A Review of Molly Peacock's The Analyst
Review by Shazia Hafiz Ramji
In a promotional four-page long interview with the publisher that was included in the mail package for The Analyst, acclaimed poet Molly Peacock says that “long-time consuming psychological work is not so much in vogue now [and] that the Canadian ideas of what constitutes mental health, and the usual solution of psychopharmacology, keep talk therapy to a minimum.” Despite the inaccessibility of talk therapy for most people and its reduction in psychiatric care programs, the poetry in Peacock’s The Analyst speaks to the richness of intimacy in the analyst-patient relationship and the generous rediscovery of selves that it fosters.
When Peacock’s analyst suffers a stroke and survives to become a painter — the very art she had studied in her early life and then abandoned to become an analyst — their decades-long analyst-patient relationship comes to a close. In the resulting poems, Peacock unravels the reciprocity of their friendship by supporting the woman who had helped her make “every major artistic decision” in her life, as she says in the interview, to helping the analyst renew her own life in her return to painting.
In “The Pottery Jar,” a poem in the first section that shares the same title as the poem, Peacock writes of gratitude and recalls her own family history as well as her thoughts during analysis. She says, “It’s always backwards in analysis, isn’t it?” Peacock’s fidelity to this chronology in the structure of the book reveals a dedication to the generosity that was present in her sessions and that has been transposed for the poet-reader relationship. Beginning with the loss she feels at the dissolved analyst-patient relationship, Peacock builds patterns of images and sound that accrue new and old associations, which guided me through their friendship and into the discovery of their artistic selves.
In the collection’s initial poem, “Gusto,” the speaker remembers a restaurant meal she shared with her analyst as she prepares a meal for herself in a Toronto kitchen:
Slice the baby potatoes, skins on,
turn to the smooth black surface on
the stove where two steamers – enamel –
swim like red fish painted on enamel
and prepare with attention, like you,
my intimate witness, like you...
Repetition and rhyme propel the intimate doubling of one another, like red fish through the manuscript. The motif of red returns in part three of the collection in a poem titled “Ruby Roses, Kiss Goodbye,” when the speaker details the small gesture of the analyst who takes the speaker’s hand to brush her hair over her temple as she cries during a session. Ruby earrings become a symbol of their bond and remind her “not to harden.”
Despite the tenderness I felt throughout reading The Analyst, the most emotionally rewarding poem was “A Fall in the Fall,” which is from the last part of the collection. It is in this poem that the backwards chronology of the book is most arresting — the speaker herself is using a cane, much like the analyst was after her stroke. I felt a pang reading this because I had become used to seeing the speaker’s strength and knowledge. In this poem, broken into four “lessons,” her vulnerability and dependence is revealed in increments. She takes a fall down the flight of stairs at the analyst’s office and doubts: “Did I really do it? Fall on purpose — as she fell? / Did I grab the stone instead of the railing.” Not only is there a hint of absolute love and a desire for empathy in these lines, but it is the small movements of the mind in these lines that Peacock captures so well. The attention paid to the intricacy of each shift in thought and emotion signals a lifetime of learning from the analyst-patient relationship and felt in the poet-reader relationship.
The Analyst is a rewarding and deeply felt narrative of friendship that isn’t bogged down by psychoanalytic jargon or pathology. As Peacock writes in the second-to-last poem: “It isn’t what happened that lasts. / Not art, either, but the savoury core. What’s felt.” There is nothing more to say.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji lives in Vancouver, BC where she writes poems, stories, reviews, and works as an editor. Her writing has appeared in The Capilano Review and is forthcoming in Canadian Literature and filling Station. Anstruther Press published her first chapbook, Prosopopoeia, in 2017.