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 moved to Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod permanently in 1971 and who married 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
- Piercy, Marge. Breaking Camp. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1968. PS 3566 I4B7 Robarts Library
- --. Hard Loving. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969. PS 3566 I4H3 Robarts Library
- --. 4-Telling [poems with Emmett Jarrett, Dick Lourie, Robert Hershon]. Trumansburg, N.Y.: The Crossing Press, 1971. PS 615 F6 Robarts Library
- --. To Be Of Use. New York: Doubleday, 1973. PS 3566 I4T6 Robarts Library
- --. Living in the Open. New York: Knopf, 1976. PS 3566 I4L5 Robarts Library
- --. The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing. New York: Knopf, 1978. PS 3566 I4T9 Robarts Library
- --. The Moon Is Always Female. New York: Knopf, 1980. PS 3566 I4M6 Robarts Library. See Piercy's Web site also for one poem from this collection: "For the young who want to."
- --. Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy. New York: Knopf, 1982. PS 3566 I4A6 Robarts Library
- --. Stone, Paper, Knife. New York: Knopf, 1983. PS 3566 I4S76 Robarts Library
- --. My Mother's Body. New York: Knopf, April, 1985. PS 3566 I4M9 Robarts Library
- --. Early Ripening: American Women's Poetry Now [anthology edited with an introduction]. New York: Pandora, 1987. PS 589 E23 1987 Robarts Library
- --. Available Light. New York: Knopf, February, 1988. PS 3566 I4A94 Robarts Library
- --. Mars and her Children. New York: Knopf, April 1992. PS 3566 I4M37 Robarts Library
- --. What are Big Girls Made Of? New York: Knopf, 1997. PS 3566 I4W48 Robarts Library
- --. The Eight Chambers of the Heart. London: Penguin, 1995. PS 3566 I4E53 Robarts Library
- --. Written in Bone: The Early Poems of Marge Piercy. Five Leaves Publications, 1998.
- --. Early Grrrl. Wellfleet, Mass.: Leapfrog Press, 1999. PS 3566 I4E18 Robarts Library. See Piercy's Web site for two poems from this collection: "The name of that country is lonesome" and "The well preserved man."
- --. The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme. Knopf, 1999. PS 3566 I4A94 Robarts Library. See Piercy's Web site for two poems from this collection: "Apple Sauce for Eve" and "Snowflakes, my Mother Called them."
- --. Going Down Fast. New York: Trident, 1969; Fawcett, 1981. PS 3566 I4G8 Robarts Library
- --. Dance the Eagle to Sleep. Garden City: Doubleday, 1970; Fawcett, 1971. PS 3566 I4D3 Robarts Library
- --. Small Changes. New York: Doubleday, 1973; Fawcett, 1974. PS 3566 I4S5 Robarts Library
- --. Woman on the Edge of Time. New York: Knopf, 1976; Fawcett, 1977. PS 3566 I4W6 Robarts Library
- --. The High Cost of Living. New York: Harper and Row, 1978; Fawcett, 1980. PS 3566 I4H4 Robarts Library
- --. Vida. New York: Summit, 1980; Fawcett, 1981. PS 3566 I4V5 Robarts Library
- --. Braided Lives. New York: Summit, 1982; Fawcett/Ballantine, 1983. PS 3566 I4B68 Robarts Library
- --. Fly Away Home. New York: Summit, 1984; Fawcett/Ballantine, 1985. PS 3566 I4F55 Robarts Library
- --. Gone to Soldiers. New York: Summit, 1987, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1988. PS 3566 I4G8 Robarts Library
- --. Summer People. New York: Summit, 1989, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1990. PS 3566 I4S86 Robarts Library
- --. He, She and It. New York: Knopf, 1991, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1993. PS 3566 I4H37 Robarts Library
- --. The Longings of Women. New York: Fawcett, March 1994. PS 3566 I4L66 Robarts Library
- --. City of Darkness, City of Light. New York: Fawcett/Ballantine, 1996. PS 3566 I4C58 Robarts Library
- -- and Ira Wood. Storm Tide. New York: Fawcett/Ballantine, 1998. PS 3566 I4S77 Robarts Library
- --. Three Women. New York: William Morrow, 1999; Harper Mass Market Paperbacks. PS 3566 I4O94 Robarts Library
- Piercy, Marge, and Ira Wood. The Last White Class. Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1979. [play] PS 3566 I4L3 Robarts Library
- --. Parti-colored Blocks for a Quilt. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan: Arbor Press, 1982. [essays] PS 3566 I4P3 Robarts Library
- --. The Earth Shines Secretly: A Book of Days. Zoland Books, 1990. [daybook calendar]
- The Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan holds many of Marge Piercy's manuscripts and memorabilia.
A few Writings about Marge Piercy
For a full listing, see Marge Piercy's Web Site.
- Augustine, Jane. "Piercy, Marge." Contemporary Poets. Ed. James Vinson and D.L. Kirkpatrick. 4th ed. New York: St. Martins Press, 1985.
- Bender, Eleanor. "Marge Piercy's Laying Down the Tower: A Feminist Tarot Reading." In Ways of Knowing. 1984: 101-110.
- ---. "Visions of a Better World: The Poetry of Marge Piercy." In Ways of Knowing. 1984: 1-14.
- Contoski, Victor. "Marge Piercy: A Vision of the Peaceable Kingdom." Modern Poetry Studies 8 (Winter 1977): 205-216.
- Doherty, Patricia. Marge Piercy: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Z 8690.2 .D64 1997 Robarts Library
- Jackson, Richard. "Shaping Our Choices," in his Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets (University: University of Alabama Press, 1983).
- Mitchell, Felicia. "Marge Piercy's The Moon Is Always Female: Feminist Text, Great Books Context." Virginia English Bulletin 40.2 (Fall 1990): 34-45.
- Rosenbaum, Jean. "You Are Your Own Magician: A Vision of Integrity in the Poetry of Marge Piercy." Modern Poetry Studies 8 (1977): 193-205.
- Ways of Knowing: Critical Essays on Marge Piercy. Ed. Sue Walker and Eugenie Hamner. Negative Capability Press, 1984.
- Wynn, Edith. "Imagery of Association in the Poetry of Marge Piercy." Publications of the Missouri Philological Association 10 (1985): 57-73.