Ariel Ramchandani finds a melancholic honesty in Grace Paley's last book of poems. Paley wrote with the detachment of a woman near death, punctuating her work with the occasional bitter laugh ...
"Fidelity", the excellent new collection of poetry by Grace Paley (FSG, March 18th 2008), is a fitting final release (she died in August, aged 84). It is about the experience of being old, and the often painful separation between the poet and her world. Paley builds her poems organically and spaciously--they seem to expand in the air and dissipate foggily, barely located anymore in time and space. She saw herself as if through the lens of a camera, as though she did not inhabit the body she wrote about. In poems such as "When", she leaves physical spaces in between her words, echoing the fatigue and remove the speaker has from the action:
When she came to meet him at the ferry he said you are so pale worn so frail standing on her toes to reach his ear she whispered I am an old woman oh then he was always kind
The pauses make the poem feel as though it could drift away, barely anchored by the locating words "when", "then" and "always". The "when" brings us into the past, and the line break after the "oh then" leaves it dangling: we are not sure whether the speaker is lamenting a past "then", or placing us at the ferry. In the word "always" we find ambiguous continuity, a hazily defined timeline of experience separate from the moment in which the poem occurs.