For the young who want to

In Too lazy to assign a category on February 5, 2007 at 11:10 am

For the young who want to

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don't have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.'s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else's mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston*
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

*phlogiston: invisible hypothetical matter or `principle' thought to combine with all combustible bodies and be expelled during burning — a concept popular in the 18th century but abandoned once oxygen was discovered.

Original text: © Marge Piercy. Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982): 259-60. PS 3566 I4A6 1982
First publication date: 1980
Publication date note: The Moon Is Always Female (1980): 84.

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  1. le sigh. It's good stuff to think about, but it still sucks resoundingly. I always feel better when someone I knew refers to me as a writer. And once, one glorious Sunday, I went to a Chinese buffet by myself, with a manuscript to work on. The little waitress came by and said, "Oh, you are a writer?" Felt nice.

  2. Thank-you for posting this. This past year, since walking away from my career in music to pursue writing full-time, I've actually stumbled a few times when asked, "So, what do you do?" To be able to look the questioner squarely in the eye and say, "Why, I'm a writer." is a phenominal feeling. And, by the way, the feeling, for me at least, has nothing to do with being published. It is a declaration…a "forth-telling," if you will.
    I'm rambling.
    I'll stop now.

  3. How true. I remember reading some Marge Piercy in a poetry workshop class years ago.
    Thanks for posting.

  4. For all my bravado… if I'm in a bar and someone asks me what I'm doing… even if I am sitting on my once-laptop with a stack of papers, I lie. Because they might want to talk about it. I usually don't want to talk about it.
    For some reason this week, I've had four or five people ask me… like in the supermarket if I'm a singer. I don't get that, but I'm somehow better with that than writer some days.

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