Grace Paley Poetry: American Poets Analysis
Grace Paley spent the early part of her career as a poet, and in the preface to Collected Stories, she noted that she had written poetry since she was a child. All the familiar elements and themes of her stories are present in her first volume of poetry: New York City streets and playgrounds, portraits of immigrant and working-class life, a strong Jewish identity, a political and feminist sensibility, and a sense of caring for family. Leaning Forward contains one new topic: the environment of Vermont, where Paley spent her summers and most of her last years. Her poems are not just an extension of her fiction, however. They are marked by a regular meter and all the delicacies of a subtle, brief conversation. Often she uses what is ostensibly a friend’s voice in her poems, as in “Words,” when she asks a question and then relays the answers given by two of her friends, but usually Paley sounds as if she were simply answering herself. She is often both the first-person voice in a poem and the replying voice, but sometimes she is another clearly defined person, as in “On the Fourth Floor.”
In both her stories and poems, Paley wrote in voices, usually using dramatic monologues and sometimes dialogues. Her finest poetry is often terse speech that is broken into rhythmic lines and that uses few formal poetic tropes. She paid a lot of attention to spacing her lines on the page so that certain words and ideas were given emphasis, and she often used blank spaces in place of punctuation, as in “In Hanoi 1969” and “For Mike and Jeannie: Resisters Fifteen Years Later.”
Begin Again includes poems from Paley’s Leaning Forward, Long Walks and Intimate Talks, and New and Collected Poems, and previously uncollected or unpublished poems. The first of six sections defines Paley as the quintessential New York writer and feminist. Most of the poems in this section take place in New York City, with street names and place-names that are easily recognizable. Her feminism is announced on the first page, with an untitled poem that begins, “A woman invented fire and called it/ the...
(The entire section is 891 words.)