Saturday Creativity Quote — Marge Piercy on doing the work

photo of welded sculpture of a heron, with a mountain lake in the background

I subscribe to the Poetry Foundation’s free Poem-A-Day email, something I recommend to all writers, whether you think you like poetry or not. It’s a way to stretch how you think about language, and play a bit. This poem by Marge Piercy (b. 1936) was a recent featured poem. It’s a bit harsh and a bit funny, and more than a bit insightful about how art and artists are perceived in our society.

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.

8 thoughts on “Saturday Creativity Quote — Marge Piercy on doing the work

  1. HI Leslie, I was just hunting all over the internet for this poem. . . and how nice to find it here on your site. Piercy was one of my early heroines (SMALL CHANGES was a big eye-opener. . . but I have not read her other novels). I have always loved this poem too. . . although scared me to death! It’s such a clear challenge. You want to do it? Do it. It’s that simple and that hard. I think we all want to be loved though, and need to be, and need to give and share love. I actually don’t believe you can write anything to connects with another person if you don’t. My two cents! I hope you are well.

    • Thanks, Alice! Funny–yesterday’s post is a series of quotes on the necessity of diving deep into ourselves if we want to connect with anynne else.

      Stay warm and well!

      • I will check that out! On Monday night, 12 members of Puget Sound SinC are reading at Third Place Books (LFP). 5 minutes each! I think it will be quite spectacular. Marty organized it with the bookstore. Wish you could be joining us!

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