In honor of National Poetry Month, I’d like to share a poem with you, writers. For copyright reasons, I can’t reprint it here, but it’s published in full on the Poetry Foundation website. It’s called “For the young who want to,” and it’s about being an artist. It was written by novelist, poet, and memoirist Marge Piercy. It was first published in May 1980 in Mother Jones and was included in Piercy’s 1982 collection, Circles on the Water.
In the poem, Piercy talks gatekeepers or friends or family giving us permission to call ourselves artists when they decide we’ve earned it, e.g., by publishing a novel or producing a play. I think we’ve all experienced that reaction from someone in our lives at some point, the opinion that we’re being lofty to call ourselves writers when we haven’t published anything (yet) or that we’re pursuing a pipe dream or building castles in the air. Piercy concludes that, “The real writer is one / who really writes.”
Piercy also talks about artists getting MFAs, e.g., in writing, because they can’t otherwise get “a license to hang on the wall” like some other professions do—doctors or lawyers. Here, Piercy can’t mean to demean writers for seeking education to better learn their craft and to improve their skills like athletes, painters, or dancers do—she herself got a BA and an MA and paid for part of her education with student writing awards. I think her point is, again, that artists may feel the need to seek validation or legitimacy outside themselves.
Piercy’s poem reminds us that we are writers if we write. We don’t need someone else to tell us whether we are writers, and we don’t need a writing education to establish that we are writers or to prove our commitment to writing. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “writer” as “one that writes” and defines “author” as not only “the writer of a literary work (such as a book),” but as “one that originates or creates something.”
A writer is someone who writes.
Happy National Poetry Month! Did you know you can subscribe to get the Poetry Foundation’s “Poem of the Day” in your email inbox every day?