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Poetry, Personal & Political

Reading the poems in Marge Piercy’s The Crooked Inheritance (Knopf, $24.00) is like walking into a room full of extended family. You may not really know or remember everyone, but you recognize the connections. However, despite the familiarity of the stories, there is always some secret gem hidden inside these poems. In “Buried,” she describes a concern with what is hidden under the snow: “All fallen—branches, / a tire, a red squirrel—buried together.” In the process of describing what is covered, she actually uncovers it for her readers—here, as elsewhere, revelation becomes her primary task as a poet.

Not only does Piercy reveal what’s in her own life, her family and her passions; she also attempts to uncover what is true across the nation. Author of 16 volumes of poetry, and 17 novels, a memoir, and a work of nonfiction. she manages to write poetry that is concerned with aesthetics and is also directly political. Piercy is not shy about using stark language, and her tone is unusual and refreshing. Rather than sounding preachy, her use of repetition adds to the sense of rhythm and makes her writing sing even as it informs.

Domain of Perfect Affection, the sixth collection by Robin Becker (University of Pittsburg Press, $14.00), is concerned with narratives similar to Piercy’s, from larger political realities to the personal politics of family, love and desire. Judaism is also a theme in Becker’s work, as in the poem “Mail Order,” where a Jewish rye and a challah are shipped home. In this new collection Becker uses more traditional forms and also invents her own patterns in order to produce beautifully crafted poems.

While many of her poems focus on personal issues, such as the worries of a mother in “Against Pleasure” or the joys of resting in “Great Sleeps I Have Known,” Becker also includes poems that are reactions to paintings, drawings and sculptures. Examining work by such artists as Klee and Dürer, Becker can explore the struggles of art and of being an artist within a larger historical context. Becker focuses on the concrete, letting language float across real circumstances, the narrative facts of history, and the speaker’s own life. This technique is particularly poignant in “Borderline,” in memory of Becker’s sister, where describing the facts becomes a way of mourning: “Brink, brow, verge, brim. I grew / adjacent and then away—leaving you sister.”

The poetry of Anna Margolin is similarly concerned with the material world in Drunk From the Bitter Truth (State University of New York Press, $30.00), a new translation by Shirley Kumove of a collection originally published in Yiddish in 1929. Like Piercy, Margolin uses snow as a metaphor for a hidden world that the poet can choose to reveal, as in the poem “Mary and Death”: “The night lay gently on her pain, / lay like black, caressing snow.” Having written before the era of confessional poetry, Margolin’s poems reveal their truths in a different way. We understand very little about the speaker’s family, or the details of her romantic life, but metaphor, imagery and sound create an understanding of the depth of her emotional experiences. Margolin’s persona poems, including those about the biblical Mary, show the range of her talent and her ability to bring the world of others to her readers; hopefully this volume will gain her an even wider audience.

Aimee Walker’s poems have appeared most recently in The Paris Review and Heliotrope.