As Molly Peacock points out in a note at the end of her latest poetry collection, an artistic rendering of her 37-year-long relationship with her psychotherapist, it’s “rare to have such a long analytical experience and lasting relationship as these poems describe.” That’s certainly true, and one of the questions Peacock raises is whether or not the creation of poetry is helped or hindered by psychotherapy. In this case, the profession, and her involvement with it, provided Peacock with a wealth of material, from analysis itself to the enormous change she witnessed in her therapist’s life after the latter suffered a stroke.
The poems in this volume have all been previously published, in a wide range of Canadian, American, and British periodicals and a number of books. The new volume breaks the poems down into four parts: “The Pottery Jar,” “The Hours,” “Ruby Roses, Kiss Goodbye,” and “Whisper of Liberty.” The organizing principle seems to involve a progression through the analyst’s adjustment to her new reality following her stroke, and Peacock’s concomitant recognition of their altered relationship.
Peacock is adept at a variety of styles in her lyric poems, which range in length from under 10 lines (as in the five-line “Riddle, or The Therapy Hour,” which finds its origin in an Anglo-Saxon riddle) to seven pages (“How to Say ‘Thank You’ in French,” which derives from an online wiki that Peacock embellishes and extends on the page). Oddly, these two poems are among the least satisfying in the collection; they involve a clever gamesmanship that detracts from the more direct focus.
Joan Stein, Peacock’s analyst, looks to her past to help define her future. Stein stopped painting for decades following a devastating (and nasty) critique from one of her undergraduate professors. After her stroke, she takes up art again, this time for the dual purpose of healing and self-expression. In “The Analyst Draws,” Peacock traces Stein’s impulse to “do what [she] loved before language” and plays beautifully on the word “draw”: “So draw, / as I was drawn to you / as you drew me to you, / till I could walk away / as you now draw away.”
The most engaging poems deal with the therapist-client relationship, in particular its contradictory nature as a financial arrangement intended to uncover a person’s deeply intimate feelings and thoughts. The lengthy span of time this relationship took to develop meant that Peacock also learned much about Stein; in “The Analyst’s Severe Arthritis,” the patient sees that the therapist is suffering, and they wind up “unable to leave / our harrowed hour.”
Ultimately, the analyst becomes a friend. In the final poem, “Mandala in the Making,” Peacock describes how she and Stein observed three Tibetan monks making a sand painting and then brushing it away. “Nothing stays (including the memory you’ve lost). / What lasts? […] Only when / something’s over can its shape materialize.” Anyone who has undergone therapy will appreciate Peacock’s insights into the process, and everyone can gain from her exploration of human connection and creativity.