Marge Piercy’s 20th collection of poetry, “On Your Way Out, Turn Off the Light” (Knopf), out this week, contains her singular mix of political and personal. She addresses our fraught moment in a “dirge for my country” with wry nods to the possible apocalypse we’re moving toward. She references immigrants and abortion, our warming earth, our extinction — both individual and species-wide. Some poems feel list-like, items and acts that accumulate to make a moment, a series of thoughts, the span of a life, the way a mind moves in time: “Much too early marriage/ French lessons/ Chicago one summer/ The various flavors of argument.” Aging and its indignities gets her sensitive, sometimes funny, attention, and Piercy, who lives on Cape Cod, is especially deft when noticing the moments she came into herself: “in the vacant lot overgrown with/ ragweed and bright blue chicory . . . something unbuilt/ untamed rooted in me and grew.” There’s a strength in her self-definition: “my radical loudmouth/ sexually busy Jewish self.” And a sense, in her aging, of turning toward the opennness and opportunity of silence, of finding the “minor pleasures” . . . that come to us when “we spread silence around us . . . and allow ourselves to subside into stillness and wait.”
A new anthology gathers together a number of writers responding to the pandemic. “Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19” (Central Avenue) was the brainchild of editor Jennifer Haupt, who wanted to do something to fight her feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. The book, which came together in less than two months, includes poems, essays, and interviews by and with 55 authors (with an additional 21 in the digital edition), including a number of big names — Kwame Alexander, Nikki Giovanni, Ada Limón, Lidia Yuknavitch, Pam Houston, among others, as well as local voices, including Andre Dubus III, Steve Yarbrough, Major Jackson, Jenna Blum, Lise Haines, Jessica Keener, Jennifer Rosner, and Grace Talusan, who writes, “I think my dead are appearing to me now, during the quarantine, because finally I have the time to grieve them.” All net profits from the book will be donated to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, which works to strengthen the independent bookselling community.
The longlists for this year’s National Book Awards have recently been announced, and works by a number of New England authors have been selected. New Englanders took four of the 10 slots on the nonfiction longlist, including Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, who lives in New Haven, for “The Undocumented Americans” (One World); Michelle Bowdler, executive director of health and wellness at Tufts University, for “Is Rape a Crime?: A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto” (Flatiron); Harvard professor Jill Lepore for “If Then: How the Simulatics Corporation Invented the Future” (Liveright); and Emerson College writing professor Jerald Walker for “How To Make a Slave and Other Essays” (Mad Creek). In poetry, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, associate professor in English at UMass-Boston, where they teach in and direct the MFA in Creative Writing Program, was longlisted for their collection “Travesty Generator” (Noemi). And in young people’s literature, Marcella Pixley, an eighth-grade language arts teacher in Carlisle, was longlisted for “Trowbridge Road” (Candlewick). Awards will be announced on Nov. 18.
“Stranger Faces” by Namwali Serpell (Transit)
“Cardinal” by Tyree Daye (Copper Canyon)
“Some Girls Walk Into the Country They Are From” by Sawako Nakayasu (Wave)
Pick of the week
Charlee Bianchini at the Bookstore of Gloucester recommends “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Menakem (Central Recovery): “Racism in America is thrust in the spotlight and the damage it does is investigated from the perspective of trauma and body-centered psychology. Menakem outlines the problem of deeply rooted white supremacy in America and offers steps toward healing and a better future.”