The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets: A Self-Help Memoir
What is Talent
One of my academic colleagues once announced to me that he “believed in talent,” as if it required a reluctant species of faith in things unseen, and he was feeling generous. I was surprised, since I’d been teaching poetry for a number of years and thought that poetic talent was more or less self-evident. Out of a beginning workshop of twenty, after the first or second exercise, I would generally find at least one student handing in pieces that had a freshness and ease with language, a startling honesty, an offbeat beauty, that were to me the hallmarks of talent. Perhaps at first these elements would be present only in a line here and there, or an image, a scrap of vernacular speech. Or they would be buried in the usual gummy mass of cliché and conventional tropes of “poetry” that had hardened in the public mind.
Nevertheless, traces of the real were unmistakable. I’d be plowing through student work from Intro to Creative Writing, a generally cheerless task, when an unexpected line would suddenly make me laugh out loud, or cause a dry catch in the back of my throat or the hair to rise on the back of my neck.
These involuntary responses were the giveaway: I’d stumbled across poetry . . . the student had bumped into poetry. Maybe the student had done so by design, more likely by accident. Whatever. It was a rare and celebratory occasion.
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