August 24, 2007

Grace Paley 1922-2007

I haven't seen any obituaries yet in the local papers; perhaps I missed them yesterday. I heard the news through one of the offices in an online writer's workshop I belong to. People had memories of Paley as writer, teacher, activist--one even mentioned a reading he had attended where Paley had read some of her poetry. He'd often heard poets read their own verse badly, and all too often heard bad poetry read badly. It was refreshing to hear fine poetry read well.

I'll have to take his judgment of her merit as a poet on faith until I've read a little more of it. The only poem of hers I've read was a droning, agitpropish piece that sent me resolutely back to the astonishing wit, depth, breadth and tenderness of her short stories. I'd be happy to discover that poem was a rare or even unique misstep, and she'd discovered as fresh and original a voice in her poetry as in her fiction. It certainly doesn't surprise me that a writer with such precise command of speech rhythms would read her own work well.

Her body of work was small, but the ratio of successes to failures was very high--more like a golden glove fielder's than a winning pitcher's percentage. For that reason many far more prolific writers have produced considerably less that is likely to endure--for as long at least as humanity, and literacy as a human skill, endures.

C 2207 Martin Heavisides

1 comment:

Chancelucky said...

I heard Grace Paley read back when I was a college student. Came across as a very nice lady. Her writing was even funnier and more striking in person.

Sad that she's gone.

fwiw, I don't think I ever read any of her poetry. iirc, she was very politically active in New York.