>Grace Paley: Fidelity


I would love this book even if the pages were blank if I thought that’s what Grace Paley wanted us to contemplate. Even if there were no words I would still hear her voice, reading her stories and poems in the Ex-Convento in Tepoztlan, or in Julie’s living room or Magda’s garden. I can picture her listening intently to others, her hand on Bob’s arm, her short legs swinging under her chair. But the pages aren’t blank. They’re filled with poetry that is definitely Grace’s: spare, without punctuation, essential life with the fat boiled off. The poems are, in effect, Paley stories: about her family and friends, as if even the short fictions she once wrote had become too heavy.

There are some poems here I won’t remember long, but there are others that are hard to forget. “Sisters” is one:

but this is not what I meant to
tell you I wanted to say that
my friends were dying but have now
become absent the word dead is correct
but inappropriate

“One Day” is another:

One Day
one of us
will be lost
to the other

this has been
talked about but
lightly turning
away shyness this
business of con-
fronting the
preference for

And there are others. The book has just been published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. This is from the FSG website:

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.

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  1. >I came here from your link on Goodreads and, boy, am I glad I did. Lovely review and you and I are in accord that one must always provide enough examples of poetry to give the reader a sense of what to expect. I have bookmarked this website to return to it again. Many thanks.

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