Marge Piercy,
What Are Big Girls Made Of?
(Knopf, 1997)

For Marge Piercy, poetry is not something separate from the everydayness of living.

When she casts her imaginative eye on an answering machine, a friend's promotion, a mid-life crisis or even a looming mortgage, she turns it into something both lyrical and telling.

She writes that her desire to write poems comes from the desire to give permanent voice to something in the experience of a life. To find ourselves spoken for in art gives dignity to our pain, our anger, our lust, our losses.

She believes that her role in giving voice to human concerns extends beyond the written word. Piercy says poems need to be heard in order to give them life.

Piercy, 60, has spent the past three decades publishing prize-winning poems and novels that rail against institutions which seek to oppress and threaten life while at the same time celebrating and embracing everything living. A prolific writer, Piercy has published 13 books of poetry and 14 novels, including the best-selling The Longing of Women, in addition to her collections of essays, poetry anthologies and a play she co-wrote with her husband.

Her collection of poems titled What Are Big Girls Made Of? begins with a cycle of elegies for her half brother, journeys through poems about women's lives and the wonder of nature, and ends with a blessing affirming life.

Piercy is known for her political activism, especially in feminist causes, and it informs her writing. Much of her poetry bears witness to injustices, while at the same time calling for us to correct those injustices and rise to something greater. She does this subtlely, as in "The Visitation," where she juxtaposes the beauty of a yearling doe with "those sub-Saharan children / with the huge luminous brown eyes of starvation."

These contrasts have been a part of her life, from her Welsh and Jewish heritage, to her urban Detroit upbringing, to her life now in pastoral New England.

But in her writing there is also reveling in the sensual pleasures that arrive each day. The feel of rich soil in her hands, the salt of skin after lovemaking, the crack of freshly-laundered sheets as she makes a bed.

Piercy is acutely aware of her own body, exulting in fecundity in poems like "Belly Good," as well as celebrating the larger body of the world that surrounds her. She writes passionately of what it is to be woman, what it is to be human.

[ by Daina Savage ]

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