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Arts & Entertainment
04/13/03, G-06

By JACK RIGHTMYER, Staff Writer
Marge Piercy speaks her mind; to read from work at RPI

When author Marge Piercy answers a question she’s blunt and direct like many of the characters she has written about. “I am a feminist,” she said in a recent phone interview from her home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. “I don’t get weary of it. I get weary of the fallout through the years. There have been many grants I haven’t gotten because of my politics and what I’ve written about, but that’s who I am.”

She is an activist writer, a one-time member of the antiwar group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and a person who speaks her mind about politics, the problems of society and inequality. “The reason I am political,” she said, “is that I want there to be a more just apportionment of the world’s pleasure and less unjust apportionment of the world’s pain.”

Piercy is an author of fifteen novels, a memoir titled ‘Sleeping with Cats,’ and fifteen collections of her poetry. She has written mainstream fiction, historical novels, science fiction, feminist theory and even liturgy. She collaborated with her husband Ira Wood, the publisher of Leapfrog Press, to write the novel ‘Storm Tide.’ Her most recent poetry collection, “Colors Passing Through Us” (157 pages, $23, Alfred A. Knopf) contains poetry about her favorite topics, the lives of women, nature, Jewish rituals, love between men and women, and politics.

“People call me a prolific writer,” she said, “I don’t really believe that, but I can switch from writing poems, to memoir to novel writing very easily. There are so many things in the world to write about, and I am a curious person, always learning things that fascinate me.”

Piercy will read from her work on Tuesday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Campus in Troy. She is speaking as part of the Visiting Writers Series of the New York State Writers Institute, and sponsored in conjunction with Rensselaer’s 62nd annual McKinney Writing Contest.

“I expect to be reading some of my poetry that night,” she said, “because it performs so well.”

She was one of the well-known poets invited by First Lady Laura Bush to attend a poetry event at the White House last February. In response to President Bush’s impending war with Iraq, she declined the invitation but instead sent along a poem she wrote titled ‘Choices.’ “That poem expresses some of my feelings about where our priorities should be as a nation,” said Piercy. “I’m proud that it will be published this April in an anthology called ‘Poets Against the War.’”

She is encouraged to see so much activism going on about the war. “The New York Times wrote that young people weren’t getting involved,” said Piercy, “but I don’t believe that. I’ve seen a lot of young people protesting this war. I was just at a college in San Antonio and there was a strong anti-war movement there.”

At times she gets frustrated with people who complain about how bad things are and then don’t do anything to change it. “But it’s always been that way with protest,” she said. “I think people today may be more passive about getting involved. I think they get beaten down with so much media coverage about everything, but poetry always comes alive during these difficult times.”

According to Piercy, poetry works best as a form of protest because it has the ability to move people. “Poetry readings are dramatic,” she said. “They are filled with beautiful sound and rhythm and power. Literature would be as significant if people read more books, but unfortunately people aren’t reading that much anymore. ”

She is currently at work on a new contemporary political novel called, ‘The Third Child.’ “I tend to write my first drafts in the morning and my later drafts in the afternoons,” she said. “When I feel stuck writing a novel I start writing a poem. I also read a lot of poetry.”

In the past few years she has begun to write more with her husband Ira. “He doesn’t write poetry, and he writes a different sort of fiction than I do, but we wrote a book on the process of writing together and we wrote one novel together,” she said. “That was fun. When you write with someone you only have to do about two-thirds of the work, which is nice.” She enjoys writing fiction because she can write about other people. “I didn’t really enjoy writing my memoir because there were so many memories that were hard to re-visit,” she said. “It also occurred to me writing that book that no one is ever completely honest in looking back over our lives. I tried to do the best I could.”

She and her husband teach occasional workshops on the art of writing the personal narrative. “It’s an effective way to learn about yourself,” she said.

Piercy is worried about how so much is eroding under the current President Bush. “People in the Green Party during the last election said voting for Nader wouldn’t make much of a difference, but they were wrong,” she said.

Her advice for people is to discover what stirs you up and work on changing it. “Ira and I have been getting involved with local politics in Wellfleet because there’s a plan to build a huge industrial garbage and waste-processing plant here,” she said. “We don’t want them to change this beautiful fishing village and art gallery town, and we’re working hard to stop it.”

If you have any questions about her talk, contact the Writers Institute at 518-276-8095.

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