Interview with Poet and Author Molly Peacock

My review of The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock posted last week. The cover and the illustrations of Delany’s work is stunning, and like the multilayered mosaicks, Peacock has created an equally beautiful biographical collage that layers the works of Delany over the events in her life and sneaks in tidbits from the author’s own past.

I hope you have a chance to read the review and to read this interview with the author about writing, Mary Delany, and the Virtual Poetry Circle.

Without further ado, here’s the interview with Molly Peacock:

The Paper Garden is a biography of an older woman, Mary Delany, embarking on an artistic journey late in her life.  What about her story grabbed your attention and how has it inspired you or helped you to re-examine your own life?

Mrs. Delany’s work inspired me since I first saw it in 1986; the cut paper flowers are so magnificent!  But it was really that she invented an art form at the age of 72 that got to me.  I was 39 and establishing myself as an artist.  Later, in 2003, I discovered more about Mrs. Delany’s life that inspired me.  She had a marvelous mid-life marriage where she found herself branching out into many arts;  it helped me understand how much my own marriage has influenced my own branching out from poetry to prose.

Could you explain a little bit about the differences between writing poetry, memoir, biography, and prose?  How are they the same?

A lyric poem funnels down to an instant of revelation; it is almost as if the poem stops time, that the only dimension in a lyric poem is space.  In that way, it’s like a painting.  But prose unfolds in time; and time contains both obstacles and revelations.  Prose develops, the way characters and situations do.  It requires a flow.  A poem is an instant, lightning across the sky.  Prose is before the storm, the storm, after the storm.

I first read your book How to Read a Poem  in 2009, and it inspired me (ever since) to begin the Virtual Poetry Circle in which I post a poem each Saturday of the week for readers to read, enjoy, and offer up their impressions.  Have you engaged in poetry circles on a consistent basis and/or have you had any feedback from others who have taken up with a poetry circle?  Any further advice for Virtual Poetry Circle participants about reading and discussing poems?

Thank you for creating The Virtual Poetry Circle!  My advice is to incorporate a mix of poems, some golden oldies like “Ozymandias” by Shelley; some translations, like “The Word Exchange” edited by Michael Matto and Greg Delanty, with Anglo Saxon poems;  some forms of poetry, like “Villanelles,” a new anthology edited by Annie Finch; some ancient poems like “Greek Lyric Poetry” translated by Sherod Santos;  and some younger poets like Beth Ann Fennelly and A.E. Stallings.

I think it’s always great when participants focus on specific language, rather than generalizing.  When a poem gives you a certain feeling, you can try to locate the exact words, or sounds, or rhythm, or syntax that prompted it.  Looking for the specific moment in the poem that prompted your feeling often leads to further revelation.

If you were expected to describe yourself and your work in 10 words or less, what would you say?

How about 11 words?  A woman writer fascinated by inner life and the real world.

Finally, as a poet and a writer, do you feel that despite The Paper Garden‘s deeply personal connections that it should reach a wider audience?  Do you think writing in general should bring about social activism, like the poets of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival?

I am so gratified that The Paper Garden has reached a large audience!  Gardeners, artists, people facing late-life challenges, people who’ve always felt they had a special imaginative spurt inside them, history buffs, romantics of all ages, young and old creative people have all been drawn to the story of Mrs. Delany.  She’s a force!

I think writing unexpectedly brings about social activism.  Writing has to be internal first.  But bringing the inner life to the greater public can spark oceanic changes.

Thanks, Molly, for answering my questions.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

Poet Molly Peacock’s The Paper Garden is not only a collage and biography of a woman, Mary Delany, who began a career as an artist late in life, but it also is partially a memoir of Peacock’s own life and the nuggets of wisdom she’s gained from her obsession with this floral artist and her collages or flower mosaicks.  Delany is a woman who began working with scissors and paper long before she gained recognition for her art, starting as a young girl in school.  While one of her classmates recognized her talent, life got in the way as Delany was plucked from her home and moved to her aunts and back again as English politics became tumultuous and her family backed the Pretender.

“A few of the papers she used — all of the papers in the eighteenth century were handmade — in fact were wallpapers, but mostly she painted large sheets of rag paper with watercolor, let them dry, then cut from them the hundreds of pieces she needed to reproduce — well, to re-evoke might be a better word — the flower she was portraying.  There is no reproduced hue that matches the thrill of color in nature, yet Mrs. D. went after the original kick of natural color, and she did it like a painter.”  (page 7-8 ARC)

Through all of the upheaval, Delany kept to her crafts and her music, once inspired by a meeting with Handel.  Peacock’s prose is intimate and conversational as she speaks of Delany like a beloved friend and peer.  She speaks of her journey to learn about Delany’s life and craft like a careful historian citing her sources and engaging in reverence for her subject.  Through her delicate prose, the beauty of Delany and her work emerge gradually, like the petals of a bud opening slowly as the sun rises.

Peacock does a fantastic job comparing individual mosaicks to events in Delany’s life in England and Ireland even though many of the pieces were created long after the death of her second husband and her younger sister, Anne.  She was an early mixed media artist who used wallpapers, paints, dried leaves, and other materials to create her portraits of flowers, breathing new life into even the most simple flower.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock is a quiet read chock full of details about Mary Delany’s craft, her family, and her inspiration, but it also is full of advice, beautiful images of Delany’s work, and tidbits about Peacock’s motivations in her own poetry and life.  Readers will dip into this book, think and wonder about Delany’s craft, but also ruminate on what this journey she embarked upon taught her and ourselves.  In almost a meditative way, the biography pulls the reader in and pushes them out to ensure the depth of the art and its meaning is thought about on a deeper level.

***Some of my favorite quotes from the book that can apply to writing***

“Great technique means that you have to abandon perfectionism.  Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much.  Yet, paradoxically, it’s proficiency that allows a person to make any art at all; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which, in an odd way, is technique forgotten.”  (page 28 ARC)

“Not to know is also sometimes the position of the poet, who depends on close observation to magnify a subject, hoping to discover an animating spirit.  There’s romance in that forensic impulse . . .” (page 34 ARC)

About the Author:

Molly Peacock is the award-winning author of five volumes of poetry, including The Second Blush. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. Among her other works are How to Read a Poem . . .  and Start a Poetry Circle and a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece. Peacock is currently the poetry editor of the Literary Review of Canada and the general series editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives in Toronto.

Visit Molly Peacock’s Website.

Click for Tour Stops

This is my 4th book for the 2012 Ireland Reading Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #174

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Cindy’s Love of Books.

Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.

Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock for a TLC Book Tour in May.

2.  A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez unrequested from Algonquin; it’s my second copy so, I’ll be finding this one a new home.

3. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones unrequested from Algonquin.

4. A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd from William Morrow.

5. An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd from William Morrow.

6. An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd from William Morrow.

7. A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd from William Morrow.

Check out the Bess Crawford Read-a-Long at Book Club Girl!

8. Then Again by Diane Keaton from Random House.

9. Walter’s Muse by Jean Davies Okimoto, which I won from Under My Apple Tree.

10. Perla by Carolina de Roberts for a TLC Book Tour in May.

11. Insatiable by Meg Cabot in the used book section at Novel Places.

What did you receive?

***Today’s National Poetry Month Tour stop is over at Seer of Ghosts and Weaver of Stories.

137th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 137th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour from April 2011 and beginning again in April 2012.

Today’s poems is from Molly Peacock:

Couple Sharing a Peach

It's not the first time
we've bitten into a peach.
But now at the same time
it splits--half for each.
Our "then" is inside its "now,"
its halved pit unfleshed--

what was refreshed.
Two happinesses unfold
from one joy, folioed.
In a hotel room
our moment lies
with its ode inside,
a red tinge,
with a hinge.

What do you think?

How to Read a Poem. . . and Start a Poetry Circle by Molly Peacock

“I found grown -up poetry to be as spongy as a forest floor–your foot sinks into the pine needles, the air smells mushroomy and dank, and filtered light swirls around you till you’re deep in another state.” (Page 8)

Molly Peacock’s How to Read a Poem . . . and Start a Poetry Circle provides a great deal of information in just 200 pages–from how to interpret poems to how to create a poetry circle and join the ranks of those dipping their feet into the poetic pool.

“Yet as strangely contemporary as this art has become, it involves a timeless childhood pleasure: rereading.” (Page 13)

Peacock clearly knows her stuff from writing verse to examining its structure and images. She postulates that any poem can be examined in three simple steps. Examine the poem line-by-line, which she notes is considered the skeleton of the poem. Examine the sentence, which readers could consider the muscles of the poem. Finally, readers should examine the image or nervous system of the poem. However, Peacock does not suggest that readers pick apart each element of a poem and discuss it ad nauseam.

“This shimmering verge between what is private and what is shared is the basis of a poetry circle. A poetry circle (which is very different from a writing workshop, where people bring in their own poems to be critiqued by one another or by a teacher) occurs when the mutual reading of poetry is at hand. For me, the circle has its beginnings in the side-by-side reading of a poem by two people.” (Page 16)

A number of chapters examine a number of poems, their images, their rhythms, and their internal music. Beyond the application of these techniques on actual poems, Peacock illustrates the beauty of poetry circles, how to start poetry circles, and provides readers with resources to begin their own poetry circles and how to select poetry for discussion in these circles.

“You never know what’s going to catch your finger–or your eye. You needn’t ever be comprehensive about a book of poetry.” (Page 191)

These groups are not like book clubs where copious notes should be taken and entire books should be read. The purpose of a poetry circle is to generate a mutual respect and joy for each line of verse.

After reading this book, I’m going to try an experiment. I want to create a virtual poetry circle. I’ll post a new poem each week for people to read and comment about what they enjoyed about a line, a stanza, or the entire poem. Comments can range from what is good about a poem to what readers don’t like about a poem. Share your thoughts, opinions, and vision of the poet’s work. I’ll probably post these each Friday or Saturday, so keep an eye out.

This is my 1st book for the poetry review challenge.