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Marge Piercy Gets Loud

By Christopher Caldwell - April 12, 2004

"Louder, We Can't Hear You (Yet!): The Political Poems of Marge Piercy," by Marge Piercy, (Leapfrog Audio Books; poetry; one CD; 64 minutes; $15.95; also available as a download from www.audible.com; $10.95; read by the author).

Few current poets embody the post-World War II idea of poet as activist as does Marge Piercy. Unlike many fashionable ranters in the current "spoken word" and "poetry slam" scenes, Piercy is of an older generation, and her body of work has the historical perspective and eloquence often lacking in latter-day imitators. Especially appropriate for this election year, her political poems have been culled from eight volumes of poetry and various sources for "Louder, We Can't Hear You (Yet!)." A world-class poet and poetry reader, Piercy presents road-tested work that has inspired and infuriated for decades. Her legacy of social protest is long, and this collection of her political best underscores her relevance in the world of literary activism. This is an excellent audio production to have in your pocket next time you go to your favorite protest rally.

Despite uncomfortable subject matter such as September 11th, rape, abortion, sexism and militarism, Piercy's anger always comes across as that of a wise and inviting elder rather than that of a hothead. She speaks from long experience in the activist trenches rather than from a skimming of the headlines. Piercy's art is one of engagement and clarity, a virtue that will no doubt upset officials of the Republican National Committee. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest are held liable for many of the current ills plaguing the United States and endangering the world. Overtly political pieces such as the blistering "Sneak and Peek" (about the Patriot Act) and "Right to Life," are balanced with more subtle commentary on gender, labor, and economic issues.

"Choices," a scathing indictment of U.S. foreign policy, is a piece that Piercy wrote in response to Laura Bush's ill-conceived plan to invite poets to the White House on the eve of the Iraq invasion. While the resulting anti-war protests by invited poets proved a massive embarrassment for the first lady, such controversy is usual for Piercy. On "What's that Smell in the Kitchen?" Piercy reminds us that even when age-old problems are not "hot copy," they are still an ever-present undercurrent in our society. That poems spanning her artistic career have remained so timely speaks to her acumen as a social critic as much as to her skill as a poet.

"Louder" sounds as if it were recorded in one energetic take and many of these poems are no-doubt performed from memory. A welcome relief from the tension and gravity present in the work, Piercy delivers brief introductions to most of the 26 poems. Sensitive listeners will be pleased to find that she also warns when a poem has a history of offending audiences. The attractive liner notes include an accurate list of the poems performed, great photos from throughout Piercy's life, and a short but helpful biography -- giving context to Piercy's history of social and artistic engagement. Unfortunately, original publication dates are not listed, but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise fine package.

While this release is very valuable to fans, activists and students of poetry, such protest art inevitably finds an audience of the already converted. "Louder" is, of course, very enjoyable for the faithful, but one wonders how it might reach those who most need to hear it. Though because it is the sort of wonderfully dangerous production that one might find on a list of banned works or at an audiobook burning, this release might find a deserved new demographic of curious listeners. "Louder, We Can't Hear You (Yet!)" is the first official recording of Piercy's work and is available exclusively on audio from Leapfrog Audio Books (www.leapfrogpress.com) and distributed through Consortium (www.cbsd.com).

 


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