanese baseball night. 

Introduction to Week 1

CB: Charles Bukowski was my first introduction to poetry outside of school. His work was so unlike anything I had ever read before. Granted, that was not much, but it transformed my reading life. I read everything by him I could. I also found myself trying to write poems. Bukowski’s characteristically casual style makes anyone think they can write poetry. I tried so hard to write compelling poems in his style, but to no avail. Certainly, I wrote a ton of poetry, almost all of it exclusively no good. I stopped writing poetry after a year or two, just fell into other things naturally. I remember getting to college and reading that Bukowski is perhaps the most emulated poet, at least in America, of all time. It was then that the seed of this idea was planted, though we did not know it at the time. 


CB: I expected Sam to be quite good at this one. He actually gave me the ideas for two of my few poems, At the Fishhouses, and 2 friends (which did not make the final cut.) He’s an idea machine, and the narrative style loves good ideas. This project was also his idea. There was one hope I had though—Sam hadn’t written a poem, at least one that I’d read, in months. I thought I’d smoke this guy out of sheer familiarity with writing poems. We read each other our first Bukowski poems, and I was immediately dispelled of the ease of competition. He had written a great poem. It made me focus up, and though I wrote few poems, I wanted to make them good. Turning this whole idea into a competition was an inspired idea. 

SK: Going into the first week, I was worried about the competition. I was facing off against a professional poet. Corey had been published and paid for his poetry, while I had not written a poem in over a year and a sincere one in maybe a decade. I was not worried about losing, per se—only that I would lose so badly that it would make the project unfeasible. I had the pregame jitters of a kid walking down to the playground basketball court on his own for the first time to ask the big kids if he could play with them. What if I’m just not good enough? So I decided that I would write as many poems as I could each night in the hopes that I would get lucky, and a few would turn out passable.


Best Emulated – first place is worth 25 points, second is worth 19, third is 18, scaling all the way down to 11.

The first place Favorite Poem is worth 15 points, second is 9, third is 8 scaling down to 1.

Corey’s poems are italicized
Sam’s poems are bolded

Best Emulation

  1. “at the fishhouses”
  2. “evening”
  3. “crematorium”
  4. “tuesday”
  5. “epistemology”
  6. “this is important”
  7. “this is how it goes”
  8. “neighborhood bar”
  9. “cats”
  10. “november”


  1. “evening”
  2. “at the fishhouses”
  3. “tuesday”
  4. “epistemology”
  5. “neighborhood bar”
  6. “november”
  7. “cats”
  8. “crematorium”
  9. “this is how it goes”
  10. “this is important”


CB: I gotta be honest, I thought this would be a lot easier than it was. I wrote only a total of eight or nine emulated poems this week. I believe I built up expectations of the ease, that when I sat down to write a poem, it would go off without a hitch. I’ve read Bukowski since I was a kid. Surely I would know how to emulate one of his poems, right? But as I first sat down to write, it was, unfortunately, not easy. I wrote very little. The book I read mostly was Open All Night, and I think part of the reason this was difficult to me was the style of poems in that book were long, narrative poems. I write a lot of poetry, but not a lot of narrative ones.

SK: I gotta be honest, this was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I wrote about 25 poems across five nights, averaging 5 poems each night. My process was this: I would go to bed early, lay out on the floor with a pillow, a blanket, a pen and paper, a cup of tea, a glass of water, and Burning in Water Drowning in Flames. I put no pressure on myself to write; I simply said I’ll read this book, and if an idea comes, I’ll write it down. Bukowski has a wonderful way of making his work feel like a conversation. It only takes a page or two before I’d think, ‘I have a story like that, pass me the rock,’ and the poems flowed naturally, without much effort.


CB: I learned that Sam is an incredibly talented and dedicated competitor. I feel like I knew that already but to see it was different. He wrote and read Bukowski every day I’m pretty sure. If I want to stay competitive throughout these following weeks, I need to commit a bit more. I also think that won’t be hard, competition is a good source of inspiration. One concern for me though, was that I struggled with just the narrative style of poetry. What happens when Sam picks an author whose style I dislike completely? Or have never written in before? I’m not sure, but I need to rethink some strategy for the coming weeks. 

SK: I fear that I have awakened the beast. I don’t think Corey will be so lax in the upcoming weeks, and I might have to work harder. For now, I’m sticking with my process: go to bed early, read, write, hang out. I don’t know how this process will go when we get to more technical poets, but I’m having a ton of fun with it, and I slept soundly all week.


Scoring after grading for both Emulation and Favorites is miraculously CB: 110 SK: 110. We swear we did not plan this for our first week. Who could have believed it if we did?

Sam’s poem Tuesday was accepted for publication, meaning all points for those placements are doubled giving him a final score of 137.

Corey’s poem Epistemology was accepted for publication, meaning all points for those placements are doubled. His poem Embarrassment was also accepted for publication, but was not submitted to the Judge, earning him only 5 bonus points for a final score of 138.

Final Weighted Scores
Corey: 138
Sam: 137

Read all the poems we submitted this week here.
Read the rules of the competition here.

Next Up 

CB: For Week 2 I am employing a familiarity strategy. Sam can outread me all week long it seems, so I am picking a poet I have read a good deal of, and recently. I am selecting Sylvia Plath for Week 2. Frankly, I am scared of Sam’s ability. I can’t imagine he’ll be thrilled for this pick. Lord knows I need all the help I can get.

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One response to “Stealing From Bukowski”

  1. “The Stakes
    Loser buys kimchi and hotdogs for Japanese baseball night.”


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Sam and Corey started Poetry is Pretentious to demystify poetry. More importantly, their 5th grade teacher told them they couldn’t go through life as a team. 18 years later they’re here to prove her wrong.


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