Interview with Molly Peacock
Interview by Melissa Studdard
You said once, “I wished I loved in my heart the art I could love in my mind. Big, bold, epic, symphonic. But I love the small, the miniature, the detailed, the complex.” Tell us about that—about giving yourself over to that which your heart truly loves and how it relates to your wonderful book, The Paper Garden.
The small is the opposite of grandiose. That’s why I love miniatures. They can’t pretend to be more than they are. Instead, the tiny and detailed thing draws your attention because it is a little world in itself. You enter that world without pretense.
A beautiful motif throughout The Paper Garden is the importance of noticing. And you even talk about the mesmerized state induced by close observation. Would you elaborate on that?
Noticing is what I think of as “Mrs. Delany’s mindfulness.” To notice requires being still. When you notice something, even if it’s only a button or an orange or the pattern in a sidewalk grate, it’s as if someone has handed you a rarity. The gravel beneath your feet becomes a marvel of a mosaic. The random pattern of red cars in a parking lot becomes a quotidian Mondrian. Noticing brings the beauty of the observed to your attention. Attention creates luxury because it stops time. For a suspended moment you are calmly energized by what you are seeing, hearing, and touching.
Speaking of your most recent poetry collection, The Second Blush, The Washington Post describes a “luxuriantly sensual imagination,” and Booklist praises the “seductive poems that swing and twirl.” I also noted a stunning, raw, complex honesty. Can you tell us about the relationship that inspired the poems and how it led you to this vivid, lyrical openness?
Complex honesty means being a sympathetic witness to your experience. When you combine that with the luxury of noticing and the swing and twirl of emotions, you’ve got the prerequisites for a Peacock poem.
In How to Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle, you state, “For me poetry always takes place in the verge, and verges always shimmer because the light of the mind shines on both categories at once, trying to distinguish between them.” Would you tell our readers more about this fascinating concept?
Poetry is about the ineffable. The poem takes place because there’s an experience you don’t have words for. That shimmering verge is the state of almost putting your finger on something, an idea, a feeling, a category of existence, but not quite being able to do it. As my friend Phillis Levin says, “A poem simulates experience with paradoxes that cannot be resolved.” Or, as Yehuda Amichai put it: “A poem is about a subject the way a cat is about a house.
You’ve worked so well in so many different genres. How and at what point in the process do you know what form your inspiration will take? In other words: Why not a sequence of poems about Mrs. Delany and a memoir about your life with your husband?
For me a poem stops time. That’s what a lyric realization does. I didn’t write a sequence of poems about Mrs. Delany because I wanted to recapture her existence in time, to recreate many lived moments. Information in the world unfolds in time, and prose is the element of time. It pushes forward in a plethora of detail. So I choose a genre based on whether the subject stops time or propels time forward. A love poem exists in a stopped moment. The poems about my husband are a tribute to those moments. But hey, the memoir idea appeals…
Speaking of writing in different genres, I hear we can expect something exciting and magical from you on November 4th: Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions—a book of tales inspired by the lives of the letters of the alphabet. I’d love to hear more about that.
Alphabetique is not only fiction, it’s illustrated fiction! The book of stories came about as I collaborated with the brilliant collage artist Kara Kosaka. We pretended that the letters of the alphabet were alive. A is climbing an Alp, thinking of what to name her first child. D is a diplomat who somehow always felt double. Q’s an orphan. He’s sent to help the Flower Keeper prepare roses for the Queen. J’s been jilted, and to console herself she makes jam. Kara read my abecedarian tales, each about five pages, and designed a stunning collage in response to each one. The result is the happiest artistic project I’ve ever done. The book is blissfully beautiful.
Is there anything else you’d like to share in closing? Any tours or events coming up? Any new projects begun?
Starting November 1, Tiny Letter will be sending subscribers a fragment of each story and a sliver of each illustration for 26 days—an Advent Calendar for Alphabetique. Subscribe here.