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The poetic justice of growing old and letting go in “The Analyst”

“It’s always backwards in analysis, isn’t it?,” poet Molly Peacock asks in her new collection.

The Analyst by Molly Peacock is a book of poetry that explores the evolution of relationships as people grow older over time, and how these emotions can be captured and understood through the process of creative license. The anthology of poems is based on the author’s relationship with her therapist, Joan Workman Stein, who she met in New York when she was a young woman and stayed in contact with for several years. Stein suffers a stroke and Peacock, once the patient, becomes a caregiver in helping her therapist recover.

The book is separated into four parts, Part One: The Pottery Jar; Part Two: The Hours; Part Three: Ruby Roses, Kiss Goodbye; and Part Four: Whisper of Liberty. Each section follows the two friends through the initial shock of having a loved one experience a stroke, helping them recover, letting go of their lost capacities and accepting their new self. Peacock helps Stein to rediscover her lost love of art, and it ultimately becomes the tool that brings her back to life.

Peacock ultimately realizes that Stein helping her all of those years prepared her to return the favour when her therapist reaches old age and needs someone to be there. In the final poem, “Mandala in the Making”, she states, “Only when something’s over can its shape materialize,” thus showing that life is a series of evolutionary cycles repeating themselves throughout time. The Analyst uses a deeply creative means to show how people can never know quite what certain events their lives truly mean until they have passed.

The set of poems employs subtle references and the author’s own experiences to lead the reader down a path of understanding long-term relationships and how they change as people grow older. Oftentimes, poetry seeks to avoid the more disgusting facts of aging, and focuses instead on the beauty of youth and love. Peacock avoids this pattern and faces the gruesome realities that lie behind having a stroke and losing the capacity to be fully functional that is ultimately a result of aging. In “The Canning Jar”, it is almost hard to swallow the description of the dead rabbit in the St. Lawrence Market, but the reader is forced to contend with death and ultimately reconcile with it.

Overall, Peacock takes the mundane and turns it into art. Growing old is by no means special, but her changed relationship with her therapist puts her in a position to see how letting go of the old self is always a singularly unique and beautiful experience no matter how it happens or who it happens with. The journey of The Analyst becomes exceptional precisely because it turns the tragedy of a stroke into the miracle of rebirth when Stein embraces becoming an artist and let’s go of being a therapist.

This book of poems is a great read, especially for someone looking to reconcile with an aging loved one. Peacock engages with the trauma of watching her friend be affected by a stroke and the reader can feel her desperation and eventual acceptance. Take a chance on The Analyst and it will leave you wondering which relationships will change and evolve over time and how each person will meet their own limitations of mortality.