Begin Again


A longtime teacher, activist, feminist, and masterful writer of short fiction and essays, Paley is also an accomplished poet. Combining her two previous collections with unpublished work, Begin Again traces the career of a direct, attentive, and always unpredictable poet. Whether describing the vicissitudes of life in New York City or the hard beauty of rural Vermont, whether celebrating the blessings of friendship or protesting against social injustice, her poems brim with ...

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Begin Again: Collected Poems

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A longtime teacher, activist, feminist, and masterful writer of short fiction and essays, Paley is also an accomplished poet. Combining her two previous collections with unpublished work, Begin Again traces the career of a direct, attentive, and always unpredictable poet. Whether describing the vicissitudes of life in New York City or the hard beauty of rural Vermont, whether celebrating the blessings of friendship or protesting against social injustice, her poems brim with compassion and tough good humor.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"She is funny and poignant, a writer of great power and great delicacy. She is one of our finest—and most original—poets."—Gerald Stern

"What I love most in Grace Paley's poetry is her unquenchable sense that the artist's life is not somewhere at the margins of community, that a dialogue is necessary between the poet and her people. The North American enterprise has injured this dialogue. Paley's exuberant, heartbreaking, committed poems call it back to health."—Adrienne Rich

"The art that Paley has displayed in her celebrated short stories is generally replaced in her poems by spontaneous, personal speech. These poems provide a tour through Paley's life, telling of her friends, her childhood memories and her struggle to come to terms with age and mortality."—Adam Kirsch, The New York Times Book Review

"Paley is a master of the short form. . . . Her no-frills poetry, like that of the classic Chinese, speaks worlds with a minimum of words. . . . Paley's attentiveness, wry sense of self, and gift for finding drama in the plainest of moments imbue her poetry with toughness and joy."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"In Paley, life, literature and politics converge—nonviolently, of course—in a cunning patchwork quilt of radiance and scruple, witness and example, nurture and nag, subversive humor and astonishing art: a Magical Socialism and a Groucho Marxism."—John Leonard, The Nation

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Paley (Enormous Changes at the Last Minute) has stood for decades among America's most cherished short-story writers. Her poems retain the winning openness, the whimsy and the political commitments her fiction flaunts. They also contain deep insights about narrative and voice: "A Poem about Storytelling" explains, "the first person is often the lover who/ says I never knew anyone like you/ The listener is the beloved She whispers/ Who? Me?" The poems can carry her readers through the poet's traumas, astonishments, and exclamations: when she says "Oh! the five exogamous boroughs of/ our beloved home New York," that adjective invites her readers to love it too. Poems address locales in New York City and Vermont; consider generational succession and old age; advocate an energetic acceptance of difference and diversity; and dwell on particular political struggles. (Some of the poems about Vietnam and El Salvador stick perhaps too closely to their occasions.) Her cadences and preoccupations can suggest a much slighter, and sunnier, Adrienne Rich. But in contrast to Rich, much of Paley's poetry seems unfinished, jotted-down rather than carefully made. Her lines give revelations without contexts, theses without examples, ends and beginnings without their middles: the poem "Life" reads, in its entirety: "Some people set themselves tasks/ other people say do anything only live/ still others say/ oh oh I will never forget you event of my first life." And too many lines become unadorned tracts: "It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes." Fans of the fiction will want these unguarded looks at the illimitably appealing Paley persona. And even those not already charmed by Paley's prose ought to enjoy her few best poems: an account of "twenty-two tranvestites/ in joyous parades" on Mother's Day; the superbly constructed, vertiginous "Leaflet"; the heartbreaking "On the Deck," about old age; a six-line apocalypse called "psalm." (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374527242
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/14/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.99 (w) x 8.21 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Grace Paley is a writer and a teacher, a feminist and an activist. Her most recent book, Just as I Thought, is a collection of her personal and political essays and articles. In 1994, her Collected Stories was a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in New York City and Vermont.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A woman invented fire and called it
the wheel
Was it because the sun is round
I saw the round sun bleeding to sky
And fire rolls across the field
from forest to treetop
It leaps like a bike with a wild boy riding it
oh she said
see the orange wheel of heat
light that took me from the
window of my mother's home
to home in the evening

Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions
of Retirement Have Driven My Friends
from the Work They Love

When she was young she wanted
to sing in a bank
a song about money
the lyrics of gold
was her song
she dressed for it

She did good. She stood up like a
planted flower among yellow weeds
turning to please the sun
they were all shiny
it was known she was planted

No metaphor reinvents the job of the nurture of children
except to muddy or mock.

The job of hunting of shooting in hunting season of
standing alone in the woods of being an Indian

The municipal center
the morning of anger
the centrifugal dream
her voice flung out on plates of rage
then they were put in a paper sack
she was sent to the china closet
and never came back

Every day he went out, forsaking
wife and child
with his black bag he accompanied
the needle of pain as it
sewed our lives to death

One day at work he cried
I am in my full powers
suddenly he was blind
when slabs of time and aperture returned
dear friend we asked
what do you see
he said I only see what has been
seen already

    * * *

One day when I was a child long ago
Mr. Long Ago spoke up in school
He said
Oh children you must roll your r's
no no not on your tongue little girl
there is nothing so beautiful as r rolled in the throat of a French
no woman more beautiful
he said looking back
at beauty

    Drowning (I)

If I were in the middle of the Atlantic
drowning far from home
I would look up at the sky
veil of my hiding life
and say:
then I would sink
the second time I'd come up I'd say
these are the willful waves of the watery sea
which is drowning me
then I would sink
the third time I'd come up it would be my last
my arms reaching
my knees falling
I'd cry oh oh
first friend of my thinking head
dear flesh

    Drowning (II)

This is how come I am drowned:
First the sun shone on me
Then the wind blew over me
Then the sand polished me
Then the sea touched me
Then the tide came


Some people set themselves tasks
other people say do anything only live
still others say
oh oh I will never forget you event of my first life

    Right Now

The women let the tide go out
which will return which will return
the sand the salt the fat drowned babies
The men ran furiously
along the banks of the estuary
Come back you fucking sea
right now
right now

    A Poem about Storytelling

The artist comes next
she tells the story of the stories
The first person may be the child who
says Listen! Guess what happened!
The important listener is the mother
The mother says What?
The first person can be the neighbor
She says Today my son told me Goodbye
I said Really? Who are you? You
didn't even say hello yet The listener
is probably her friend She remembers
Well wasn't he always like that as a small boy
I mean The neighbor says That's not
true You're absolutely wrong He was like a
motorcycle a little horse every now
and then at rest a flower
The first person is often the lover who
says I never knew anyone like you
The listener is the beloved She whispers
Who? Me?
The first person is the giver of testimony
He rises and tells I lived in that village
My father shouted He returned from the fields
I was too small My father cried out
Why don't you grow up and help me My mother said
Help him you're eight years old it's time
The listeners say Oh! it was just
like that I remember
The giver of testimony rises and tells
I lived in the hut behind the barn
The padrone the manager the master came
to me I can take you whenever I want
he said Now you're old enough The right
age is twelve he said The giver of testimony
rises She looks into her village She
looks into the next village Where
are the listeners
The artist comes next She waits for
the listeners too What if they're all dead or
deafened by grief or in prison Then
there's no way out of it She will listen
It's her work She will be the listener
in the story of the stories

    A Warning

One day I forgot Jerusalem and my right arm is withered
My right arm, my moving arm, my rising and falling arm
my loving arm
Is withered
And my left eye, the blinker and winker is plucked out
It hangs by six threads of endless remembering.
Because I forgot Jerusalem
And wherever I go, I am known, I am recognized at once. I am
perceived by strangers.
Because on one day, only one day I forgot Jerusalem.
Jews everywhere, Jews, old deaths of the north and south
Poor Jews in the ghetto walls built by the noble. Slav,
Jew princes
In Amsterdam who live in diamond houses that shine like window-
Listen to me. Wherever you go, keep the nation of that city
in mind
For I forgot her and now I am blind and crippled.
Even my lover a Christian with pale eyes and the barbarian's
has left me.


The veins that stand on the back of my sunburned hand
are something like the branched veins on the flat tan
shore of the bay
Out of these, when the tide tugs
salt sea runs back
into the rocky basin from which
we came
on the first day specks
in a stranded pool dashed
in high tide alive
on the hot dry land.

    At the Battery

I am standing on one foot
at the prow of great Manhattan
leaning forward
projecting a little into the bright harbor
If only a topographer in a helicopter
would pass over my shadow
I might be imposed forever
on the maps of this city

    An Arboreal Mystery

On Jane Street in October
I saw three ginkgo trees
the first is naked to the bony branch
the second is a dance of little golden fans
the third is green as green September

    20th Street Spring

the wives of the black-sailed seminarians
take their children to walk with green pails
they are light-haired and slim their husbands are studying
passion and service the seminary
is old the baby leaves of the old sycamores are pale green
are river yellow like the high light arms of the sycamore
the seminary is red and soot-darkened
by the soot-making city it is at the side of the city near the river
it stands aside from the piers and the warehouses and the
it intends to be quiet and dark though sunlight surrounds it
sun lies on the streets and the lawns and the children
of the seminarians play with red hoops in the street in the sun
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Table of Contents

A woman invented fire 3
Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions of Retirement Have Driven My Friends from the Work They Love 4
One day when I was a child 6
Drowning (I) 7
Drowning (II) 8
Life 9
Right Now 10
A Poem about Storytelling 11
A Warning 13
Alive 14
At the Battery 15
An Arboreal Mystery 16
20th Street - Spring 17
note to grandparents 18
psalm 19
Mulberry Street 20
War 21
For Danny 22
The Nature of This City 23
On the Fourth Floor 24
Winter Afternoon 25
Middle-Age Poem 26
Bob Visits Friends 27
On Mother's Day 28
Housing 30
Having Arrived by Bike at Battery Park 31
Whistlers 35
For George (I) 36
For George (II) 37
Certain Days 38
One Day 39
The Five-Day Week 40
Some Days 41
Vengeance 42
Family 43
Letter 44
My Mother: 33 Years Later 45
On the Bank Street Pier 47
Gift 48
No Love 49
Words 50
Quarrel 51
Question 52
Old Age Porch 53
Fund Appeal 54
For My Friend Who Planted a Tree for His Daughter Jane 55
Responsibility 56
Fear 59
Families 60
Goldenrod 61
What is this whiteness 62
When the wild strawberry leaves turn 63
Then 64
In Deepest Summer 65
Saint-John's-wort! 66
A bee! 67
An ant! 68
False strawberry is 69
September 70
The Choir Singing 71
Leaves - Apples 72
Connections: Vermont - Vietnam (I) 73
Connections: Vermont - Vietnam (II) 74
Song Stanzas of Private Luck 79
Some Nearly Songs 82
The Old Dog's Song 82
34th Street Song 83
The Sad Children's Song 84
Traveler 85
Speaker and Speaker 86
Quarrel 87
Autumn 88
South Window 90
My Father at 85 91
My Father at 89 92
One Day I Decided 93
In Aix 94
On the Ramblas - A Tree - A Girl 95
Oh 96
In France 97
I Gave Away That Kid 98
Subway Station 100
Bridges 101
In Hanoi - 1969 102
Two Villages 103
That Country 104
Street Corner Dialogue 105
Illegal Aliens 106
In San Salvador (I) 107
In San Salvador (II) 108
For Mike and Jeannie: Resisters - Fifteen Years Later 109
Learning from Barbara Deming 110
Happiness 111
Definition 112
Age 113
Love 114
Time 115
The Women's Prison: El Salvador - The Ballad of Visiting Day 116
The Dance in Jinotega 120
People in My Family 123
In the Bus 124
House: Some Instructions 127
The Immigrant Story 133
Translation 134
Signs 135
The Woman Says 136
Faces 137
It's True 138
Tenth Grade 139
The Boy - His Mother 140
Suppertime 141
How to Tell a Story (My Method) - (Most of the Time) 142
The Word Thrum 143
My Father Said 144
He Wanders 145
Four Short Pieces 146
The Poet's Occasional Alternative 147
One of the Softer Sorrows of Age 148
When this old body 149
When I Was Asked How I Could Leave Vermont in the Middle of October 150
Weather 151
In Montpelier, Vermont 152
Beef 153
NOW 154
Is There a Difference Between Men and Women 156
Reading the Newspapers at the Village Store 158
The Desert Wasn't Loved Enough - said Reich 160
What If (This Week) 161
This Life 162
Sometimes 163
Leaflet 166
I See My Friend Everywhere 167
A Letter 168
For Jan 169
Luck 171
On the Deck 172
For My Daughter 173
Therefore 174
In This Dream 175
Hand-Me-Downs 176
Here 177
Walking in the Woods 178
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2000

    heart-breakingly candid

    Grace Paley has a way of stating things, simply, on paper, as if they were just tumbling through her mind. There is no pretense with her poetry. It just flows across and down the page.

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