Marge Piercy’s eleventh collection of poetry is unusually rich and diverse. These are poems of extraordinary immediacy, strength and humor, poems of deep passions and far-ranging concerns: poems written at mid-life and illuminated by the “available light” of a mature and generous perception.
The mood of the first section, “Joy Road and Livernois,” ranges from the harsh autobiographical honesty of the title poem (“I got out of those Detroit blocks where the air / eats stone and melts flesh”) to the humor of “Eat fruit” and “Something to look forward to” – perhaps the funniest poem on menstruation ever written. In “Hard time,” the author writes of the agony of South Africa; in “Loving the crone,” about the concerns of the aging (“Whenever we weep, if we understand / we may grow like a stalactite longer, stronger”); and in “Daughter of the American evolution,” of our particular place in the general scheme of life.
The poems in the second section, “Slides,” issue directly from the author’s research while writing her most recent novel, GONE TO SOLDIERS, set during World War II. These poems include evocations of the French and English country sides as well as of the battles and suffering that the war brought to them.
The section entitled “Country Pleasures” is composed of the love poetry and nature poetry for which the author is as well known and admired as she is for her feminist poems. “Candle in a Glass” is a section of poems to and for the dead, including the long, powerfully emotional “Burial by salt” the author’s attempt to come to some terms of peace with her father (“I search now through the ashes of my old pain / to find something to praise”).
Finally, in “The Ram’s Horn,” the author gives us poems that speak of one particular kind of light: the light that religion – and, in particular, Judaism – sheds on an examined life. Some of these poems have been used as part of Reconstructionist and Reform services, and “Maggid” (a poem that honors those who “let go of every- / thing but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought, / who became other by saving themselves”) has begun to be used in Haggadahs.
AVAILABLE LIGHT is one of the strongest and most compelling books of poems that we have had from Marge Piercy.