When a talented writer and feminist thinker like Marge Piercy asks What Are Big Girls Made Of?
, the wise reader pays attention. Piercy gives plenty of answers in this many-faceted book. As in her previous 12 poetry collections, as well as her 14 novels, she creates edgy, funny surfaces that mask deeper inquiries. For instance, she offers several elegies to her apparently nasty half brother; though the poems roll the cadences of sad family stories often retold, they're made fresh by Piercy's search for some angle to celebrate, until she is finally only able to say, in "Brother-less Six: Unconversation,"
I was a white cedar swamp you traversed
on a wooden walkway above the black water.
You were a closet from which odd toys
and bizarre tools fell out on my head.
Though these elegies begin What Are Big Girls Made Of?
, the rest of the book is a lively entanglement with sex, middle-aged love, and politics. Piercy's wit can sever pretension, as in "The Promotion," in which she tells how a friend's new job turned him into a murderer, or in "The Gray Flannel Sexual Harassment Suit," in which an Audenish third-person omniscient voice delineates the sort of woman "we" allow to file such suits: upwardly mobile white virgins. Piercy diagnoses social problems, but she also advances, in "The Art of Blessing the Day," a sense of politics derived from experience, an awareness "[t]hat things / work in increments and epicycles and sometimes / leaps that half the time fall back down." Ultimately, What Are Big Girls Made Of?
concerns itself with the precarious balances of middle age: what to forgive, what to condemn, and how to talk about it. --Edward Skoog
The answer to the question posed by the title of this substantial poetry collection is found in a poem of the same name, and it is pain: the pain of struggling to meet fashion's impossible criteria. Piercy has a lot to say about our mania for conformity, whether it comes to self-image or politics, and, as she has over the course of writing 12 earlier books of poetry and several novels, she considers these issues within the context of a culture that fears the body's appetites, cycles, and imperfections, especially when it comes to women. She writes, in "Trying Our Metal," that she likes silver "not just for the moony glint / but because it tarnishes," reminding readers of the inevitability of change. The demanding give-and-take of marriage interests her far more than mere infatuation; in "Salt in the Afternoon," for instance, she celebrates the eroticism of enduring love. Piercy's poems are straight-ahead and socially conscious, but they are also as bright and tangy as fresh berries. Donna Seaman
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.