This new gathering of Marge Piercy’s poems—funny, angry, in awe of life, compassionate—brings us the heart of her mature work, the first selected sinceCircles on the Water in 1982.
Here poems chart the milestone events and fierce passions of the poet’s middle years, her Judaism, her deep connection with nature, her politics. There is the death of her mother, whom we meet as a young woman, “awkwardly lovely, her face / pure as a single trill perfectly / prolonged on a violin.” She celebrates her new marriage not only for its romantic beginning, but for its quieter details: “love cherishes too the back pockets, / the pencil ends of childhood fears.” In every poem we hear the current of her convictions, which she declares in language unmistakably and colorfully her own, as when she encourages her readers to go the opera instead of the movies because “the heroine is fifty and weighs as much as a ’65 Chevy with fins.” And, in several poems, bearing the loss of people and time, she begins to examine her own legacy:
The small birds leave cuneiform
messages on the snow: I have
been here, I am hungry, I
must eat. Where I dropped
seeds they scrape down
to pine needles and frozen sand.
Sometimes when snow flickers
past the windows, muffles trees
and bushes, buries the path,
the jays come knocking with their beaks
on my bedroom window:
to them I am made of seeds.
To the cats I am mother and lover,
lap and toy, cook and cleaner.
To the coyotes I am chaser and shouter.
To the crows, watcher, protector.
To the possums, the foxes, the skunks,
a shadow passing, a moment’s wind.
I was bad watchful mommy to one man.
To another I was forgiving sister
whose hand poured out honey and aloe;
to that woman I was a gale whose lashing
waves threatened her foundation; to this
one, an oak to her flowering vine.
I have worn the faces, the masks
of hieroglyphs, gods and demons,
bat-faced ghosts, sibyls and thieves,
lover, loser, red rose and ragweed,
these are the tracks I have left
on the white crust of time.
“ When W. S. Merwin’s term as Poet Laureate of the United States expires this summer I dare Librarian of Congress Billington, and double dare President Obama, to appoint Marge Piercy to the post. I dare them to nominate the author of “For each age, its amulet.”
As the president defends last year’s finance reform law against a corporate funded hostile House of Representatives let him quote Ms. Piercy’s prescient 1991 poem “Half vulture, half eagle” which anticipated the 2008 housing and home finance collapse.
As the Justice Department attempts to protect besieged women’s health clinics, will our cool as a cucumber president put the literary spotlight on Ms. Piercy whose righteous anger is expressed in “For two women shot to death in Brookline?”
Ms. Piercy is not only a political poet. The Hunger Moon, her second volume of selected poems, a rich selection from the last three decades, also includes: narrative poems about her childhood in Detroit, young adulthood in Manhattan, everyday life with her husband and cats on Cape Cod where they are year round residents, among other subjects on all of which she is a terrific storyteller; nature poems that describe the fauna and flora of the Cape; love poems, some of which attest to the strength, devotion and passion of her current marriage, while others reflect the pain of less healthy previous relationships, pain that still smarts despite her current conjugal happiness; and religious poems that are popular choices for reading out loud at Jewish life cycle events, some of which are reprinted in “additional readings” anthologies meant to supplement non-Orthodox Jewish prayer books.” —–David Cooper, NY Journal of Books