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Selected Poetry of Marge Piercy (1936-)


from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Image of Marge Piercy

Index to poems

You called me bad and I posed like a gutter
queen in a dress sewn of knives.

All I feared was being stuck in a box
with a lid. A good woman appeared to me
indistinguishable from a dead one
except that she worked all the time.
        (My mother's body, 119-24)

  1. Always unsuitable
  2. Attack of the squash people
  3. Belly good
  4. The cat's song
  5. Colors passing through us
  6. For the young who want to
  7. The friend
  8. Implications of one plus one
  9. My mother's body
  10. The neighbor
  11. Toad dreams
  12. Traveling dream
  13. Visiting a dead man on a summer day
  14. What are big girls made of?
  15. Winter promises


Notes on Life and Works

Marge Piercy was born March 31, 1936, in Detroit, of mother Bert Bunnin Piercy and father Robert Douglas Piercy. She was brought up Jewish by her mother and grandmother. In Early Grrrl, Marge Piercy says, "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" (98).

A few years later she entered the University of Michigan and earned a B.A. in 1957. An M.A. followed at Northwestern University in 1958. From 1960 to 1962 she taught at Indiana University at Gary, but in 1963 she left teaching for a career as a professional writer of poetry, fiction, drama, and essays. Piercy describes herself as a "foot soldier" in the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and from 1965 to 1969 she belonged to Students for a Democratic Society. In SDS, she explains, she "did power structure research and off campus organizing." She suffered a breakdown in her health in 1969 that took her away from the big cities. Out of the stormy sixties emerged a great feminist author who has led by example ever since. From 1968 to the present she has published thirty-six books and has been included in more than two hundred anthologies. Her works have been translated into sixteen languages, including Danish, Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish. She has published dozens of essays and short stories.

Piercy has lectured, led workshops, and given readings at about 350 institutions since the late sixties, including the University of Kansas at Lawrence (1971), SUNY Buffalo (1977), the University of Cincinnati (1986), Ohio State University at Columbus (1985), and the University of Michigan (1992). She has been warmly honoured many times: the National Endowment for the Arts (1978), the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize (1986, 1990), the Golden Rose Poetry Prize (1990), the May Sarton Award (1991), the Arthur C. Clarke award (1992), the Brit ha-Darot Award, Shalom Center (1992), the Patterson Poetry Prize (1999), and many others. She has served on the board of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities and Public Policy (1986-). She was poetry editor of Tikkun for two years and now edits Lilith. She actively supports women's groups, ecological issues, and no-kill animal shelters.

Marge Piercy's novels have elevated the mass fiction market for twenty-five years. Her most important mainstream works include Braided Lives (growing up in the 1950s), Vida (the decline of the anti-war movement), Three Women (about a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter living together), and The Longings of Women (the entwined stories of three women), and historical novels Gone to Soldiers (about World War II) and City of Darkness, City of Life (on the French Revolution). As well, Piercy has three very successful sf novels: Dance the Eagle to Sleep, Woman on the Edge of Time, and He, She, and It. (Connie in Woman is the greatest character in modern sf.) Those who read Piercy are likely to have the fiction of Joanna Russ and Margaret Atwood at hand too.

To read Marge Piercy's poems is to hear her speaking voice. She turns "the language of the everyday" into the "organic verse which is the predominant poetic form of our time." She describes herself modestly as addressing people who do not go into bookstores, and also people who do, and as making "poems for specific occasions ... as a useful artisan." She raises no literary walls between herself and her readers, but for all the level talk she seems bigger, mythic in dignity, more than the Marge Piercy who did move to Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod permanently in 1971 and who did marry her third husband, novelist and dramatist Ira Wood, on June 2, 1982. Today, besides writing, she loves gardening, cooking, reading, talking, and cats. But once we read her poems -- and they have to be read in books, not in isolation -- she becomes a woman with many incarnations in time's landscape: sister, lover, mother, wife, friend, and daughter. Piercy's readers appropriate her. As she says,

... readers will find poems that speak to and for them, will take those poems into their lives and say them to each other and put them up on the bathroom wall and remember bits and pieces of them in stressful or quiet moments. That the poems may give voice to something in the experience of a life has been my intention. To find ourselves spoken for in art gives dignity to our pain, our anger, our lust, our losses. We can hear what we hope for and what we most fear, in the small release of cadenced utterance. We have few rituals that function for us in the ordinary chaos of our lives. (Parti-colored Blocks, 19)

Piercy herself, with the Editor's suggestions, has selected these poems to represent her work from 1968 to 2000. She has also given very helpful bio-bibliographical information and contributed wisely to the commentary. I would like to thank Marge Piercy and her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, for permission to publish these wonderful poems. I am also grateful to Piercy's assistant, Terry McManus, for help.

Major Writings by Marge Piercy

POEMS

NOVELS

OTHER GENRES

MANUSCRIPTS

A few Writings about Marge Piercy

For a full listing, see Marge Piercy's Web Site.

Biographical information

Given name: Marge
Family name: Piercy
Birth date: 1936