Jump to content, Jump to navigation.

Amber Paulen

Sleeping With Cats by Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy

Sleeping with Cats

This story is about the central relationships in my life and how I survived the bad ones and was strengthened by the good ones. It is primarily about me, but my life has had a spine of cats, and it is also about them.

Why I chose to read Marge Piercy’s autobiography before any of her fiction is maybe mostly because of the title; it is an indulgence for me, to mix literature and cats. Marge Piercy is great at characterizing the cats that have passed through her life. They work as a touchstone in this memoir: through the wide variety of what she has lived, her cats have always been there. Another reason why I chose to read her autobiography first: Marge Piercy is a writer who has lived.

Marge Piercy grew up in working class Detroit, with an over-worked housewife mother and a distant father. When she earned a full-ride scholarship to University of Michigan, her parents were appalled that she should go to study: they had dreamed she would grow up to become a secretary. She married a Frenchman, then divorced him when it was readily apparent they weren’t working. Met Robert Shapiro, married him. After some years, while they were living in New York City, he decided he wanted an open relationship, which continued for many years until she met Ira Wood—15 years her younger—with whom she is happily living in their house on Cape Cod.

Besides writing poetry and fiction, Marge Piercy was very politically active, first in the anti-war movement and then in feminism. She organized, she protested, cooked and housed whoever was in need. At times, she reminded me of Doris Lessing, who wrote vividly in her autobiography about the Communist movement in Rhodesia, how she tried to fit in writing between every other commitment. Eventually, Marge Piercy’s writing began to get published, first her poetry then her fiction, by work and endurance.

Throughout the book, Piercy places intermittent snapshots of her current life on Cape Cod. She shows the reader all she has worked for, how she has formed her life, lifting writing to all importance. She writes about her garden, her house and the wild animals, plants and landscape, her cats and Ira Wood. It is an idyllic and envious life that I would wish to have after an active life like hers.

One of my favorite thing about Sleeping with Cats (besides the cats) was Marge Piercy’s poetry at the end of each chapter. The poems act as a sort of summary, often stories in themselves, employing an economy of metaphors and language. They are written in free verse and often about the experience of being a woman, writing which Marge Piercy is often known for.

In the beginning, Piercy writes, This memoir focuses on my emotional life, not on my literary or political adventures. But still, as a memoir of a writer I found myself wishing I knew what she was reading at certain times in her life; the reading being food for the writing and living. As a reader, much of my imaginative life is taken up with the books I read and the stories I sew from them, which must be somewhat true of Piercy herself. I wanted a clearer picture of the writer as woman, not the woman as writer.

My life has been full of blunder, misprisions, accidents, losses, so no wonder I forget. If I did not forget much, how could I possibly continue? At the end, I will forget everything.

There is plenty of mortality in Sleeping with Cats, lots of moments within the chaos of life, of coming to the surface, of being human. Marge Piercy is a wise woman with experience to back up her wisdom. Now I can move on to her fiction.


·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·