The Analyst, Poems by Molly Peacock ff. Powerful emotion is the engine for powerful poetry, and this collection of poems erupts from a raging furnace fire. Behind the fraught story of the poet and her analyst is the violent childhood that propelled the poet into treatment. During the decades of analysis, the poet learns to take charge of her trauma but of course it remains, fueling her work. The occasion of this collection is the analyst’s stroke, which turns the tables on their relationship.
The poems abound in metaphor (cranium is to ideas as fishbowl is to fish) puns (what a distance there is between “rest” and “the rest”), and wordplay (the progression of the word “jar” from pottery jar, to Plath’s bell jar, to the canning jar). Perhaps George Herbert’s “Glass of Blessings” and the cracked mug belong to this leitmotif.
I guess it will come as no surprise that my favorite poem in the collection is How to Say “Thank You” in French. The voice of the erudite teacher explaining the myriad ways to say “thank you” in French gives way repeatedly to the profound gratitude the poet feels toward the analyst. The little French lessons provide a step of remove so that we (and she) are not awash in a sea of gratefulness, so that the whole story can be apprehended of how analysis kept the poet from hardening into a brittle, compartmentalized entity, allowing her instead the softness she needed to feel, to write—to become a fully realized person.
Molly’s images can be boldly grotesque. She drags a “carcass coat,” heavy and constructed of many pelts, through the airport. This poem has the feel of a nightmare, where shapes can shift. When she gets to her seat on the plane, this repulsive burden shrinks and easily stores in the overhead bin. (Take that you moldy memories!)
One scene seems to me straight out of Maurice Sendak. The poet says, “We married each other to parent each other,” and then presents the fanciful image of the babes she and her husband were long ago, tossed into the air by their feckless parents.
The minute we left their hands we began
Grasping for one another even though
We hadn’t seen a speck of each other.
For me, this is the book’s most enchanting moment. But throughout, it is the dance between poet and analyst that affords this work its density and complexity. When the poet falls and must use a cane (as the analyst does), we wonder again who is helping whom. The analyst is an artist, and now, with her word retrieval damaged, turns to watercolor pencils.