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The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980-2010

Radical feminist poet Marge Piercy has mellowed, finding peace in marriage and spiritual awakening.

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The Hunger Moon:
New and Selected Poems 1980-2010
By Marge Piercy
Knopf
327 pp

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Some readers may avoid Marge Piercy’s The Hunger Moon simply because of her reputation as a social activist and radical feminist, but that would be a mistake. Her new and selected poems, which span the past 30 years, deserve to be read without labels.

Those who do so will quickly find that the poems are surprising, inviting, and engaging because Piercy always takes a bold, confident stance, even when she changes her perspective – over time – or shares wisdom that sounds almost commonplace.

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In the opening poem, for example, she takes aim at complacency and laziness in relationships:

We walk all over the common miracles
without bothering to wipe our feet.
Then we wonder why we need more
and more salt to taste our food.

My old man, my old lady, my
ball and chain: listen, even the cat
you found starving in the alley
who purrs you to sleep dancing
with kneading paws in your hair
will vanish if your heart closes its fist.

The poem establishes Piercy as a trustworthy guide, so readers follow her willingly through several pages where she describes how she felt about marriage and love years ago – as traps to be avoided. This earlier perspective is part of her evolution, which feels like an important and shared journey.

The same is true in the second section of poems, from “My Mother’s Body,” where Piercy casts a clear and sometimes withering eye at her mother, who allowed social expectations to smother her until “The anger turned inward, the anger/ turned inward where/ could it go except to make pain?/ It flowed into me with her milk.”

That relationship, always defined by tension, is a crucial theme for both the book and the poet. A young Piercy becomes an activist while her mother acts like a spectator in her own life. Later, when her mother dies, Piercy mellows and changes, finding meaning and solace in Jewish religious practices that her parents had not followed. (“What is to be said?” she asks her father. “Did you have a religion?/ If so, you never spoke of it to me.”)

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