I came across this poem the other day and it so reminded me of myself when I am trying to escape from writing because the muse has fled to the kitchen.

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative
by Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

On December 11 it was the birthday of American writer, teacher, and political activist Grace Paley (1922) (books by this author), best known for collections of short stories that plumbed the complexities of female life, like Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974) and Later the Same Day (1985). Paley once said, “I’m not writing a history of famous people. I am interested in a history of everyday life.”

Grace Paley was born in the Bronx and grew up in household where Russian, Yiddish, and English were all spoken. She liked reading, especially T.S. Eliot and Marcel Proust, but managed to get through high school without once raising her hand. When she did finally raise it, it was during a poetry class with W.H. Auden at The New School for Social Research, when he asked, “Are there any poets who would like to speak to me?” They met at a cafeteria and she asked if she should keep writing. Auden answered, “If you’re a writer, you’ll write no matter what.”

Paley married, had children, and became active in the anti-war movement of the 1960s, joining the War Resisters League and refusing to pay taxes as part of the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest.” She started writing stories about the women she met at the playground and at rallies. She typed her stories while working in the office of the PTA at P.S. 41 on Eleventh Street. Her first book, Little Disturbances of Man, was published in 1959.

It took Paley a long time to write and in her lifetime, she published just three collections of fiction and three chapbooks of poetry. She had no apologies. She said, “Art is too long, and life is too short.”

On writing, Grace Paley said: “The best training is to read and write, no matter what. Don’t live with a lover or a roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Don’t lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.”




I invite you to share a story about a woman who inspires you.  Just put your story name and link to your site in the comments section.  We can never have too many stories about inspiring women.


Information in this post was provided by The Writer’s Almanac.
“The Poet’s Occasional Alternative” by Grace Paley from Begin Again. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000.


About Bernadette

I live in the small town of Haddonfield, NJ. I am at an age in my life when I seem to spend time thinking and musing about life. These musings are usually stimulated by my walks through Haddonfield, my reading of books and fellow bloggers, and my interaction with my group of fabulous family and friends.

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