While this volume of Paley’s poetry contains new, unpublished work, it might well be termed a retrospective insofar as it
traces the writer’s poetic career through four previous collections, the first from back in 1985, with poems of even earlier vintage
included. Though perhaps better known for her short prose and essays, one compilation of which (The Collected Stories), was
a finalist for the 1994 NBA, Paley has gradually expanded her repertoire into verse. Born in the Bronx and educated in New York
public schools, she makes use of these influences in a style that is often coarse and gutsy yet always compassionate and frequently
leavened with humor. Later poems include wonderfully evocative images of the writer’s adoptive home in rural Vermont. A
popular lecturer and workshop leader, Paley has taught at Sarah Lawrence, Columbia, Dartmouth, and City College, and her
involvement in the peace movement and in feminist causes over the past four decades, arising in part from a history of activism
in her family, often burbles to the surface. At times, in fact, we’re fairly inundated by it, as when she enumerates rocket, bomb,
and napalm attacks on a Vietnamese village in a bludgeoning manner few poets of the time managed to avoid. She’s in top form,
however, when she sets aside the intellectual polemics and observes quietly. In one poem she describes a Vietnamese child
speaking to his father who, unhearing, remains engrossed in the mosaic of three ships on the wall of a Brooklyn subway station.
The few examples of Paley’s didacticism on behalf of the causes she espouses may be overlooked in favor of her more
general instruction by poetic example.