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Marge Piercy: Poet

Updated on November 30, 2014

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

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 ~

Birthplace: Detroit, MI (mid-1930s)

Birthplace: Detroit, MI (mid-1930s)
Birthplace: Detroit, MI (mid-1930s)

Bio Bit

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)

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.

Tikkun Olam

means

the repair of the world

What Are Big Girls Made Of?: Poems
What Are Big Girls Made Of?: Poems

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 . . . activist for peace
Marge Piercy . . . activist for peace

Activist

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.

Bio Bit

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 currently lives on Cape Cod
Marge Piercy currently lives on Cape Cod

Bio Bit

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

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

impossible. Understand:

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,

occasionally exploding

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

home-cooked soup.

Understand: I am my mother's

novel daghter: I

have my duty to perform.

The pitcher cries for water

to carry

and a person for work

that is real.

~ M. Piercy ~

The Crooked Inheritance: Poems
The Crooked Inheritance: Poems

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.

Education

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.

Never doubt

that you can change history.

You already have.

~ M. Piercy ~

More Piercy Poetry Books

Mars and Her Children

Available Light

Circles on the Water (selected poems)

The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing

Living in the Open

To Be of Use

4-Telling (a collaboration)

Hand Loving

Breaking Camp

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

. . . she was active in the women's movement
. . . she was active in the women's movement
Stone, Paper, Knife
Stone, Paper, Knife

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.

Piercy's Fiction

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

Comments Welcome!

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    • profile image

      Carl 

      3 years ago

      What about borrowing a sittauion from my brother, whose kids thought they had a boy turtle ( Otis ) and were greatly surprised to discover Otis in possession of an egg!Hey, it's a good story. I didn't say it rhymed. But you can handle that.Billion hugs,S

    • profile image

      Bardo 

      3 years ago

      The paragon of unnerstadding these issues is right here!

    • profile image

      cmadden 

      6 years ago

      Few write as well as Marge Piercy. "Gone to Soldiers" is amazing.

    • JakTraks profile imageAUTHOR

      Jacqueline Marshall 

      7 years ago from Chicago area

      @lovelylashes: The blessing is very much appreciated!!

    • lovelylashes profile image

      lovelylashes 

      7 years ago

      Wow! I love her poetry. It's so creative and has a light, fresh tone. I really enjoyed reading this lens.

      Blessed by an angel who loves poetry!

    • JakTraks profile imageAUTHOR

      Jacqueline Marshall 

      7 years ago from Chicago area

      @ZenandChic: Many thanks!!

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this poetry! Blessing this lens and putting it on my poetry review lens!

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