M. R. Peacocke
Peacocke's language is shriven, precise and terribly open to the dead, to absence. -- David Morley
About M. R. Peacocke
M. R. Peacocke grew up in South Devon in a musical family. She read English at Oxford, but spent more time on a capella singing and playing the oboe than on literary studies. After years of teaching, travel, marriage, bringing up four children, a training in counselling and work in the children’s cancer unit of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, she moved to a small hill farm in Cumbria where she lived for twenty five years. She now lives in County Durham. She had written poems since childhood, but it was only in her fifties that she began publishing seriously. Peterloo Poets published four collections: Marginal Land (1988), Selves (1995), Speaking of the Dead (2003) and In Praise of Aunts (2007), and Caliban Dancing was published by Shoestring Press in 2013. Finding the Planes: New and Selected Poems was published by Shoestring in 2015. Several of her poems have won major prizes, and in 2005 she received a Cholmondeley Award.
Peacocke's poems are distinguished by great formal variation, tones which range from the meditative to the irreverent, and visual details remarkable for their precision and vividness. Her observations of the natural world, in particular, have an unhurried, tentative quality reflective of a poet of great care and scrupulousness. The sketchy, provisional opening of “Late Snow”, for example, seems all the more evocative precisely because of the salutary hesitancy of its progress:
An end. Or a beginning.
Snow had fallen again and covered
the old dredge and blackened mush
with a gleaming pelt; but high up there
in the sycamore top. Thaw
Thaw, the rooks cried,
sentinel by ruined nests.
It is apt that in his review of Speaking of the Dead, David Morley compares Peacocke's “bristly perceptive clarity for minutiae” to that of Elizabeth Bishop. Like the late American poet, Peacocke is continually preoccupied with the perceptive process, and the question which concludes her poem “A Glass of Water” reflects this concern: “How to be naked enough / to attend to a thing in its presence?” Perhaps fittingly for a poet so alert to the complications of authorial mediation, figures in Peacocke's poems are often flickering, fluctuating presences, none more so than the poet herself. In the extraordinary conclusion to “The Visit”, she describes feeling
. . . my ghost slip out of me,
an errant child, determined
to dawdle at just these railings,
those pebbles she'd spark together,
while a new seadusk rose, its breath
a deepening invisibility.
While Peacocke's contemplative poems are often restrained and poised in their language, she is equally capable of producing works of rare vitality and colour. “Pig Sonnet” opens with these comically buoyant lines: “The pigs ran tiptoe through their hubbub, / elegant, avid, boisterous at the trough”. In the remarkable poem “Shall We Dance?”, Peacocke writes with a controlled lavishness and gaiety of diction which recalls the early work of Wallace Stevens:
Dew almost frost. It's the heeltap
of summer, October's pourriture,
and drunken bumblebees are plunged
head down in buddleia nectar,
stuck to the narrow goblets, trembling
or sometimes tumbled to the yellow
of aftermath, helpless, signalling
prayers with a hooky leg.
This stanza gives a sense of the syntactical intricacy, lexical range and tonal suppleness of Peacocke's work, and her superb reading of the poem here foregrounds its fluent, idiosyncratic music.
M. R. Peacocke's recording was made on May 5th 2015 at The Soundhouse, London. The producer was Richard Carrington.