A longtime teacher, activist, feminist, and masterful writer of short fiction and essays, Paley is also an accomplished poet. Combining her two previous collections with unpublished work, Begin Again traces the career of a direct, attentive, and always unpredictable poet. Whether describing the vicissitudes of life in New York City or the hard beauty of rural Vermont, whether celebrating the blessings of friendship or protesting against social injustice, her poems brim with compassion and tough good humor.
For someone who describes herself as a "combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist," Grace Paley writes poetry like a rebel angel. Combining selections from her two previous volumes as well as new and unpublished poems, Begin Again
is the work of a seasoned literary veteran but also that of a lifelong bur under the establishment's saddle. A teacher, activist, and National Book Award-winning master of the short story form, Paley fashions poems as terse as haiku but as direct and earthy as a note to a friend--which, in fact, several of these seem to be. Here are poems about milkweed pods, Saint John's wort, bees, and ants, as well as poems about El Salvador, Vietnam, and AIDS. Verses about the five-day week ("like a long bath in the / first bathtub of God") rub shoulders with those about responsibility:
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet's responsibility to speak truth to power as the Quakers say
Who else could pen these lines and not perish under their weight? To say that Paley is a political writer is like saying that the hero of the Old Testament is an omnipotent God; without either half of the equation, there isn't much point. War, capitalism, sanitary napkins, old age and old dogs: no detail in the lives of men and women is too large or too small to warrant her compassionate eye. These are poems deeply invested in life and the world, rendered in a voice so immediate you feel you've called Grace up for a chat. --Chloe Byrne