New and Selected Poems 1975-2002
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ($26.95)
by Corinne Robins
Cornucopia, a collection centered on the richness of love and pain, examines the role of woman as sex object from the female point of view, its elegant verse forms laying out for the reader the joys and burdens of familial and sensual love. Sex is the all inclusive road, the way. On the book jacket, Robert Creeley states the book proves Molly Peacock's "genius for saying the most necessary things." He's right: Cornucopia offers the reader a kind of 'wisdom poetry', poems whose insights inspire a momentary pause created by the light of recognition. But there are no moral adages here. In Peacock's work nothing is allowed to remain abstract. Her wisdom and morality are grounded in an unsparing sensuality that in turn is grounded in exactitude. The reach of her body, the richness of her experience, leads her to conclude, "Life's cache is flesh, flesh, flesh."
The artist Matisse once explained that he didn't paint objects but the relations between objects, and this same facility is the source of the power of Peacock's narrative poems. To name two examples, "Subway Vespers" and "Good-bye Hello in the East Village" offer transitional situations transformed by the poet's personal insight, insight born of a sharp-eyed unflinching honesty that delights in self discovery. Both are story poems, but the stories turn in upon themselves, hinged by an underlying philosophical morality. Then there are the poems that are the poet's dialogues with herself, poems that go beyond questions of morality. From the new poems in the volume, The Land Of The Shí, "Repair" describes our inner break-downs, minor losses, and self-destructions that take place over the "dim peeling of years." Peacock is unsparing of herself and her readers when it comes to the psychic damage that piles up over our heads. From the ironic "Repair" on the one hand, and the frightening "The Hunt" on the other, she sums up extremes of the human condition-inescapable conditions that apply to us all.
Peacock has opted to pack her rather savage insights into the most refined and formal verse forms. The rhymes are often a miracle of fancy footwork, where sound balances the poet's fractured search for how to construct a spiritual world from sensual information. Seductive earthy metaphors appear within the framework of carefully wrought sonnets. She dares to use words like "soul"; it is no accident that one of her earlier books was titled Raw Heaven. Such seemingly old-fashioned language should only momentarily disarm. Peacock is a religious poet in the tradition of John Donne, a poet involved with the before and after life, describing herself as the "kind of Person who stops to look" at road kill. Always for her, seeing equals feeling. Peacock has her eyes fixed on what's around, celebrating the lovely gaiety of animals in the poem "Petting and Being a Pet," for example, which leads her to discover our own need for touch- that "touch makes being make sense."
The making sense of life through language is for Peacock the poet's job. It is not merely for their verbal felicity that people treasure certain handfuls of words. The words in Peacock's arsenal takes us by surprise as they ask and answer question of human experience that continue to haunt. No doubt this is what Robert Creeley means by delighting in Molly Peacock's genius "for saying the most necessary things."