Poet, essayist, short fiction writer, and biographer Molly Peacock was born in Buffalo, New York and earned her BA from Harpur College (Binghamton University) and her MA from the Johns Hopkins University. She has taught at many universities and served as the president of the Poetry Society of America, where she began the Poetry in Motion program, which places poetry placards on subway cars and buses throughout American cities. She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Analyst (forthcoming, 2016), The Second Blush (2008), and Cornucopia: New and Selected Poems 1975-2002. Her prose works include the story collection Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions (2014), the biography Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72 (2012), the guide How to Read a Poem & Start a Poetry Circle (1999), and the memoir Paradise, Piece by Piece (1998).
Peacock often uses strong rhyme schemes, skillful alliteration, and biting humor to explore such themes as fate, family, sexuality, pain, and the many facets of love. Writing in the Washington Post Book World, David Lehman observed that “Peacock has a luxuriantly sensual imagination—and an equally sensual feel for the language. In mood her poems range from high-spirited whimsy ... to bemused reflection. ... Whatever the subject, rich music follows the tap of her baton.” Annette Allen commented on Peacock’s poetic structures, stating that “Peacock’s skillful wielding of form ensures a continual dialectic between the inner world of memory and feeling and the external world. She accomplishes this dynamic, the balance between inner and outer worlds, by employing sound patterns that keep the poem close to unconscious rhythms and by using images or metaphors from the civilized and the natural worlds.”
Peacock’s first collection, And Live Apart (1980), introduced her artistic preoccupation with the past. Robert Phillips noted in Hudson Review that Peacock’s “concerns are big ones: the separations we make between one another, the reversals of love, the inescapability of fate, inevitabilities of inheritance, a concern for the language of emotion in conversation.” He went on to say that And Live Apart “is notable for plumbing the past without sentimentality, and for finding new solutions to old dilemmas.”
In Take Heart (1989), Peacock continues to address inviolable topics, including the horrors and repercussions of physical and mental child abuse. Many of the volume’s opening poems deal with the death of Peacock’s father and her childhood memories of his alcoholism. Several critics praised her ability to illuminate universal concerns through intimate memories. Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Ian Gregson noted, “Peacock is conspicuously courageous in the subjects she is willing to tackle. The [reason] she’s mostly successful in doing so in Take Heart ... is because she’s discovered a technique that meticulously follows the labyrinthine twists and turns of these emotional tangles.”
Peacock began to move away from more formally structured verse in Original Love (1995). In this work, as Frank Allen stated in Library Journal, she addresses “the boundaries between men and women, mother and daughter, and one’s mind, body, and senses.” Like her other works, Original Love directly and unrelentlessly examines such subjects as sexuality, desire, death, and human fallibility. Regarding Peacock’s work as a whole, Allen observed, “The intelligence and music of her work, the belief in exploring consciousness with honesty, the sheer beauty of the language—all contribute to the ‘pleasure of the text.’ Because all the pain and joy of living are in [Peacock’s] poetry, people will continue to turn to her poems.”
Peacock served as president of the Poetry Society of America, where she began the Poetry in Motion series on New York City's subways and busses. After she moved to Canada, she created The Best Canadian Poetry series, and serves as its general editor. Her poetry is the subject of Jason Guriel’s monograph, Molly Peacock: A Critical Introduction (2014). Her papers are held at Binghampton University Library.
A dual-citizen of Canada and the U.S., Peacock lives in Toronto.
State University of New York at Binghamton, director of academic advising, 1970-73, coordinator of innovational projects in office of the dean, 1973-76; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, honorary fellow, 1977-78; Delaware State Arts Council, Wilmington, poet-in-residence, 1978-81; Friends Seminary, New York City, learning specialist, 1981-92; One-to-One poetry consulting, 1990—; Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, poet-in-residence, 1993-94. Visiting lecturer at YMCA, New York, 1986—, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, 1986, 1988, Columbia University, 1987, Barnard College, 1989-90, New York University, 1989, and Sarah Lawrence College; writer-in-residence, University of Western Ontario, 1995-96.
- And Live Apart, University of Missouri Press (Columbia), 1980.
- Raw Heaven, Random House (New York City), 1984.
- Take Heart, Random House, 1989.
- Original Love, W. W. Norton (New York City), 1995.
- Understory, Northeastern University Press (Boston), 1996.
- (Edited with others) Poetry in Motion: 100 Poems from the Subways and Buses, Norton (New York City), 1996.
- Paradise, Piece by Piece, Putnam, 1998.
- How to Read a Poem—And Start a Poetry Circle, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1999.
- (Editor) The Private I: Privacy in a Public World, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2001.
- Cornucopia: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2002, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2002.
- The Second Blush, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2008.
- Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2012.
- Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions, McClelland & Stewart, (Toronto, Canada), 2014.
- Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 27, Gale, 1995.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 60, Gale, 1990.
- Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press, 1996.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Gale, 1992.
- Booklist, November 1, 1984, p. 30; March 15, 1995, p. 1302.
- Boston Review, December, 1984, pp. 30-31.
- Georgia Review, fall, 1984, p. 628; fall, 1989, p. 589.
- Hudson Review, autumn, 1981, p. 427.
- Library Journal, February 15, 1995, p. 159.
- Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 20, 1989, p. 3; October 22, 1989, p. 16.
- New Republic, July 17, 1989, pp. 31-34.
- New York Times Book Review, December 2, 1984, pp. 54-55; October 22, 1989, p. 16.
- Parnassus, spring, 1985, pp. 500-512.
- Poetry, April, 1990, p. 38.
- Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1984, p. 42; February 27, 1995, p. 98.
- Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1985, p. 54.
- Washington Post Book World, September 2, 1984, p. 6.*
Poems By MOLLY PEACOCK
Articles By MOLLY PEACOCK
- Charlotte Mew: “The Trees Are Down”
A poet anticipates the contemporary narrative lyric—and her own unfortunate end.
Blog Posts By MOLLY PEACOCK
LIFE SPAN 1947–