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Molly Peacock

Molly Peacock is an American-Canadian poet, essayist, biographer and speaker, whose multi-genre literary life also includes memoir, short fiction, and a one-woman show.

Blurbs

“There’s a spellbinding intimacy here, between analyst and patient, the two women characters, and, most importantly, between poet and reader. A compelling examination of how much we depend on others, especially when it comes to ‘seeing’ ourselves through someone else’s eyes. Needless to say, the real subject is love.”

– - Philip Schultz

“With gusto, compassion, and wit matched by consummate craft and remarkable tonal range, Peacock revels in the liberties of language. The stroke of the ‘intimate witness’ (the poet’s beloved analyst) spurs a series of lyric meditations on the forces that shape and reshape identity. With the singular achievement of her seventh collection, Peacock transforms her art.”

– - Phillis Levin

“Guided to ‘listen, question, and watch things heal,’ I felt both the sting of recognition and the balm of comfort in these honest, graceful poems.”

– - Rachel Zucker

“Psychoanalysis has always been of a piece with the various languages of literature―a kind of practical poetry―taking its life, as theory and practice, from a larger world of words. A session lasts 50 minutes, [and it’s] always at the same time each week, the way a sonnet is 14 lines. As Molly Peacock superbly demonstrates in The Analyst, the form makes possible the articulation.”

– - Adam Phillips

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Featured Book

The Analyst

The Analyst by Molly Peacock

09/01/17

The Analyst is an elegy for a living woman—at least, for the position she once held. She was the psychoanalyst the poet confided in and relied on for decades. A stroke now prevents the analyst from working in that capacity. In addition, this book invokes elegies for other losses in the poet’s life: the death of her father, mother, sister, an abortion, a divorce. The therapist supported Peacock throughout that painful sequence of events. But now, as the beloved mentor succumbs to limitations imposed by the stroke, Peacock—in a role reversal—becomes more whole and vital.

She does this by looking back. For example, the broken relationship with the author’s sister was put into perspective by this remarkable therapist. Peacock writes, “Thank you for witnessing this use of the imagination: / I began to creep away from the crevasse, / it was war, away from the ocean of her heroin addiction.”

It would be an oversight not to see these poems as also mourning facets of Peacock’s self, “I believe in being killed, and I believe in poetry.” In release, in “dying,” she is liberated to create. The role(s) the analyst played through transference—as lifeline and confidant—have been manifested in the therapeutic act of writing poetry. However, healing is rarely perfect or complete. Peacock admits:

And partly healed injuries have
their own torque … Bones
(minds have bones) grow even
after they’re operated on …
human growth is complicated

As she delves into her abiding love for the analyst, she also explores how that woman has helped her to navigate and endure anguish:

Thank you for not believing me when I said I was suicidal
(my dad had died and evaporated into smoke
—that rageful man, yes, slowly I admitted I had
half his genes—bomb—vaporous beneath
the heavy gray apartment door).

Each death, or transformation, is guided by the loving perception of the titular analyst. In addition to being an elegy for the relationships and histories that have been subsumed by others, this poignant book is also a love letter to the confidant:

Thank you for that silhouette I saw
wearing your earrings and belt
as I stood at a podium before a darkened theater,
the vast audience unmoved after I failed to entertain.

Now, that stalwart mother-figure has been felled by fate and physiology. As the beloved analyst abandons speech, the tool of her métier, she learns to wield another one like a wand: the paint brush. She returns to an old love—painting. Although this actually occurred, it can also be seen as a metaphor for the growth that the analysand shared with her analyst. Indeed, this book is a tribute to the transformational power of art. While the title refers to the therapist, Peacock—her patient, student, daughter—has been reborn and redeemed through her multifaceted literary gifts: “[Y]es, each of us is many-roomed.” This is a nod to the word “stanza,” meaning “room” in Italian. Certainly, Peacock is a deft practitioner of the architectonic aspects of poetry. As such, it is worth noting the range of forms and voices that swirl with authority throughout this collection. It’s as if each poem were searching for the boundary beyond which pain ceases to exist. And yet ache (rage and fear) drives these poems. They fuse into a dissonant dirge:

Our jaws could eat cement.
Anger chomped at
the marriage wall
ate the glass windows of friendship
and bled from its stone teeth,
muttering, Oh not, I am not, at all, at all
I am not at all

The elegiac focus extends to a contemplation of the poet’s own mortality, which she handles without ever being maudlin or melodramatic. We even catch a glimpse of the brutality of American history. At the New York Historical Society, the poet and her analyst catch sight of Dying Indian Chief, Contemplating the Progress of Western Civilization: “You duck beneath him with your wobbly cane / then upturn your face toward his, contemplating // his sober view of hysterical society.” This brings to mind The Dying Gaul, a sculpture that captures the anguish of conquest, the erasure of a culture, and death. How the human body is like history, with its fragility and indignities. The trope of the stroke extends its shadow. This recalls Susan Sontag’s seminal book, Illness as Metaphor and Aids and Its Metaphors. Despite lamentation, a striving to prevail permeates these varied poems:

and live the raw I am, as you do now,
relearning how to show

the few of us who stay in touch
how to twist and learn.

Variety enlivens the forms of the poems. Form, for which Peacock is prodigious and rightfully famous, has been liberated into a new, more raucous version. The effect is thrilling. Formed, yes. Formal (in the sense of solemn and constricted), no. These trenchant poems burst every seam that attempts to bind them. The result is one of luxuriantly musical phrasing. Here, Peacock employs terza rima:

Three Tibetan monks make a sand painting
(under spotlights) in a reverential hush,
the circular world before them everything:

a cosmos, a brain, a divine palace lush
with lotuses and pagodas in children’s
paintbox colors. “Excuse me, my friend is

recovering from an accident …”

To enter more deeply into the world of images as words, Peacock bends her voice to a place where visual details take over. The image, like a Chinese character, carries the weight of thought and emotion. In this, she inhabits the analyst’s visual locus, where color and form have meaning, where a leaf flickering in a breeze is a poem. Simile is too tenuous. Transformation occurs; this is the realm of metaphor.

                        Here,
when all are there,
the sky shows through
a peephole: a leaf hole
shapes
getting nowhere
out of the blue.

Through loss upon loss, metamorphosed into the marrow of Peacock’s language, she writes, “Only when / something’s over can its shape materialize.” The losses reconstruct themselves from vapor, rise from these pages, and insert themselves into the reader’s mind, where they will not be forgotten.

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