This post by Abbie Taylor.
The first poem I ever read by Marge Piercy is “In Praise of Joe” which can be read here. This poem, about her addiction to coffee, inspired me to write “Ode to Dr. Pepper” which I posted on my blog here. In case you’re wondering what Dr. Pepper and coffee have to do with cats, I just finished reading Marge Piercy’s 2002 memoir, Sleeping with Cats.
Marge Piercy was born on March 31st, 1936, in Detroit, Michigan, to a family deeply affected by the Great Depression. A student at the University of Michigan, she was the first in her family to attend college. In 1957, she won a Hopwood award for fiction and poetry. After spending time in France, she received an M.A. from Northwestern University. Her first book of poems, Breaking Camp, was published in 1968. She now lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with her third husband, Ira Wood. As of 2013, she has written 17 poetry collections, 15 novels, 1 play, and 1 collection of essays, 1 nonfiction book, and one memoir. Her books often center on feminist and social issues, but some have science fiction themes. You can read more about her here.
In Sleeping with Cats, Marge Piercy starts with her childhood in Detroit. She talks about what it was like to grow up in a family where her mother was Jewish and her father was not. She describes her parents’ indifference to her, being bullied in school, her inability to make friends, and her bout with rheumatic fever. She then moves on to her adult years where she discusses her college education, her first two marriages that ended in divorce, and her third which is still going strong. She talks extensively about the years she spent in New York with her second husband where she was involved in feminist and socialist organizations before settling in Cape Cod. Most important, she talks about how cats were her constant companions through the trials and tribulations of her life. She also explains how she nursed them through various illnesses and made the agonizing decision to have them put to sleep when it was evident they were in pain. At the end of each chapter, she inserts a poem which, in a way, sums up the chapter. In the beginning, she talks about how she can’t get going in the morning without coffee, and I wish she could have inserted “In Praise of Joe” there.
Sleeping with Cats should be available from most online retailers and bookstores. If you’re visually impaired like me or otherwise unable to read printed material, it can be downloaded from Bookshare. Although I found the accounts of Marge Piercy’s political involvement and her relationship with her second husband tiring at times, I enjoyed the book, especially when she talked about her writing and her cats. I recommend this book to anyone who likes poetry, cats, coffee, or Dr. Pepper. I plan to read more of her work.
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of: