Marge Pirecy: THE COMMUNAL VOICE
AT a party recently, a group was discussing the funding crisis in the arts, and one practical-minded businessman complained: "But tell the truth: What good is poetry? What does it really do for people?" I wanted to say: "It marks off occasions of beauty in the midst of our daily struggles"- though I realized this argument would make little impression on "the bottom line."Skip to next paragraph
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But if one would like to seriously examine "what good" poems bring about in our lives, a fitting place to begin might be with the writing of Marge Piercy. Through 12 collections of poetry (not to mention 11 novels), her passionate voice has been embraced by diverse groups of readers for its political fire, feminist determination, spiritual questioning, and, not in the least, for the sheer pleasure of its music.
As you read through "Circles on the Water," her selected poems, or the new collection, "Mars and Her Children," the various threads of her work are braided together to form one expansive journey.
More than feminist polemic, her poems contain visions of a woman's struggle to take responsibility for her own life and set out the fierce honesty necessary in a loving relationship. Her political poems make human faces and recognizable neighborhoods of what would otherwise be merely abstract ideas and cold statistics. At readings, rallies, study groups, and celebrations, her poems are used like hammer and nails - basic tools for building new lives.
In the last several years, many of her poems have become part of the liturgy of the Jewish Reconstructionist movement, in which she and her husband (the novelist Ira Wood) are active. Her "poems of praise" are pure lyrical affirmations of the simple experiences we tend to gloss over amid the "important" business of our days: the first spring greens of the garden, the heron glimpsed in the marshland, the lighting of the Sabbath candles.
Secluded in her Cape Cod home, surrounded by the incredibly lush gardens she has terraced into the hillside, Ms. Piercy's labor makes wild words grow as abundantly as the mounds of zucchini and the tide of orange poppies. Through fair weather and violent storm, her growing season persists. Savoring the poems, we too feel the regeneration that is at the center of our lives - and that, in all truth, is good enough for me.
Steven Ratiner: A good deal of your poetry is built upon a communal voice. Reaching beyond the purely subjective, you seem to be speaking both to and for your audience. There are even a few of the poems in the new collection that start out with "I" but wind up speaking "we."
Marge Piercy: One of the functions of poetry has always been to articulate for people, to give dignity to people's experiences, their sufferings, their pleasures, the dramas of their lives. Utterance gives us both a sense of "oh yes, it was that way for me, too." And that sense makes people feel less crazy, less alienated, less weird. There are some poems which are very strongly communal poems where what I am doing is saying in a poem what a lot of people have thought and think and giving expression to i t. And those poems tend to get used a great deal [such as] a number of the poems from "My Mother's Body" about my mother's death.
I love the idea of poetry being "used," like a tool or a marker. Is this because certain groups feel your voice represents their perspective?
Used by groups, by individuals. There are also the poems people use as liturgy. A lot of my poetry is used by Jewish Reconstructionist and Reform groups. I have a strong sense of "we," and there are those poems that very obviously are communal poems.... There are others where the writing of the poem is a journey, and you have no idea if it's public, private, where you are going or what you are doing with it. You know the poem is important, but the poem itself is a journey that has a very uncertain outcom e until the poem is really finished.