Sunday, 13 October 2019

A clarity of vision, M.R. Peacocke's Honeycomb

Back in January, when M.R. Peacocke generously granted me permission to post one of my favourite poems (see here) from Honeycomb, her recent HappenStance pamphlet, I promised a review of the chapbook in question, and here it is.

Honeycomb is an unusual pamphlet in many ways, not least because it represents something of a New & Very, Very Selected Poems, combining more recent uncollected pieces with complementary poems from M.R. Peacocke’s previously published full collections. As such, it represents an ideal introduction to her work.

Moving on to this collection itself, if I had to choose one single term to encapsulate M.R. Peacocke’s poetry it would be “clear-eyed”. There’s a clarity of vision to her poems that stretches from the construction of her sentences and the cadences of her lines to the layering of her narratives and the thrust of her thematic core.

This afore-mentioned thematic core pivots on a teasing-out of the tension between life and death, youth and ageing, nature and humanity, all illustrated by minor details that take on huge magnitude when brought together as one. An excellent example can be found in the final stanza of Taking Leave:

…And it’s like that, people leave,
sooner than they thought,
sooner than they knew, and things
don’t wait, and a lifetime
isn’t enough to recover the words,
uncover, discover the words.

A lesser poet would have thought a stronger effect could be gained in the closing lines by bunching the three …cover verbs together artificially one after another. Instead, Peacocke repeats ’the words at the end of both the last two lines, splitting up the verbs in such a natural way that these lines manage to take the reader aback, cast fresh meaning on existing language but also seem inevitable, all at the same time. She suddenly reminds us of the subtle differences in meaning between recover, uncover and discover, juxtaposing the urgency of the search for meaning with the impossibility of achieving such a feat.

Quiet voices tend to be lost amid our contemporary tumult, and M.R. Peacocke’s runs just such a risk. However, as remarked earlier, her clarity of vision is crucial to her poetry’s longevity. It provides her work with a edge that can cut through digital cocoons and remind us how to feel. As a consequence, I strongly recommend you get hold of Honeycomb, but with one warning from my own experience: you could then be tempted into acquiring the rest of M.R. Peacocke’s excellent books as well.


  1. Lovely review, coinciding with the week when this lovely pamphlet sold out. So it seems quite a few people (including me) agree with you! HN

    1. It's terrific to hear M.R. Peacocke is so popular at a time when she could be viewed as unfashionable!