October 28, 2012

Molly Peacock: The interview

"Some things take living long enough to do."

With this line Molly Peacock evokes the spirit, inspiration and breath of this beautiful book The Paper Garden about the artist Mary Delany who created nine hundred eighty-five mosaics, the first completed in her seventy-third year. 

I have read and re-read this book to savor every word, the phrasing, the hope. This is a book of hope. I carry Molly and Mary inside me. To read this book is to live the lives revealed here. The bounty is boundless. 

Photo: Andrew Tolson
When I first read the book in 2011, I posted a review of The Paper Garden on Amazon, wrote an essay on this website about the book and hoped in my heart of hearts that some day I would get to interview Molly Peacock. 

Life gives gifts and on October 24, 2012 Molly and I connected. Listen to the interview on: Rare Bird Radio. 

 Here is one of Mary Delany’s exquisite paper mosaics:
To say that this is a book about the art of Mary Delany, which this book is, replete with incredible reproductions, much better than the one above, is to understate its power, its aim. 

The poet Molly Peacock has taken Mary Delany in her sights and locked onto her life to reveal not only Mary’s story, but Molly’s, and to reveal the breath of life that drives the creative impulse.

Her words speak better than mine: “… [Y]ou must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which in an odd way is technique forgotten.” “The state of not-knowing … recaptures youth’s novel excitements.” “Mere self expression is not art. Nor is excellent technique on its own. … Both passion and virtuosity are required for this leap.”

Peacock writes about the artist’s solitude, the need to say “no,” on “the incivility of the artist at work (what others call selfishness),” on the need for applause and how the encouragement of others increases the productivity of the artist and is not to be underestimated. Mary had her friend and cheerleader Margaret.

Molly speaks of her longtime friendship with the poet Phyllis Levin: “Neither Phyllis nor I can conceive of how a person can process the material of a life, and by that I mean love and death and every insect bite in between, without practicing an art.” She also speaks of the encouragement that publication provides, of how this book began as an essay “Passion Flowers in Winter” and was published in the small journal—the importance of the literary magazine for all writers and readers I talk about in Literary Magazines: Why Bother?" on this website. Molly’s essay was published first in PoemMemoirStory  no. 6 by the editor Linda Frost and then chosen by David Foster Wallace for Best American Essays 2007. The writer, the artist produces with the help of her admirers. 

Peacock informs and inspires as she uncovers the life and work of Mary Delany, how she formed a deep and abiding friendship with Ruth Hayden, Mary’s great, great, great, great, great, great niece, who in her own later years wrote a book about her aunt. Molly—and now I may refer to the writer by her first name as we have met via the interview, and she has wended her way into my heart. Molly says of being in Ruth’s home, of being with Ruth, “I was in a magic place though it was quite real. … Just as real as the robin from which I’d felt a scratch of the past. Not just memory or metaphor but a scratch—the way a fact can scratch, palpable, undeniable, inflexibly pertinent.” Here Molly seamlessly informs the creative process—and that is only one of the gifts of this book.

Perhaps more profoundly, she cuts to the bone of her own anxieties about life and death and love. Molly Peacock’s marriage to Mike Groden is part and parcel of this book. Here are words to live by, placed in an unmistakable parentheses in the book: “The secret of marriage is thinking that your partner is better than yourself.” I say unmistakable because do not be fooled. You will discover more in The Paper Garden than promised, another gift.

I have been profoundly affected by Molly Peacock and her paper garden. I have been encouraged with no sentimentality, with no easy phrase, with no how-to glibness. I have been moved.

Look at this book for its gorgeous reproductions of Mary Delany’s work. Read this book for the intertwined history of Mary Delany’s remarkable life and Molly Peacock’s tender memoir. Keep this book, as I do, for its insights on art and life, on living well and on the gift of “direct observation that leads to indirect epiphany.”

This blog and website are in search of meaning, and this blogger, a believer in the power of the willed word that helps us make sense of all the ways that life betrays the living and still gives hope. 

Molly Peacock defines art and life and hope, in her being and in her work.

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