Few contemporary poets have achieved the feat that Molly Peacock has: to attract a base of readers who would not ordinarily read poetry. With her first five collections, she has managed to span the gap – chasm might be more appropriate – between critical and popular appreciation. In The Second Blush, her latestbook of poems, she continues to keep one foot on either side of the divide.
Much of Peacock’s appeal can be attributed to the clarity of her style. There are many sonnets here, deployed with democratically simple diction. A typical Peacock poem will begin with a domestic scene laid out by the speaker-poet, and from there, make a short hop to quotidian revelation. In “The Cup,” a broken teacup conjures childhood recollections of “a flushed and violent boy” long since deceased.
The image of a teacup appears again in “Teacup Manifesto,” in which it is likened to a fragile state of spiritual harmony: “it must be cups men fight for,” Peacock writes, “The chance to wake in a sweat and drink/ from something that claims a moment of peace/ just because it could break.” This is Peacock’s lighter touch, gently guiding us. Too often, though, she denies her readers’ intelligence, not only leading horses to water but drowning them in trying to make them drink.
For every accomplished poem in this book, there are several annoyingly coy pieces. “You by the door, / ready to leave this poem, stay with me,” Peacock writes at one point. This rhetorical trick – that of addressing the reader as reader – is just that: a trick. Sensing that our patience may be wearing thin, she begs our indulgence: “Oh reader […] Can’t you help me/ heave the heavy lid of this chest/ and lift the blanket out?”
The answer, of course, is a polite but firm no. We can’t rescue her foundering poem, and we shouldn’t have to. We should be compelled to keep reading, not begged to do so.