Announcements from the Planetarium

 
 Photo by nancy hill

Photo by nancy hill

Commentary

Poems in this collection move through time - examining memory, considering the nature of wisdom, aging into new consciousness.  Creating this book gave me, once again, the exquisite experience of using individual poems like sections of a quilt - putting them together to make more and different meanings through juxtaposition and combination.  Announcements from the Planetarium contains most of my Mixtape Series and all four parts of the Speculative Music Theory quartet; to make this lyric quilt, I've separated them, mingling them with multiple other poems.  I like the way this works, and I hope you do too.  [Get the book direct from the publisher: Flowstone ... or, if you're in Portland, Oregon, there may  be copies in stock at Broadway Books, Backstory Books, or Like Nobody’s Business ... or, come to a reading and buy one from me.]

 

 

Excerpt

A disagreement among friends sitting in the park on a bench in the sun

One says the hardest part
about being old is admitting
to yourself you actually are.

But it’s not hard for my old woman.
She loves saying it: I’m old now!
She says this to herself, and she
says it to everybody else too.

One says maybe the hardest
thing about it – being old – is
remembering when you were young.

But my old woman loves her young
memory, and before she was born, too:
history! Even the future: triumph of hope
or tragedy. She wants to love the future.
 

Response

Judith Arcana’s poems [are] both familiar and refreshingly strange .... jagged elegies on “time available” and “the short version,” dazzling crows, lonely streets, and mournful seers, with a hyper-realist eye on the past.  Wisdom-riffs earned (wryly) “perhaps as compensation” counterpoint her portraits of loss: of land, water, and the “grandmothers [who]/could move like flowers” yet who, “When we came here, […] would not come.”  And then: she slips away to an urgent world of “wind, shining like the flash inside/my skull—” [to] revere and celebrate freedom ....
 — Judith Vollmer


Dear Judith Arcana,
Not only do I like your book, I love it. Could there ever be a collection more endearing?  Great wit, music, and pacing.  Vivid passionate hungers, all stitched through the nubby fabric of aging with gorgeous shining threads. We can wrap ourselves right up in these poems for courage and verve.
Sincerely yours,
Naomi Shihab Nye

 

NOTE:  When this book first came out, in April of 2017, I did a few radio interviews:  The first, in May of 2017, was with wonderful Carol Newman on her KMUN Community Radio show in Astoria, Oregon; our twenty-five minute conversation begins about five minutes after the start of the show at that link.  Two more radio interviews I enjoyed enormously because of their excellent hosts are on KBOO Community Radio in Portland - one with Patsy Kullberg in June and one with Ken Jones in July.

ALSO: I did a batch of readings to celebrate the book in 2017 and 2018 - at the Astoria Library (out where the Columbia River runs into the sea), Broadway Books, Backstory Books (with Josh Lubin), Stonehenge Studios (with Constance Hall), Portland's NW Library (with Amy Miller), the J. Conrad Dunagan Library of the University of Texas/Permian Basin, the Rainbow Cafe in Auburn, Washington (with the Striped Poets), Another Read Through (with Devon Balwit and Matthew Minicucci), the Ghost Town Poetry series in Vancouver, Washington, the Peregrine series in Lake Oswego, Oregon, the Pond House series in Milwaukie, Oregon and at the Lents Farmers Market in Portland, where there were four of us providing poetry-as-food: Darlene Pagan, Jon Boisvert, Tim Whitsel and me.



Here From Somewhere Else

Judith Arcana poem The Man Who Loves Trees
 
 Photo by nancy hill

Photo by nancy hill

Commentary

This collection of poems was honored with the Editors Choice Poetry Chapbook Award by Turtle Island Quarterly in summer of 2015.  Though Oscar Wilde warned that to be understood is to be found out, I’m grateful to have been understood so well. From Gwyn Kirk’s cover art (“Composting”) to the last poem, this is a record of transition.  Walking through cities, forests and prairies, standing beside rivers and lakes and the sea, the speakers in these poems trace their movement from one geography to another, from one way of being to another.  I wrote some of the poems years ago, and some quite recently; together now, in a narrative order I couldn’t have known and wouldn’t have predicted, they chronicle changing locations and perspectives.  [Get the book direct from the publisher: Left Fork]

Excerpt

The Man Who Loves Trees

loves through the seasons: 
bare trunk, fat buds, full green, wet red
and their names: sweet gum
cypress oak spruce willow maple
red bud forest pansy
and their parts: leaf cone flower
bark root branch boll twig needle
lacy fans of rough crochet, pods
like cigars, like rattling gourds.

He loves their cast-offs crisp on the ground
their sound under his boots on the trail
rustling, breaking down into dust. 
He loves, later, their sawn boards: 
wood, its grain a watery maze
polished, rubbed into light, glowing
still with heat from the heart of the tree
like his own heart, pumping dark liquid
out to the limbs, out to his own warm hands.
 

Response

Here From Somewhere Else, Judith Arcana’s gorgeous new collection, has movement at its core. Many of these poems are fueled by questions—questions that generate a powerful urgency and contribute to the book’s compelling internal momentum. A curious voice and generous heart guide us through Arcana’s geographical and emotional landscapes; I was delighted but not surprised that here, love gets the very last word.

Jennifer Richter
- author of the poetry collections Threshold and No Acute Distress



Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture

Commentary

Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture, winner of the Minerva Rising Prose Prize in 2014, is rooted in pre-Roe abortion work and the realization that our situation is worse now (in the USA) than it was then. The story takes place in the near-future:  A woman is working on a movie about the Chicago police raid on the feminist underground abortion service in 1972.  Soon is one of several stories I've written about abortion and tattoos; some are online, one's a zine; for more info, check out this site's JANE page, and watch Jodi Darby’s trailer. For poems about reproductive justice and motherhood, read WHAT IF YOUR MOTHER.  [Get the book direct from the publisher: Minerva]


Excerpt

 Photo by Nancy Hill

Photo by Nancy Hill

I remember two women from the holding tank, when the seven of us, the Janes, got put in with them. Even right now, while I’m telling you this, I can see both women clearly. It’s weird, isn’t it, what we remember? And what we don’t? The first time I tried to write this, I didn’t know who took care of the baby while I was working. Which is truly bizarre because at the time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the baby. There was the breast milk situation plus fear – I was thinking: What if they take my baby away because I’ve been arrested? And: If I do time, he won’t know me. That was in my head all day, and it was a long day; we started doing abortions about nine, got busted at three, got to the lockup around midnight.
 

Response

Judith Arcana offers a fascinating perspective into the struggle for abortion rights in the 1970s, a story more relevant now than ever. Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture is fiction based on the true story of the arrest of the “Abortion Seven” on May 3, 1972 – and it’s an examination of the nature of memory, the spaces in history where fiction seeps in. The story’s narrator, who is making a movie about the event, raises questions of who to cast, what to include, and how to structure a film – creating at once an inventive way to write about history and a meditation on the territory between memoir and fiction, a keen rumination on the art-making process and all its attendant questions: In the end, what do we keep, and what do we cut away?
- Laura Moulton, Executive Director & Street Librarian/Street Books



Keesha and Joanie and JANE

Commentary

I'm a Jane; I worked in Chicago's pre-Roe underground abortion service. "Keesha and Joanie and JANE" – the story in this zine – is rooted in that work. Set in the near future, it's a story about young women struggling to respond to the elimination of abortion access in the USA. I was lucky to have this zine published by Charles Overbeck at Eberhardt Press - he created the design/concept (the PLAYBILL parody, ads and all) - and he decided to use my mug shot, taken by the Chicago police when they busted the abortion service in early May of 1972. He put that picture right on the cover, illustrating the fact of the matter: when abortion is illegal, it's not health care - or even a medical procedure - it's a crime.  [Get the book direct from the publisher]

Check out this website's JANE page for useful links. I've also written poems about reproductive justice; here they are, in What if your mother.

Excerpt

 photo by gwyn kirk

photo by gwyn kirk

I’ve got a question. I’m serious when I ask this, don’t think I’m not. I mean, I’m a medical student, and I’m straight, and I’m 26 years old, and I’ve had classes with the most poisonously anti-abortion prof at OHSU and I’ve got a grandmother who’s a far right Christian – she freaked when I did clinic defense in high school – but I have never been able to figure out where all this comes from.  Bernie stands up and keeps talking: I mean, why do they think the way they do? Why did the US anti-abortion movement happen? What’s really bothering them? I’ve studied this history, so I know that nobody else, in any other country, at any other time, ever created a homegrown anti-abortion movement on anything like this scale. And we know all their “pro-life” talk is fake – that’s not what they’re about. Their movement’s not against the death penalty, they’re not against war or police shoot-to-kill, they don’t say a word about torture, they don’t care much about poverty, they haven’t set up a system to take care of abandoned kids – she stops to take big breath here – and lots of them don’t like contraception either, so they don’t seem to want women to be able to prevent unplanned pregnancy. They don’t even seem to be working to clean up the planet; they’re not stopping that kind of destruction-of-life. So, what is it, really, that makes them hate abortion so much? I’m serious – what is it? This drives me crazy! And besides, I have to know what to tell my daughter.


Response

Despite Roe v. Wade, access to safe abortions has become tenuous in the USA. In “Keesha and Joanie and JANE,” Judith Arcana playfully speculates about what might happen if we put young radical activists at a table with their elders for some hard conversation, tactical organizing and learning from the past to make a better future. The result is complicated, funny, troubling and hopeful – and hard to put down!
- Honna Veerkamp, Media Artist and Organizer

I love the way “Keesha and Joanie and JANE” poses important questions for women in an intergenerational conversation – that connection is one of the very most important tasks we feminists need to address. Using myth, history and facts, this story cleverly points out generational differences and similarities – and the importance of contributions from women of different ages and experiences. This is good work!
- Sharon Barker, Director Emerita/Women’s Resource Center, University of Maine

As an activist, I’m struck by how the JANEBILL captures our position: the ideas, paralysis, aspirations and frustrations of trying to preserve and expand our right to safe abortion – even as access decreases every month. Here’s hoping this zine sparks readers to keep finding ways to push back against those who want to take away our basic human right to control our bodies and our lives.
- Susan Yanow, Founding Executive Director, Abortion Access Project

With the eye of a poet and the grasp of an activist, Judith Arcana deftly brings past, present and future into one brilliant intergenerational encounter in “Keesha and Joanie and JANE.” In this story, workers from JANE, the real-life abortion service in pre-Roe Chicago, meet with young women in an imagined future. Though replication of their actions is impossible, they insist that history is ours, now, for the taking – a taking by new generations living with new realities. Arcana offers complex thinking wrapped in engaging characters and dialogue – an impressive offering to readers in pursuit of the truth of women’s lives.
- Cindy Cooper, Founder and Producer/Words of Choice: A National Prochoice Theater
(read Cindy Cooper's blog about Keesha and Joanie and JANE)

If you’ve ever wanted a conversation with heroes from history, this tough-talking, lively tour-de-force of politics and art is for you! Judith Arcana brings the past, present and future together in this natural, accessible discussion of abortion and reproductive justice – the story-telling in “Keesha and Joanie and JANE” is mesmerizing. 
- Minnie Bruce Pratt, Lesbian, Writer, Anti-racist/Anti-imperialist Activist

Judith Arcana’s JANEBILL - storytelling that is simultaneously about the past and the future of abortion in the United States - is vital, funny, and stirring reading for anyone who cares about reproductive justice. In content and format, this zine is an urgent reminder that is it we who must act. 
- Rosemary Candelario, Educator/Organizer/Artist

My mother, at age 75, frets about the threats to reproductive rights, especially since her four granddaughters have no clue about the “bad old days.” I witnessed the transition to a time when women and girls in the US began having greater control over our bodies and our destinies, and share Mom’s fears. “Keesha and Joanie and JANE” is an important reminder – it’s education for us all. 
- Jenice L. View, Teacher/Mother/Activist



The Parachute Jump Effect

 

Commentary

This is a collection of poems about dreaming, thinking, moving and changing. When I was creating the manuscript, I learned – again – that every poem means something different when it’s next to another, different from what it means when it’s alone. Each time I create a book, whether it’s poetry or prose, this phenomenon of connection is a source of amazement to me. I’m repeatedly amazed because, look, here it is again – all this shifting and sliding, this making of new meanings! I can predict this will happen, structurally speaking, even with chapters of prose – but I can’t know what the new meanings will be. Most of the poems in this chapbook were written recently; some were written several years ago. I added the older ones when the new meaning phenomenon kicked in. They floated up to the surface of my mind and memory because this sequence, this source of new meaning, called for them.  [Get the book direct from the publisher: Uttered Chaos Press or, if you're in Portland, Oregon, there was one copy left at Broadway Books in early June, 2017 - you can walk right over there.]

 Photo by daniel arcana

Photo by daniel arcana

Excerpt

Lois, Questions
    Suppose we could telephone the dead. – Jane Cooper

What’s it like out where you are? 
Is it anything we make up, alive and imagining? 
Is it something I can know, or so much not
what we think, I won’t know even if you tell me? 
Is it forever? Is it like religion says? Do you laugh? 
Is there music? Is there eating? Sleeping? 
And if you sleep, do you dream? 
Do you have work? Are the dead a good audience? Do they get it? 
Can you go where you want, or is death organized
by time and geography, like living? 
Can you fly? Can you see me? Are you coming back? 
Will you come home, to the prairie where you used to be? 
Or go somewhere else and live in another language? 
Will you be someone else? A wolverine, or a stalk of corn? 
You might be tomatoes or apples, or spinach on Steve’s farm. 
Do you still have cancer when you’re dead? 
Or does it go away after it kills you? Are you angry? 
Or is there peace in death? What is peace? Can you tell me?

Listen ➤
 

Response

From opening doors inside of dreams to learning lessons from a mountain, from recalling the drowning of Virginia Woolf to telephoning the dead, Judith Arcana pursues both consciousness and lived experience as a seeker of beauty and skeptic of truth. At the heart of the experiences in this book are the elements — fire, water, earth, and sky — that capture the poet’s imagination and give ballast to her world. And there are implied relationships too …. as if The Parachute Jump Effect unveils the seedbed for camaraderie, for connection, for bridging the gap from the celestial to the terrestrial, and for locating the pleasures of memory and time.
- David Biespiel

To read Judith Arcana’s poems in The Parachute Jump Effect, is to feel utterly spoken to. The voice is confiding, intriguing, sometimes humorous, but laced with ominous truths, as in the first two dream poems. There’s great energy in the colloquial language: “Ok, All Right, Yes” ... enchants me with the rightness of its tone. (“You think you’ll live until you die/and hey—ok, all right, yes/you can have that one/that one’s got to come true.”) The collection is held together by its exploration of the thinking process involved in looking for life’s meaning .... [and] uses lyrical language to describe the search. At the shore the narrator is “searching/for what I can’t see as the waves come at me, opening the beach/right under my feet, capturing me/in the swirling tide-quickened sand.” And while these poems invite the reader inside the poet’s mind, they are never abstract as they wander through bakeries and kitchens, drop in on Montana and Colorado and Chicago, and reach the parachute jump that satisfyingly rounds off the book.
- Judith Barrington



4th Period English

cvr-4pe-200.jpg

Commentary

Now back in print!  Here's the history:  In late spring 2008, I was working on a short fiction collection and a book of poems, but they both got shoved aside by characters who showed up talking poetry inside my head.  A structure developed as I wrote, so that by the time more than half a dozen of those characters had popped up in my head, I knew they were students talking and arguing about law, racism, ethnicity, language, community, nations and borders - at a school I called George Washington High School.  By the end of that summer, I knew the collection would be not only a group of poems, but also a theater piece: there they all are, talking to and about each other, scene after scene. Now that the horror and terror of contemporary immigration are even more extreme than they were a decade ago, I hope this collection will again be read and performed in high schools, in colleges, libraries, theaters, and parks.  The original print run (from Ash Creek Press) sold out long ago; Portland's Eberhardt Press has published a new edition (2018), with only a few edits — and with that great cover drawing by Portland artist David Shratter. Copies are available direct from the publisher now. For a free copy of the teaching/performance notes to accompany 4th Period English, scroll down to bottom of this page to send me an email.

 
 Photo by sharon wood WORtman

Photo by sharon wood WORtman

Excerpt

Aurelia, talking

You think we all come from Mexico
and up here maybe that’s the most. 
But also Guatemala — do you know
where that is? And even Colombia
far away as that is from this huerta
far from these apples and pears. 
I wonder if you even know these
other countries are in the world
with you. Like you call your country
America but it isn’t — this place is only
los Estados Unidos, the United States
of America, a chunk of a chunk, a piece
of a piece del norte — ¿comprendes? Do you
know Canada has more land, up there
on top of you? Do you know Brazil
is almost as big, and it’s only one part
of América del Sur, the whole south? 
You think you know where you are, where
everybody is and should be. But do you?

Listen ➤

Response

Judith Arcana’s 4th Period English is so wonderful, I feel privileged to have read it, and I wish it were part of every curriculum starting right now. Listen to the voices of Corazón, Cesar, Mikoor, Huynh Chinh, Kathy and Megan, Jamayah, their teacher Ms Solomon and her neighbor Khatereh Jafari — you’ll think you were there in George Washington High School, Anywhere, USA, surrounded by The World. And you were. This is absolutely terrific writing.
- Alicia Ostriker

These poems are amazing. Inside that strange, raw intersection where immigration and Americanism meet, Judith Arcana’s new collection brings to life a whole population in a typical American high school. Her own strong voice disappears as she seemingly channels Adelita and Vicente, Tiffany and Jason, teachers and tíos, parents and visiting profesores. The stories that emerge here are vulnerable, confused, angry, outraged, tender, and, above all, deeply human.
- Diana Rico

Judith Arcana invites us into an urgent listening exercise that leaves us yearning to befriend the real Verónicas, Tyrones and Ashleys who have inspired these poems. This polyphonic collection is a labor of love and compassion, making readers aware of the painful ways our young people struggle between the myriad borders of this world.
- Alicia Partnoy



What if your mother

 

Commentary

By the end of the 20th century, women’s motherhood decisions in the USA had become, terrifyingly, more severely constrained than they were in 1970, when I became a Jane. I had an eight month sabbatical from my faculty job in 1998, and surprised myself by writing a small set of poems about abortion and adoption. Soon I understood those poems needed to be joined by others, to become a book. So I researched contemporary clinical practice to bring my JANE-era knowledge up to date, increased my work with activists for reproductive justice, read about contemporary adoption methods and experiences, and learned more about the intense insurgence of biotechnology in human conception and birth. This collection is the result of that work.  [Get the book direct from the publisher: Chicory Blue Press or, if you're in Portland, Oregon, there was one copy left at Broadway Books in early June, 2017 - you can walk right over there.]

 photo by jonathan arlook

photo by jonathan arlook

Excerpt

Not really a baby

Most of us think it’s not really a baby
not a baby at all when it’s that small.
We see pictures on a screen, strange
dim images shot back from space. 
But we know science isn’t what you feel.
What you feel comes from inside
movement grandma calls quickening.
Until then we count on the calendar
to where we’d have to be to have it
be a baby: like if you let it grow
those chubby bumps into fingers
it would be because of the fingers
lots of us think it’s a baby then
with legs and arms, even if the eyes
look like they’re from another planet.
That’s when all the pictures fit inside
your family album; that’s when
most of us think it really is a baby.
 

Response

Arcana has written poems about a subject so complex and difficult that I could not imagine them being written …. she tackles the whole range of situations and emotions …. She’s articulated the impossible and … given us a way to think about what couldn’t have been thought.
– Toi Derricotte

Judith Arcana's .... words speak the clear, bloody truth of women's fight for reproductive freedom .... taking readers ... on a journey through ... the unspoken and the unspeakable ... the real and the inevitable .... tell[ing] the real story about mothering, not the Hallmark version ....
– Jill Scott in Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering (Canada)

This inspired collection … covers the gamut of reproductive issues from mothering to miscarriages and women’s bodies to babies … delivered by a true poet.
- Conscience

This book … is about the reality of women’s lives, as daughters, lovers, mothers, and women who choose not to be mothers …. the beauty, the pain, the tragedy, the joy and the power ….
Network for Reproductive Options Newsletter

Lyric, varied, funny, moving, full of lively stories and authentic voices …. this book will change the definition of political poetry.
– Annie Finch

The title poem … should be made into a poster and pinned up on the wall in every clinic in the United States.
– Peter Bours, MD, longtime abortion provider

 


Grace Paley's Life Stories

Grace Paley's Life Stories.jpg
 
 photo by sharon farmer

photo by sharon farmer

Commentary

NEWS FLASH! Eberhardt Press is bringing a new edition into print — it’ll be out for Grace’s birthday this year (December 11); we are happily grateful for the amazing support of those who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign. You can now order copies direct from the publisher.

In the early nineteen-eighties, I became interested in biography, and decided my next book would be about a writer, a woman, so I could learn from her (as Grace said about Virginia Woolf, I wanted to learn how she did it). In 1984, I started graduate school; Grace showed up at a conference nearby in my first semester. When I heard her talk – about politics, writing, and the politics of writing – I knew she was the one for me. So I wrote literary biography for my dissertation and, a few years after graduation, turned the dissertation into a real book, writing for an audience far beyond my doctoral committee. From those years ‘til her death in August of 2007, we were friends; we had a good time together. 

 photo by annie leibovitz

photo by annie leibovitz

Grace Paley was one of the great masters of the short story form; her work serves as a standard for anyone and everyone writing stories, in any language, in any country. She also wrote poems and essays that tell us, in her startlingly clear voice, things we need to know. Her work in the streets of our beleagured nation has been neither less nor more important than her work on the page; these two forms, these ways of being and doing, together comprise her lifework. 

Grace was one of the “famous” contemporary women who understand that their success is fostered by women’s liberation movement, by feminist consciousness. She knew – and said – that only a few critics and opinion-makers paid serious attention to her until waves of women lifted and carried her, buying her books by the thousands.

By the time of her death, Grace had become a national treasure in the USA, both loved and honored. Because of her joyous, funny, smart and intensely interested years of living, people in countries all over the world gratefully celebrate her.

Excerpt

Grace Paley believes that we are all creatures of our time, born and formed in history. Her stories always carry the past within their present, even as both turn amazingly into the future. Every story, she has said, is at least two stories, and her own often include more than two plots, more than two sets of characters, more than two “central” themes. This is one of the ways in which her work is most true and most autobiographical, for the stories of our lives never do separate and line up neatly into diagrammable, chronological plots. Instead, our stories weave in and out erratically, absorbing and eclipsing each other in turn, moving back and forth through history, which contains them all....

 photo by dorothy marder

photo by dorothy marder

Out of the PTA and into the streets, she had developed into a charismatic speaker and organizer. Like the voices of her fictional narrators, her own voice is compelling. In the gritty charm of its Bronx cadence and pronunciation, Grace’s voice is easy to understand, compellingly sincere, simple and intimate, revelatory and explanatory without being directive; her public style is no less personal than her immediate presence. A live model of the feminist axiom – the personal is political – Grace Paley often catalyzes and embodies the thoughts and feelings of her audience as she speaks....

When she thinks about having become 'a literary person,' Grace agrees that the transformation took place over a long period and was almost imperceptible. She rarely speaks of the long time it took for her to define herself as a writer, but she willingly generalizes from her own experience to comment on how difficult it is for women to be taken seriously – even in the midst of success. In 1984 … Grace addressed this issue [at a conference, and is quoted as] “saying that her stories were considered nice, little unimportant stories about domestic situations. As if to prove her point, an article in the Chicago Tribune about th[at] conference referred to her as an ‘intellectual version of Erma Bombeck.’ [and don’t even think about what that foolish phrase implies about the estimable Ms. Bombeck]...."

Response

When told that the University of Illinois Press had taken it out of print, Grace Paley exclaimed: “Oh! People love that book!”

If you want to know how Grace Paley came to be a tireless political activist and renowned writer — and how she united these callings so completely — read GRACE PALEY’S LIFE STORIES.  Judith Arcana interviewed Paley and her family during the 1980s, with Paley in the thick of the complex life she made look so simple.  The result of Arcana’s work is a book unlike any other I know -- not a big brick of biography, nor an opaque literary study.  The words in the title, Life Stories, are exactly right: This book is the story of the life from which Grace Paley made her extraordinary stories.   ...... Carol Sklenicka, Author of Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life — and — Much Love: The Life and Work of Alice Adams  

We must keep GRACE PALEY'S LIFE STORIES always available.  Grace is still an exemplar to writers who would tell good stories, and to citizens who would save the world.  ....... Maxine Hong Kingston 

Judith Arcana’s biography of Grace Paley interweaves biography, social history and literary criticism to create an astute and endearing portrait of a woman who lived large in both literature and political activism.  ....... Patricia Kullberg, Author of Girl in the River — and — On the Ragged Edge of Medicine

"Tackles the question we all secretly have about our writers: how much is literature and how much is their lives? This witty, insightful book is full of Paley's quirky charm, tenacious integrity, and exuberant activism .... a delight for … fans of Paley and new readers intrigued by the connection between peace, justice, and art." …… Minnie Bruce Pratt

I first met Grace at a book release party in New York.  It was a swanky affair in the Theater District; Grace arrived wearing a strange assortment of clothes, her shoes caked with mud, as if she had walked out of her Vermont garden and into the restaurant. She was smiling her big smile and reaching out to touch her friends, oblivious of the “see and be seen” atmosphere.  GRACE PALEY’S LIFE STORIES captures that spirit as it tells the story of the years she was writing her three remarkable fiction collections. This is a very important book about one of our most important writers.   — Ruth Gundle, Publisher, The Eighth Mountain Press

"Such extensive research is unmatched in Paley scholarship; Arcana's focus on the political crucible of Paley's consciousness is rare in contemporary literary criticism." …… Google Books

................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

Here are a few minutes of Ken Jones' interview with me on KBOO Community Radio in Portland; he asked about Grace when we were talking about my new poetry book in July of 2017 - listen here (use the second audio strip).

Lilly Rivlin's 74 minute video documentary about Grace is described here.

With this audio strip, you can listen to CircleA Radio's hour-long show honoring Grace a few months after her death in 2007; I talked with them in the studio. The show includes several clips of her, reading & talking on different occasions.

 
 



Every Mother's Son

Commentary

In 1971, I gave birth to my son and immediately began to worry about whether it would be possible for me, raising him, to counteract the forces of conventional male socialization.  I did the research for this book hoping it would help me figure out if we had a chance, any chance at all. Could mothers withstand, or at least lessen, the fearsome impact of patriarchy and male supremacy? Could we do that and, at the same time, raise our boys to be people with full human possibility alive in them? Could they grow to be their real selves (as my son said)? Every Mother’s Son was the first feminist analysis of the mother/son relationship published in the USA and, for too long, was one of very few such books. [Out of print but in lots of libraries - and often found online in both the US and UK editions.]


Excerpt

 photo by michael pildes

photo by michael pildes

Mothers … raising male children … confront … the pattern which has produced nonurturant, emotionally unresponsive, highly competitive and materially oriented males … given to verbal and physical violence, to the domination and frequent abuse of children and women …. We’ve been trapped with our sons, imprisoned in false ways of being … by a culture whose very language turns mother into mocking profanity, son into demeaning insult. But if sons can recognize that there is no danger to them inherent in the mother, discarding the layers of masculinity that cover their humanity, and if mothers will undertake the painful struggle to restore our integrity as women, then mothers and sons can begin to break the constraints of fear and anger between us.


Response

A shocking book, in a cleansing, salutary way – I loved it. Against the fashionable tendency to regard women and men as planetary opposites, Judith Arcana reaffirms the ancient bond between sons and their mothers, reminding us of what the human species can accomplish if we own it together.
– Martha Roth

This book is truly a major work of feminist analysis.
– Joseph Pleck

Arcana compassionately takes mothers and sons together, guiding us carefully toward the hope we will not use our power against each other.
– Carol Kleiman

A provocative read … compelling, fascinating.
Chartist (UK)



Our Mothers' Daughters

Commentary

In the 1970’s, I was one of many women inventing and teaching Women’s Studies. In every class, no matter what the subject was, we inevitably talked about our relationships with our mothers, about the pain and confusion surrounding those relationships. When the students and I went looking for information and insight, we found very little, and very little of what we found was useful. Misogyny and mother-blaming were omnipresent, and Freud’s ignorance about women loomed large. This book grew out of my search as a scholar and my life as a daughter. It was one of the first feminist analyses of this crucial relationship, and it rose directly out of the intense struggle for women’s liberation in the second half of the 20th century in the USA.  [Out of print but in lots of libraries - and often found online in both the US and UK editions.]


Excerpt

… all of us must confront the reality of our mothers, as the women they are, and as they live in us – even if they are thousands of miles away or dead. Whether we come to the truth of our mothers through our politics, the guidance of therapy, or the revelations of dreams, we need that truth to break down both the generally false concept of “mother” in this society, and whatever specifically false stance we hold relative to our own mothers. For mothers and daughters to relate to each other in truth – even sporadically – is a terrible struggle for both women.
 

Response

It blew my mind … Judith Arcana’s book suggests to us the possibility of ceasing to blame our mothers for making us the people we are … Already this precious little book, much thumbed and pored over, has passed amongst my friends and acquaintances.
Honey (UK)

Beautifully written ... a welcome addition for any woman's bookshelf. Whether you read it as a mother, a daughter, or both - it might help you understand life a little better than before.
Woman's World (UK)

[This is]… a rare and valuable book, telling and illuminating. She manages to evoke memories, capture yearnings and represent profound pleasures and griefs that many women share. Most important, she reminds us of the mother-daughter-mother circle in the lives of women, newly poignant in the light of the present women’s movement.
- Mary Howell

A first rate account. The paradox of family life is that we all know about it existentially, yet we know nothing of the common threads that make family life so important, so enriching, and so terrible. Judith Arcana has given us a real gift in offering her perspective on family socialization, developed from both personal insight and systematic research.    
- Arlene Kaplan Daniels

[Judith Arcana's Our Mothers' Daughters was] written with a generosity of spirit and healthy curiosity.    
- Jane Marcus

[This book is] … humanistic, it doesn’t seek to blame … it asks you to see your mother as a woman of her time who did the best with what she had.    
- John Doh (“genericbloke” online)