Book Review (Poetry): Fidelity, by Grace Paley


Fidelity – Poems, by Grace Paley

I’ve been trying to expand my literary horizons by reading more poetry (as I’ve mentioned before with my review of Billy Collins’ Nine Horses).

For some reason, though, I struggle with the mere notion of reviewing a poetry collection and I wonder why that is. Perhaps, despite a college degree in English/Communications, I’m not confident in my abilities to “analyze” or critique poetry or maybe it’s simply that my tastes vary. I’m very much a “I know what I like when I see it” kind of girl when it comes to poetry. I suppose I’m not alone in this.

From the inside jacket cover of Fidelity:

Just before her death in 2007 at the age of eighty-four, Grace Paley completed this wise and poignant book of poems. Full of memories of friends and family and incisive observations of life in both her beloved hometown, New York City, and rural Vermont, the poems are sober and playful, experimenting with form while remaining eminently readable. They explore the beginnings and ends of relationships, the ties that bind siblings, the workings of dreams, the surreal strangeness of the aging body—all imbued with her unique perspective and voice. Mournful and nostalgic, but also ruefully funny and full of love, Fidelity is Grace Paley’s passionate and haunting elegy for the life she was leaving behind.

Yes. That’s exactly what I would have said. Here are just three of many that I especially liked:

I Met a Woman on the Plane
she came from somewhere around Tampa
she was going to Chicago
I liked her a lot
she’d had five children
no she’s had six one died
at twenty-three days

people said at least you didn’t
get too attached

she had married at sixteen she
married again twenty years later
she said she loved her first husband
just couldn’t manage life

five small children? I said
no not that
what? him?
no me she said

I couldn’t get over that baby girl
everyone else did the big
kids you’ll drive us all crazy
they said but that baby you can’t
believe her beautifulness
when I came into the kids room
in her little crib not a month old
not breathing they say get over it
it’s more than ten years go away leave
us for awhile so I did that here I am she said
where are you going

Untitled
I needed to talk to my sister
talk to her on the telephone I mean
just as I used to every morning
in the evening too whenever the
grandchildren said a sentence that
clasped both our hearts

I called her phone rang four times
you can imagine my breath stopped then
there was a terrible telephonic noise
a voice said this number is no
longer in use how wonderful I
thought I can
call again they have not yet assigned
her number to another person despite
two years of absence due to death

Fathers
Fathers are
more fathering
these days they have
accomplished this by
being more mothering

what luck for them that
women’s lib happened then
the dream of new fathering
began to shine in the eyes
of free women and was
irresistible

on the New York subways
and the mass transits
of other cities one may
see fatherings of many colors
with their round babies on
their laps this may also
happen in the countryside

these scenes were brand new
exciting for an old woman who
had watched the old fathers
gathering once again in
familiar army camps and
comfortable war rooms to consider
the necessary eradication of
the new fathering fathers
(who are their sons) as well
as the women and children who
will surely be in the way.

These are the poems of someone nearing life’s end, and some could say that they’re a little depressing. I find them more reflective and appreciative, but I definitely had to be in the right frame of mind to read these. It has also made me curious about reading more of Paley’s other work. (I may have done so in college, but that was awhile ago.) Still, if you are interested in reading more poetry, this is a lovely collection to become acquainted with.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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