Marge Piercy: Poet
A prolific poet (and novelist) . . .
Marge Piercy has authored 17 books of poetry,and just as many novels. She's won many honors, including the oldest poetry award in the USA: The Golden Rose.
Piercy's poetry is usually written in free verse, with a very personal tone, often focusing on feminist or social issues.
"What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue.
If you can't bless it, get ready to make it new."
~ M. Piercy ~
Piercy's major motifs:
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM IN RELATIONSHIPS
ADVANCEMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS
EQUALITY FOR WOMEN
ECONOMIC BETTERMENT FOR THE IMPOVERISHED
Piercy writes about what matters to her most: the lives of women, nature, Jewish ritual, love between men and women, and politics - sexual and otherwise.
Poem: Dress Up
by Marge Piercy
Sleazy-thin as a too often washed
sort of white chenille bedspread,
curtains were wings of dancers'
costumes. In lopsided high heels
we clopped, posed twirling before
the mirror in some mother's off limits
bedroom we stole into, trying on
dresses now too tight on women
whose bellies hung where babies
had lodged again and again.
We never wanted to stay children
then. We wanted to drive away
in any car that offered a ride.
In the meantime we pocketed
lipsticks in the five and dime
tried on these dress up clothes
playing women we saw on Saturdays
at the picture show. We practiced
kissing and sometimes more
pretending to be a handsome man
who would offer us all we lacked.
We were desperate for more years--
tickets to escape on some elegant train
that would never stop here.
Live as if you like yourself,
and it may happen.
~ M. Piercy ~
Piercy's poems are organized in chapters with thematic headings like "Family," "Marriage," and "Prayer." They are devotional poems presented as help for living. The poems are strong, beautiful and free of sentimentality.
Birthplace: Detroit, MI (mid-1930s)
Marge Piercy was born March 31, 1936, in Detroit to mother Bert Bunnin Piercy and father Robert Douglas Piercy. Robert had a Welsh-English heritage and grew up amid the coal mines in Pennsylvania. Bert grew up in poverty. She quit school in the 10th grade to help support the family. Marge Piercy was raised in the Jewish tradition by her mother and grandmother (the daughter of a rabbi). She wrote:
"Families were strong
then, yes, strong as gulags"
Piercy said, "I started writing poetry regularly and seriously when I was fifteen and my family moved into a house larger by far than we had ever lived in. For the first time, I had a room of my own with a door that closed and some measure of privacy. I was upstairs, with the roomers, while my parents were downstairs." (from Early Grrrl)
Early Grrrl shows the skeptical eye how poets are born. This collection holds delight for Piercy fans . . . many poems in this volume are unpublished elsewhere. This is Piercy's 15th volume of poetrty.
Poem: The Poetry of Flesh
by Marge Piercy
If you were a cabbage, my love
you would be a big red spicy one
a touch of hot in the wet and crunchy.
If you were a tree, my love
you would be a sugar maple
with sap of honey and flaming leaves.
If you were a sea creature, my love
you would leap hotblooded from the waves
grinning and rescue swimmers.
A pot roast braised in red wine
with sweet carrots melting in the mouth.
Home churned peach ice cream
with bits of fruit on a humid night.
A rum baba. A bombe of a peony
so rich in scent it stains the air.
A fiord glimmering with waterfalls
galloping down the steep rocks.
A morning in the high desert
after rain when every cactus
and thornbush explodes into flowers
and the hummingbirds hover whirring.
I turn you into a flood of metaphors
piled on each other to toppling.
Still nothing suffices but you.
the repair of the world
Piercy's answer to the title of this poetry collection is pain: the pain of struggling to meet fashion's impossible criteria. The poet has a lot to say about our craving for conformity, when it comes to self-image or politics.
Marge Piercy . . . activist for peace
Marge Piercy has been involved in many of the progressive political battles of the past 70 years, including:
The anti-Vietnam war protest
She belonged to Students for a Democratic Society, from 1965 to 1969.
The women's movement
An active participant in the resistance to the war in Iraq.
Piercy notes that her memoir's focus is her emotional life, but the book also gives a rich picture of her literary and political life.
"Remembering," Piercy writes, "is like one of those old-fashioned black-and-white-tile floors: wherever I stand or sit, the tiles converge upon me. So our pasts always seem to lead us directly to our present choices. We turn and make a pattern of the chaos of our lives so that we belong exactly where we are."
The memoir is peppered with delightful vignettes of the many cats she's befriended over the years.
Piercy credits her mother with making her a poet.
Piercy has described her mother as "an emotional, imaginative woman full of odd lore and superstitions." From her, Piercy learned to love books and reading, to follow her curiosity, and observe like a hawk. The mother-daughter relationship became discordant as Piercy grew more independent. She left home at seventeen. The two reconciled before her mother died, in 1981.
Poem: A Horizon of Ghosts
by Marge Piercy
You know how often I think of you
ranged there on the far shore
of nothing--with my dead friends,
my cats, all of you in a row watching.
Woody used to say he imagined
his father in the afterlife playing
cards. When Woody spoke his name
at Yischor on Yom Kippur,
Marvin would be called from the room
and be glad to be remembered.
Returning to his buddies, he'd
say, That was my son calling.
Mother I can't imagine an after
life, but still in dreams you march
into my mind's room as you used to,
clutching clippings to share,
demanding attention like a drug
to which you had been addicted
years ago, but even the wish
was dry as those clippings.
So remembering is an act
of prayer, a time when you
wake from ashes and air
turning your face toward light.
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.
~ M. Piercy ~
Marge Piercy currently lives on Cape Cod
Marge Piercy moved to Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod in 1971. She continues to reside there with her husband, Ira Wood, a novelist and dramatist. (They married in 1982.) Other interests of hers are cooking, reading, cats, gardening, and talking.
Reading of a Marge Piercy Poem
Piercy's seventh collection. There are 2 sections. In the 1st, the poems range from the charmingly elegiac to the erotic, classical to funny. The 2nd part is a series of 15 poems based on a lunar calendar.
Poem: My Mother's Novel
by Marge Piercy
Married academic woman ten
years younger holding that microphone
like a bazooka, forgive
me that I do some number of things
that you fantasize but frame
I am my mother's daughter,
a small woman of large longings.
Energy hurled through her
confined and fierce as in a wind
tunnel. Born to a mean
harried poverty crosshatched
by spidery fears and fitfully
lit by the explosions
of politics, she married her way
at length into the solid workingclass:
a box of house, a car she could
not drive, a TV set kept turned
to the blare of football,
terrifying power tools, used wall
to wall carpeting protected
by scatter rugs.
Out of backyard posies
permitted to fringe
the proud hanky lawn
her imagination hummed
and made honey,
in mad queen swarms.
I am her only novel.
The plot is melodramatic,
hot lovers leap out of
thickets, it makes you cry
a lot, in between the revolutionary
heroics and making good
Understand: I am my mother's
novel daghter: I
have my duty to perform.
- Article by Marge Piercy
"Life of Prose and Poetry -- an Inspiring Combination" . . . there are two questions always asked: "Why do you write both fiction and poetry?" "What's the difference between writing poetry and fiction?"
Listen to the Marge Piercy interview with Don Swaim, 1984.
Marge Piercy, with Nicci Gerrard . . . documenting women's history, writing about history, motives for telling stories, writing as consciousness raising, sexism in language, writer's block
- Articles/Books about Marge Piercy
Such as: The Repair of the World: The Novels of Marge Piercy; by Kerstin W. Shands. 212 pgs.
Marge Piercy was born March 31, 1936 in Detroit into a family that had been, like many others, affected by the Depression. Her mother . . .
- Comments by Marge Piercy
Each of my novels appears to me a different miniature world, in which the style, the language appropriate to the characters, is worked out of my understanding of them . . .
- Literary Mashup
Reading The Cyberiad (by Stanislaw Lem) and Woman on the Edge of Time (by Marge Piercy) was an experience I can only describe as a literary mashup . . .
The pitcher cries for water
and a person for work
that is real.
~ M. Piercy ~
In Piercy's most recent collection are poems on the U.S. occupation of Iraq , health care, hospital hallways, and mangoes at the beginning of a new love affair . . .
"Current, punchy and wise." --Joy Harjo.
Piercy on Piercy
My interest is always centered on the results of choice through time . . .
Each of my novels appears to me a different miniature world, in which the style, the language appropriate to the characters, is worked out of my understanding of them and their universe of action and discourse. My intention is always appropriateness, and when I do what is usually seen as "fine writing," I do my best to strike it out. My impulse to autobiography is given ample play in my poetry, and thus has little reason to shape my novels. My novels divide into those which are placed in the present; those which are placed in speculative time; and those which occur entirely, or largely, in the past. My interest is always centered on the results of choice through time.
I start with a theme, and then work through character. Fiction is as old a habit of our species as poetry. It goes back to telling a tale, the first perceptions of pattern, and fiction is still about pattern in human life. For me, writing fiction issues from the impulse to tell the story of people who deserve to have their lives revealed, examined, clarified, to people who deserve to read good stories. To find ourselves spoken for in art gives dignity to our pain, our anger, our lust, our losses. I have been particularly although not exclusively concerned with the choices open to-or perceived to be open to-women of various eras, races, and classes. I am one of the few contemporary American novelists consciously and constantly preoccupied with social class and the economic underpinnings of decision and consequence.
In the end, I suspect my novels find readers because they create full characters easy to enter, no matter how hard they might be for the reader to identify within actuality, and because I try to tell a good story.
B.A., University of Michigan, 1957 (She was the first in her family to attend college)
M.A., Northwestern University, 1958
Poem: In Praise of Joe
by Marge Piercy
I love you hot
I love you iced and in a pinch
I will even consume you tepid.
Dark brown as wet bark of an apple tree,
dark as the waters flowing out of a spooky swamp
rich with tannin and smelling of thick life-
but you have your own scent that even
rising as steam kicks my brain into gear.
I drink you rancid out of vending machines,
I drink you at coffee bars for $6 a hit,
I drink you dribbling down my chin from a thermos
in cars, in stadiums, on the moonwashed beach.
Mornings you go off in my mouth like an electric
siren, radiating to my fingertips and toes.
You rattle my spine and buzz in my brain.
Whether latte, cappuccino, black or Greek
you keep me cooking, you keep me on line.
Without you, I would never get out of bed
but spend my life pressing the snooze
button. I would creep through wan days
in the form of a large shiny slug.
You waken in me the gift of speech when I
am dumb as a rock buried in damp earth.
It is you who make me human every dawn.
All my books are written with your ink.
The volume is titled after a poem in the collection, one of a series of poems to Piercy's mother. The mother/daughter relationship is honestly explored in all its complexity. An affirmation of continuity and identification.
that you can change history.
You already have.
~ M. Piercy ~
More Piercy Poetry Books
Mars and Her Children
Circles on the Water (selected poems)
The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing
Living in the Open
To Be of Use
4-Telling (a collaboration)
from 1968 . . .
From 1968 to the present Marge Piercy has published 36 books and was included in more than 200 anthologies.
Her works have been translated into 16 languages, (i.e., Danish, Dutch, German, Estonian, French, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Spanish).
. . . she was active in the women's movement
Collection from 1983, 144 pages.
Poem: The Closet of Doom
by Marge Piercy
Time to go through it all
clothes for which I am too big
clothes for which I am too small.
How do these stains appear?
I swear I hung them clean. At night
do these dresses sneak like the twelve
princesses in the tale to a secret ball
to spill wine on their sleeves?
Snag their buttons on strange princes?
The fads of five years past embarrass
me. No one is wearing chartreuse
satin this year. Why did I fall
for the return of bell-bottoms?
So many mistakes arrayed on hangers.
If I had all that money spent, I could
by something new that would soon
be too big, too small, spaghetti stained
quickly out of fashion. The resale shop
is already waiting for pants not yet
purchased, and I feel my own unplanned
obsolescence creep into my flesh.
GOING DOWN FAST, Trident, l969
DANCE THE EAGLE TO SLEEP, Doubleday, l970
SMALL CHANGES, Doubleday, l973
WOMAN ON THE EDGE OF TIME, Knopf, l976
THE HIGH COST OF LIVING, Harper and Row, l978
VIDA, Summit, January l980
BRAIDED LIVES, Summit, February l982
FLY AWAY HOME, Summit, February 1984
GONE TO SOLDIERS, Summit, May 1987
SUMMER PEOPLE, Summit, June 1989
HE, SHE AND IT, Knopf, October 1991
THE LONGINGS OF WOMEN, Fawcett, March 1994.
CITY OF DARKNESS, CITY OF LIGHT, Fawcett, Oct. 1996
STORM TIDE (with Ira Wood), Fawcett, 1998.
THREE WOMEN, Morrow, Oct. 1999.
THE THIRD CHILD, Morrow/HarperCollins, 2003.
SEX WARS, Morrow/Harper/Collins, 2005
(most are currently available in paperback)
Piercy on CD
Selected as a Best AudioBook of 2004 by Library Journal. Louder is the only CD recording of Marge Piercy reading her most popular political poems, including "The Low Road," "To Be of Use," "Right to Life," "For Strong Women." Includes biography and photos.