Raw Heaven

CORNUCOPIA: New and Selected Poems

Molly Peacock, Author . Norton $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-05123-0

Peacock won admiration, and notoriety, in the 1980s for combining traditional rhyming forms, reader-friendly narrative interest and explicit sexual content. Raw Heaven (1984), her second book, introduced her signature devices: in it, she used skillful pentameters (in blank verse, quatrains, sonnets and other rhyming schemes) to examine, seriously and with patience, "lovers saying, let's-take-off-our-clothes," masturbation ("she lets one hand re-pin the labia/ to free the other to wander"), "the smoky smell of menses" and "time's experienced part-/ fit-into-part." Subsequent work expanded her repertoire (rondeaux, terza rima, alphabetical forms) and kept her interest in love, sex and domestic experience on low boil. "Why would an orgasm make someone weep?" one brief poem asks. "Have you ever faked an orgasm?" another inquires. At the same time, the later books widened her range to include a traumatic childhood (1989's Take Heart), a range of long-term friendships, and the vicissitudes of marriage (1995's Original Love). They also opened up Peacock's gift for quips: "Luxury is in the ordinary"; "Ours is the miracle: we're here." This volume offers a generous sampling from those three books for people who missed them the first time; nibbles and bits from her first book, And Live Apart (1980); and new poems that show Peacock trying to expand her technique toward long, halting, self-conscious free-verse sentences, and to more challenging, promising, dreamlike fragments, "a practice of words-in-blood." (Aug.)

Forecast:Peacock's poems of the 1980s may seem less original now than they did then; verse celebrations of women's sexuality are no longer uncommon, and the New Formalist movement has lost the oppositional energy it once had. On the other hand, Peacock, president emeritus of the Poetry Society of America, remains very much a presence in magazines, and the poems' storytelling powers are as good as ever: look for this book to be in prize contention.

Reviewed on: 07/22/2002
Release date: 08/01/2002
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