24 April 2007

Poetics & Politics - Marge Piercy

Another favorite poet and all around interesting person. Poet, novelist, feminist, cat lover. She has a quote in her FAQ on her website that pretty much sums up the way I feel about being a dual (poetry/fiction) writer.

What's the difference between writing fiction and writing poetry?
"Poetry comes far more directly from my life. Basically I get to exorcise my autobiographical impulses in poetry. I explore other people’s lives in my fiction. Often for me fiction embodies the choices I did not make, the paths I did not follow. Poems are built out of sounds and silence. Rhythm and sound values are far more important in poetry than in fiction. Images are central. Poetry to me is more organic, more passionate, more spiritual, more intense. Fiction is about time – what happens if you make one or another choice. What happens next. And then and then and then, as a result of every choice made, what happens? Fiction to me is an art of empathy and imagination. Each novel is like a small world I inhabit for a period of two or three years, and then move on to another small world. The way I work, I learn each time about different things – areas I would never have studied for my own life."

Marge has a wonderful audiobook of political poems called "Louder We Can't Hear You (Yet)". When she reads, her voice is impassioned by her work. She sometimes prefaces the poem with a story or antidote, or closes with the same, and the little asides add richness to the reading. Included is the poem from her collection "Colors Passing Through Us" titled 'No One Came Home', about 9/11. The stark simplicity of a lost cat starts the poem, it goes on to imagine a slice of time in the life of ordinary people on that day. The minimalism of the poem, the matter-of-factness is what makes it so powerful.

Marge Piercy's poems never flinch. She tackles abortion, war, the intricacies of being female, and the Patriot Act with sharp insight that never loses its compassion, even as she slices her topic to the bone.

Sneak and Peak
by Marge Piercy

Under the Patriot Act, any strong arm
of law enforcement
has the right to enter your home
while you sleep
while you are out
to enter covertly and search
under suspicion you might
be hiding something
under the bed
among your boxers or thongs
on your computer among the porn.

Are you patriotic?
Do you submit lists of what you read
to the F.B.I. without waiting to be asked?
Do you spy on your neighbors checking
if they play Middle Eastern music
if they smoke other than tobacco
if they read the wrong books –all u.s
right thinking people know what
they are. If they have too much sex
or sex of the wrong kind – all u.s.
right thinking people know exactly
what we mean. Do you believe
in the separation of Church and Hate?
Evil our President says is everywhere
and obvious and must be invaded
mostly by Black adolescents
whose morality is dubious anyway
unless they die as heroes. They’ll
come home to unemployment
if they do come home.

We, your born-again FBI
have collected receipts from your
restaurant meals for the past five years.
You have ordered hummus six times,
falafel twice and lamb four times
which is suspect because your
President eats only beef and ham.
What are you planning to do with that
sesame tahini you purchased at Stop
& Slop? Can you justify this act?

Your credit card records indicate
you purchased 8 bags of fertilizer
on April 11 at 17 hundred oh 8.
Fertilizer can make bombs.
You also purchased nails --
material for anti-personnel devices.
Who but a terrorist would need
these dangerous supplies?

You have turned off the television
48 times while Our President spoke
words of wisdom and Christian endeavor.
During the State of the Union address
you were observed on your couch
making derogatory faces and obscene
remarks. You have emailed quotes
from our sacred leader miscalling
him Shrub. This is now punishable
by death. You may not criticize
the President nor his lady Laura
nor his omniscient veep
the great grey Cheney of oil
nor the secretary of defense
Our Donald whose brain shines
bright as titanium solid
between his perked up ears
into which every men’s and women’s
room in the country is directly
bugged. You may be detained
on suspicion of being suspicious
You want to protest?
That’s grounds enough.
You are under arrest.
You have no right to remain
silent, to seek counsel
or to defend yourself. Welcome
to the New Inquisition.


Copyright, 2004, Middlemarsh, Inc.
Louder: We Can't Hear You (Yet!)
Publisher: Leapfrog Press
Total playing time 63:24
ISBN 0-9728984-2-5


I first heard "The Day My Mother Died" on Writer's Almanac, read by Garrison Keillor in that wonderful, rich voice of his. The poem struck right at the heart of what happens when we struggle with an unexpected loss. No angels, no glimpse of Death, just an ordinary day gone differently than planned. That is what I like about Marge Piercy, the ability to take events the reader might ignore, and show them to us in a new light.


The day my mother died
by Marge Piercy

I seldom have premonitions of death.
That day opened like any
ordinary can of tomatoes.

The alarm drilled into my ear.
The cats stirred and one leapt off.
The scent of coffee slipped into my head

like a lover into my arms and I sighed,
drew the curtains and examined
the face of the day.

I remember no dreams of loss.
No dark angel rustled ominous wings
or whispered gravely.

I was caught by surprise
like the trout that takes the fly
and I gasped in the fatal air.

You were gone suddenly as a sound
fading in the coil of the ear
no trace, no print, no ash

just the emptiness of stilled air.
My hunger feeds on itself.
My hands are stretched out

to grasp and find only their
own weight bearing them down
toward the dark cold earth.


From Colors Passing Through Us, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, NY, 2003.
Copyright, Marge Piercy, Middlemarsh, Incorporated, 2003.

2 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

Political poems don't do it for me, sorry.

But the one about her mother's death has some beautiful imanges, esp. the last three verses.

Constance said...

Gabriele, my political poems are more subtle. :) I do like people who can write so straightforwardly, alas, I am not one of them. I prefer feather to big stick. Big stick is more noticeable, however... *g*