Molly Peacock, author of The Paper Garden, reached out to me the other day. We exchanged a few brief e-mails, but I want to share with you the most recent letter she wrote me.
I’m so glad you’ll be posting about The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. Yes, I do draw inspiration from other artists. I didn’t realize when I fell in love with Mrs. Delany’s breathtaking cut paper botanical collages that I would end up writing a biography of her—and using my instincts as a poet to do it. I knew I just couldn’t write a traditional biography. But what I didn’t know was that unconsciously Mrs. Delany’s invention of collage would seep into my own writing process.
Intuitively I began writing a narrative collage in response to her visual collages. I began with her story, then started including my own experiences as I tracked her down. Then I added the experiences of her great-great-great-great-great-great niece who is now 89 years old. And, since my mother died at the very age when Mrs. Delany began her life’s work, my mother’s life came into it, too. As Dean Delany, her wonderful second husband made his appearance, so I drew in a brief portrait of my own husband. Somewhere along the line I realized that I was cutting and layering these stories with my research on botany and Mrs. Delany’s life, just as Mrs. D. cut and layered her paper.
Here is Mrs. Delany’s “Everlasting Pea.”
Look at the tendril of the pea vine on the right hand side. You’ll see that she has made the tendril into a pair of scissors positioned as if the artist were holding them in her hand. The witty subtlety of her scissor-vine makes me the think of the way the work lured me into imitating her style in my writing.
Of course, I couldn’t resist trying to cut paper portraits of flowers myself. There is a video on the www.peacockpapergarden.com website that shows me doing my 21st century low-attention-span version of Mrs. D.’s flowers. I was terrified to do one (I’m a poet, not a visual artist) but I really had fun – and the end product wasn’t so bad!
Will I venture into writing novels? Well, my mother always said I should…
Images from The Paper Garden, Bloomsbury Books, printed with the permission of The British Museum.