What a pleasure to introduce five poems by the prolific and brilliant Molly Peacock, queen of rhyme and meter, who has done so much to bring contemporary freshness and zing and a sometimes-startling intimacy to formal poetry.
In this grouping, Peacock writes about the death of her husband, Joyce scholar Michael Groden, about the strains of caring for a sick and dying person, no matter how beloved, and about the beginning of a new life without him. She blends wit, sorrow, and a raw honesty about the stresses illness brings even to the best of marriages. In “A Tiny Men- tal Flash on a Red Footstool” she writes:
Caregiving comes to this. (You can’t sit
as you like; you must get up, and do, with
resentment sometimes so cold it’s another spine
supporting your spine.)
I’m trying to think of another poet who would compare a friend who’s detaching—a common experience for widows—to a color-changing octopus, which then reappears from the ocean, sea-changed, “a many-armed self-mother. / She sits me down, and then explains me to me.” And who but Peacock would compare her dying husband to a cat?
You’ve taught me to meow. (Me? Ow.)
I careened into being your wife like
that moggy we saw shooting through all
eight wheels of a moving tractor trailer.
Now it’s you lighting off to begin your tenth life.
(Peacock is a poet from whom I learn new words: moggy is a synonym for cat.)
A lot of contemporary poetry, whatever its other virtues, doesn’t seem all that interested in plumbing the richness and complexity of the English language. The syntax is simple, the vocabulary familiar. Peacock’s use of the full resources of the language is one of her many strengths, and renders extraordinary the mundane experiences of life, in all their joy, grief, tedium, confusion, humor, and mystery.