For the Young Who Want To by Marge Piercy
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.
I have been reading lots of serious complaints from student singers recently. I thought this poem really gets to the points we don’t want to admit as singers: we’re not famous, yet. There’s a lot of hope in that “yet.” The hope in the “yet” is rooted in the banality of “work.” A lot of graduate school performance degrees are based on, as Piercy writes, “a few techniques, typing instructions and some-body else’s mannerisms.”
Dear students, take pride in our “tedious delusion” now. It is a beautiful and precious thing to stumble, fail, get passed-over, learn, grow, wander, meet new people, and have your own paradigm shifts. No one is on the same path to “yet.”
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