Was there anyone more elegant than Peggy Penn? She had a deliciously chromatic style of dressing, where each item of clothing would echo in texture and color the next item, a salmon-y silk with a cantaloupe cashmere, and tiny orange sorbet-colored beads at her ears; or violet-gray wool slacks with a violet silk blouse and amethysts at her ears. The same was the case with her poetry, where a pond would reflect an activity that would reflect an emotional state, all gradients of the same color of a feeling. She dared to find all those overlapping colors and put them together with the panache of intuition rather than the over-focused conscious concentration that leads to precious decision-making in art. She understood that style was the subtle interrelationship between form and content. This was something she taught me again and again, something repeatedly beautiful, and I loved all the manifestations of her idea of style as I loved her.
I wrote some words of praise for her last book, My Painted Warriors, and I repeat them here from the bottom of my heart:
Here is experience lived profoundly and distilled into a wise and brilliant ease. Though I have known Peggy Penn’s work since she began writing twenty years ago, these poems astonished me. Penn’s subject is age: winter and funerals, yes, but also brassieres, orgasms after sixty, flourishing gardens, and four boys, her painted warriors. The images of these poems, both tender and bright, are as surprising as the sudden ruby of blood from a cut. Their sensibility is as understanding of humanity as any reader could hope for. Penn encases the double helix of love and loss in the ordinary, whether that is a cantaloupe or the hair on a wrist. Her rhythms are so stately and her lines are so poised that we know we are in the presence of a ballet, rigorously rehearsed and performed at a peak of energy. Worlds into worlds open up in My Painted Warriors, transforming this book of poems into a collection of miracles. It is the kind of poetry I can turn to when I wake in the night, the voice of both a fellow companion and a sagacious guide.
August 16, 2012