Peacock, Molly

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Nationality: American. Born: Buffalo, New York, 30 June 1947. Education: State University of New York, Binghamton, B.A. (magna cum laude) 1969; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland (Danforth Fellow), M.A. (honors) 1976. Family: Married Michael Groden. Career: Director of academic advising, 1970–73, and coordinator of innovational projects, 1973–75, State University of New York, Binghamton; poet-in-residence, Delaware State Arts Council, Wilmington, 1978–81; learning specialist, Friends Seminary, New York, 1981–92. Artist-in-residence, MacDowell Colony, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1989, and Yaddo Colony, 1980, 1982. Visiting lecturer, Poetry One-to-One Conferences, since 1985, YMCA Unterberg Poetry Center, New York, since 1986, Hofstra University, Hempstead, Long Island, New York, 1986, 1988, Columbia University, New York, 1987, Barnard College, 1989, 1990, and New York University, 1989. President, 1989–94, and since 1994 co-president, Poetry Society of America. Since 1992 contributing editor, House & Garden; spoken word editor, Oxygen Media, 1999. Awards: Creative Arts Public Service award, 1977; Ingram Merrill Foundation award, 1978, 1988; New York Foundation for the Arts award, 1985, 1990; National Endowment for the Arts award, 1990; Woodrow Wilson Foundation fellow, 1994–2000. Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Grinberg Literary Management, 226 West 23 Street, #3, New York, New York 10011. Address: 505 East 14th Street, #3G, New York, New York 10009, U.S.A., and 229 Emery Street East, London, Ontario N6C 2E3, Canada.



And Live Apart. Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1980.

Raw Heaven. New York, Random House, 1984.

Take Heart. New York, Random House, 1989.

Original Love: Poems. New York, Norton, 1995.


Paradise, Piece by Piece (memoir). New York, Riverhead, and Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1998.

How to Read a Poem & Start a Poetry Circle. New York, Riverhead, and Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1999.

Co-editor, Poetry in Motion: 100 Poems from the Subways and Buses. New York, Norton, 1996.

Co-editor, The Private I: Private Life in a Public Age. The Graywolf Forum 2000. Minneapolis, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 2001.


Critical Studies: "A Venusian Sends a Postcard Home" by Christopher Benfey, in Parnassus (New York), 12(2), 1985; "Traditional Form and the Living, Breathing American Poet" by Fred Muratori, in New England Review/Breadloaf Quarterly (Boston), 9(2), winter 1986; "Four from Prospero" by David Wojahn, in Georgia Review (Athens), 43(3), fall 1989; interview with Andreas Gripp, in Afterthoughts, 5(3), fall/winter 1998–99; in The Ghost of Tradition: Expansive Poetry and Postmodernism, by Kevin Walzer, Ashland, Oregon, Story Line Press, 1999.

Molly Peacock comments:

Subjects that are often explosive in nature and verse that often experiments with traditional form are some characteristics of my poetry. The main theme that has concerned me is love in all its manifestations: family love, eroticism, love of self, altruism, religious love, and hatred, of course, too. I favor honesty that sometimes shocks and temper this with the traditional music of rhyme; therefore even the most painful subjects are examined with lush language and a sense of play. The poems in Raw Heaven spin off from the traditional sonnet, with highly sensual points of view. In Take Heart I use greater dramatic tension, writing about an alcoholic father, abortion, religious faith, and nuclear war.

In Original Love I look at love in its making: romance, marriage, friendship, and mother love. How to Read a Poem & Start a Poetry Circle examines thirteen talisman poems of mine, from an anonymous lyric by a medieval woman to Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Clare, Jane Kenyon, Elizabeth Bishop, and Jane Kenyon. Each chapter tells the story of a relationship with a poem, incorporating ways to read it. Paradise, Piece by Piece, my literary memoir, traces the maverick sanity of the major decisions of my life—deciding to be a poet, deciding against motherhood, and taking a flying leap into marriage with a man I rediscovered after twenty years. What I enjoy about my writing is the sense of humor, the sensuous boldness, and the clear structures that display—and balance—the complexities of the world.

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Molly Peacock is part of that generation of American poets who came of age during the Vietnam War, the largest single such generation in American history, a group that cut its aesthetic teeth on dadaism, surrealism, and the "logic of classical consummations" that modernism, perhaps erroneously, presupposed to be its inheritance and trial. Peacock's generation, much influenced by feminism, is primarily revisionary, formed by electronic American life and propelled by the apocalyptic psychoanalytical and political imperatives of a relentless questioning of what is conscious and what is unconscious, what is private and what is public, what is spirit and exactly where spirit becomes entangled with the body of matter as matters move their way. This generation has entered literature somewhat as a handheld cannon enters a push-button war, and the Freudian under-garments of such imagery are something Peacock's poetry has much explored.

Peacock's body of work is rightly identified as being an important part of the resurgence of inherited forms that took place in the poetry of America beginning in the 1980s. Her contribution, distinguished by its metaphysical idiom and approach, is marked by idiosyncrasies that call to mind Marianne Moore's work, while it was Elizabeth Bishop's poetry that released Peacock into the colloquial eloquence she has made purely—with imperfection as part of her aesthetic—her own. Peacock has found her freedom in being bound, and her signature use of rhyme, employed for dramatic effect, has been particularly inventive, amusing, and skilled. In "She Lays" (from Raw Heaven), one of Peacock's hallmark poems, a scene of masturbation is a poignant occasion both linguistically, sexually, and socially: "… revelation without astonishment, / understanding what is meant. / This is world-love. This is lost I'm."

A reader moves through Peacock's obsessive rhyme schemes, sometimes further conceptualized by use of an anagram or some other a priori warp, with both ease and inevitability. It is not so much end rhyme that gives her work a formal poise, though incessant end rhyme is characteristic, but more to the point is the deployment of endless sound chambers in her poems that render the very movement of the words inherently formal, artful, and self-conscious. At the same time the words are awash in the bravura of the meaning they go after. Her meters often form free verse, although her work has mistakenly been reviewed in America as iambic, perhaps presumed because of her use of rhyme. But the most important formal device of her poetry is the underlying dramatic form that is always driving the machine, bending the meanings in their propulsion toward closure, sculpting a lineation in which each line is both an action, a recovery, and a horizon. Her use of rhyme is akin to the uses to which James Cummins put the sestina form in his book of poems The Whole Truth—ebullient, exacting, rending thought and heart in a narrative of movements that are absolutely integral and inevitable to the subject matter at hand.

Peacock's work stands out among that of many in her generation by its shameless use of abstract idiom and imagery, turning, in effect, an ongoing revision of William Carlos Williams's "No ideas but in things" on its imagistic head. Williams's dictum somehow remains at the center of American phenomenology, and the concreteness it has inspired in American poetry has made for both high moments of objectivist epiphanies and low instances of materialistic listings and descriptions. In terms of rhetorical effusion Peacock's work harks back more to a Yeats and in terms of theme and tone more to the moral metaphysics we might associate with a Donne or a Landor.

In contemporary terms Peacock's work is also remarkably close in spirit and execution to W.D. Snodgrass and particularly the Snodgrass of Heart's Needle. Autobiographical somewhere to the side of Ginsberg's mad mouthings, Plath's spells, and Lowell's historical self-absorptions, Peacock's work advances the terrain of Heart's Needle both in its ingenious (and unobtrusive) use of rhyme and in its ruminations upon psychological and social states and circumstances. Her work makes much of sexuality, abortion, life in cities, life spent close to or distant from others, and life spent in response to the unaffording costs and persistently available revenues and expenses of our childhoods. Peacock has found the means to present psychological material in a context that is not solipsistic, while she delineates social states mercifully devoid of politically correct cant.

—Liam Rector