Poetry Friday: Sylvia Plath

h1 May 11th, 2007 by eisha

{Note: Vivian at HipWriterMama is on top of things and already rounding-up the Poetry Friday entries for today. Here’s the link} . . .

Sylvia, Frieda and NicholasA little Sylvia Plath seemed the natural choice for today, after Jules’s review of Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill.

Sometimes I feel compelled to defend poor Sylvia against those who think of her as the patron poet of semi-suicidal goth girls. I mean, okay… yeah, she is. But I think people tend to get hung up on Plath’s life story and forget what an awesome poet she really was. It’s easy to do – her bio works as a parable for a lot of motifs: the angsty misunderstood girl who couldn’t live up to her own expectations, much less everyone else’s; the talented artist who sacrificed her own ambitions to support her husband and raise his children, only to lose him to another woman; the poster child for the questionable diagnoses and barbaric treatments of mid-century psychiatry… But really, if you can get past all the prefab persona and just look at her body of work, you’ll find some seriously good poems. Her images come at you like kidney punches, one after the other; and they’re rendered in so precise a meter it’s as though she painstakingly pared away any excess syllables with an X-acto knife.

Here’s an example. It’s one of her later poems, “Balloons,” from her posthumous collection Ariel.

Since Christmas they have lived with us,
Guileless and clear,
Oval soul-animals,
Taking up half the space,
Moving and rubbing on the silk

Invisible air drifts,
Giving a shriek and pop
When attacked, then scooting to rest, barely trembling.
Yellow cathead, blue fish—
Such queer moons we live with…

See? “Oval soul-animals” – simple and perfect. And not the least bit angsty. Read the rest here. And also check out this nifty site for an English class at Stanford, with links to most of her poems in either chronological or alphabetical order. Go on, you know you want to… go get your Plath on!

Oh, fine… you can light a candle or two, if it’ll help set the mood.

My black nail polish? Oh, geez, I think it’s over in that box of makeup I only use for Halloween… um, yeah, go ahead.

A Cure CD? No. Well… maybe Head on the Door… I mean, NO, I’m sorry, no. Just read the poems already.

8 comments to “Poetry Friday: Sylvia Plath”

  1. I love this post, clearing away all the Sylvia Plath Mythology and evaluating the poems themselves.

    Oh, and the only Cure song I ever liked was “Just One More Time.” My husband thinks I don’t like any of his old music, what with all his Cure and Bauhaus CDs from college. But, I just could never take Robert Smith seriously. Apparently, he hasn’t changed a bit about his appearance, and he’s what, 50 years old now? But I could be wrong.

    I’m not trying to say I was too good for doom ‘n gloom; I did love Morrissey. And I can’t make fun of Bauhaus if I owned this, which I did (and loved).

    Stephanie Hemphill ends her verse portrait of Sylvia with a note about all the blogs, discussions sites, etc. that are devoted to Plath. She specifically points out this one as “one of the best.” Just FYI for anyone who’s interested . . .

  2. Wow! I’m quite impressed with this side of Sylvia Plath. Love this post Eisha.

  3. Great post, Eisha. Count me as one of those people who lets Plath’s story influence my reading of her poetry. I really disliked “The Bell Jar,” but promise to check out her poetry. Thanks for the link, Eisha

  4. Hey! No mocking my angsty nail polish!

    Really great post – so glad to see a Plath revival!

  5. I’d never even seen “Balloons” before. Thanks, Eisha. (And “get your Plath on”? Very funny. Wish I’d written that.)

    I’m a little too pop when it comes to music (Hanson, anyone? Deee-Lite?), so I never cottoned to the Smiths and the Cure and such. Alas.

  6. Did you see that Mindy at propornoun.net just did a book review on a fictionalized account of Plath’s life? I just thought it was an interesting coincidence:-)

  7. Oh, yay! I’m glad I’m not the only post-HS person who likes SP. And I hope, if you give her another chance, Kelly, you’ll be glad.

    Susan – Hanson??? Really? No, no, I can’t make fun. I had a legendary adolescent love for the Monkees. And this was in the 80s, when it was way over.

    That Mindy has such good taste – I like her reviews. Thanks for the heads-up, Lindsey!

  8. […] like this, I gotta call in the big guns. Plath? No, did that already. Lowell? Nope, him too. Sexton? Meh. […]

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