Melodious Women; What Are Big Girls Made Of?

Melodious Women
by Marjorie Agosin, translated from the Spanish by Monica Bruno Galmozzi
Latin American Literary Review Press, $13.95

What Are Big Girls Made Of?
by Marge Piercy
Knopf, $25

Writers like Marjorie Agosin and Marge Piercy give poetry a good name. Agosin inscribes her latest collection of poems, “To women, to life…” and structures the volume accordingly. Readers first encounter odes to individual women, both real (Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo) and fictitious (Pandora, Lilith). Later, as in “The Women of Bosnia” or “The Secretary,” Agosin addresses women known by their roles or nationalities. The last of the book’s four sections, “Happiness,” reflects themes found earlier but treats them more globally.

Agosin’s literary landcsape is redolent of cinnamon and gardenias, soft as rain and sharp as bone. Her poems engage all the senses and leave the reader more with feelings than thoughts. She writes organically, builds women from blood and skin, hair and breath. Agosin’s gift is giving life to the unknown, the small, the quiet in women’s lives.

Marge Piercy is louder, more cerebral and more brash. Like Agosin’s, her world is full of sex and food and salt water, but without the velvet edges. She jokes with the reader, then forces her to see in the mirror sometimes ugly truths like the “relief” that follows the grief of losing one’s parents. Piercy’s latest collection finds her on happily familiar terrain as she writes about cats, living with a middle-aged body, and violence against abortion providers.

“Belly Good” is the perfect prescription for our anorexic age. What a different world we would inhabit if we saw a stomach as a “fully ripe peach” and “maternal cushion radiating comfort.” Piercy rejoices in hers, speaks to it, her “prize feather quilt” handed down from mother to daughter.

Buy these books. Keep them by your bed, near your phone at work, on the kitchen table, and savor them.