The Friday Poem – ‘For the young who want to’ by Marge Piercy

When I started ‘work thoughts’ in 2015, I included a poem each Friday to allow the reader to step away from their daily workplace and gain a perspective of work through the words of various artists. To my surprise, looking back, the most searched topic on this site has been the poetry.

Sales for books of poetry have been increasing since 2019, with the majority of purchases in the ‘under-34’ demographic. “Poetry experts say that the pandemic, along with the social unrest the country has been experiencing, could have something to do with it..”

“We’ve been reminded during this time that poetry is an art form that people turn to in times of crisis for comfort and courage… “

Jennifer Benka, president and executive director of the Academy of American Poets

The selection this week is a reflection on work and recognition. Poet Marge Piercy (the first ‘Friday Poet’ considers her own profession as a writer, while offering advice ‘For the young who want to’. Her thoughts are equally relevant to each of us following our own unique calling.

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 why 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.

Marge Piercy, ‘Circles on the Water: Selected Poems’  (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)

Photo credit: BillMoyers.com ‘Sounds of Poetry’ 1999

‘Perhaps the World Ends Here’ a poem by Joy Harjo

The Friday Poem this week is from Native American Poet, Joy Harjo. In September of this year she received the Wallace Stevens award from the Academy of American Poets.

Chancellor Alicia Ostriker summarized Harjo’s contribution to the canon of American poetry.

“Throughout her extraordinary career as poet, storyteller, musician, memoirist, playwright and activist, Joy Harjo has worked to expand our American language, culture, and soul. A Creek Indian and student of First Nation history, Harjo is rooted simultaneously in the natural world, in earth—especially the landscape of the American southwest— and in the spirit world. Aided by these redemptive forces of nature and spirit, incorporating native traditions of prayer and myth into a powerfully contemporary idiom, her visionary justice-seeking art transforms personal and collective bitterness to beauty, fragmentation to wholeness, and trauma to healing.”

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Joy Harjo   The Woman Who Fell From the Sky  1994