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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 3, September 2018

Peter Newton's Commentary on Marge Piercy's "Power to the People"

For reasons both personal and professional (as a writer), Marge Piercy’s haibun “Power to the People” caught my eye. The prose pulls the reader along, which is to say, I had to keep reading. Wanted to. The hardest part of writing anything I suspect is luring the reader’s eyes forward. Next and next and next. Piercy succeeds at building-up words like waves surging on a beach. A tidal force. She employs well-wrought similes that entice the imagination. Blown-down pines like “huge green bears” and storm-torn shingles “like weird wooden hail.”

The breaking point of all this energy is the leap from prose to poem. Like leaping from one stone to another on a storm-battered jetty. The thrill of it. That link is well done here. She ends the prose with power and begins the poem with it. But it's a different kind of power. The power of the fox is redefined or, more appropriately, serves as a reminder of what true power is. With our loss of electricity, the fox reclaims its territory.

Piercy’s haibun “Power to the People” does what good haibun ought to do, in my opinion, which is to keep the reader reading and also asking questions. Clearly, she has strong opinions about the human influence on our natural environment but she doesn't hit us over the head with opinions. Just the facts. The March storm. The downed trees. A house shaken to its core. While telling us about losing power during a storm, the author is also questioning her place in the natural world and perhaps, suggesting that we do the same. Survival, come to think of it, is a relative term. And as Thoreau, another frequent visitor to Cape Cod, said "in wildness is the preservation of the world."

Our power as people is to destroy and also to preserve.

On a personal level, Piercy's haibun strikes a chord because of the place I grew up loving -- Cape Cod. It’s a slender strip of land. Barely wide enough for the burgeoning population of people, let alone the wildlife that exists despite our intrusions. Having lived on the Outer Cape, I have to ask myself: Is it right to expect the creature comforts of home in such a remote place? Perhaps we need to redefine "creature comfort." Take the fox's point of view.

One of my earliest memories is of "the Cape" as we call it up here in these parts. I was standing at the end of a jetty as the tide was coming in. Stormy but not a storm. I was young but not a child. Had I stayed a few minutes more and I'd have been swept into the Atlantic. I loved the exposed, stripped down landscape. Sea and sand. The absolute power of water. I was Poseidon: god of the Sea and other water; earthquakes; and of horses. A rip roiling surf still reminds me of wild horses, of which there are none on Cape Cod.

My grandmother's small cottage just over the Sagamore Bridge in Sandwich, MA gave me a taste of the Cape early on in my life. Decades later I'd go on to get my own place in Eastham much further down the peninsula. I have since left the Cape as a resident but dear friends and family remain. It's a magical place I return to as often as I can.

Bio: Peter Newton's most recent book,The Searchable World (Mapleview Publishing, 2017) won First Place in the 2018 Leroy and Mildred Kanterman Memorial Book Awards from the Haiku Society of America. The title comes from his experiences on Cape Cod as a boy.


Marge Piercy

Power to the People

March comes to Outer Cape Cod on hurricane-force winds. The bushy pitch pines that blow down block the roads like huge green bears. Our neighbor’s shingles lie scattered around her house like weird wooden hail. Power lines slither across asphalt like sparking snakes. A stormy petrel, blown from way out to sea to First Encounter beach, sits dazed and awkward on the beach, wondering where the hell he is.

Our power goes out at dinnertime; the cable follows at seven. At midnight, I lie awake, the wind roaring and throwing branches and boughs against the house. I'm afraid the roof will blow off the sun porch—the translucent ribbed plastic roof is bouncing up and down, shuddering with loud thwacks. Water leaks into the dining room from the skylights. The house shakes.

Soon, no lights are visible anywhere in my village, Wellfleet. As waves lap up Commercial Street, pouring into stores and houses, I learn that all of Provincetown is dark. Our mutual utility, Eversource, sends phone messages: out here, we all should expect to be without power for days.

power failure
close to the dark house
foxes hunt




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