defend the indefensible: sylvia plath

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godmother of bloggers everywhere and one of the most hideously bloated egos to ever exist. hi, honey, no one cares!

Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, 22 August 2009 13:56 (fourteen years ago) link

You're using that oven the wrong way, love.

King Boy on Parole (King Boy Pato), Saturday, 22 August 2009 13:59 (fourteen years ago) link

I just bought and read "Ariel" last year and thought it was great.

I've always loved "Cut":

What a thrill ----
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

Little pilgrim,
The Indian's axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz. A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.

Whose side are they one?
O my
Homunculus, I am ill.
I have taken a pill to kill

The thin
Papery feeling.
Saboteur,
Kamikaze man ----

The stain on your
Gauze Ku Klux Klan
Babushka
Darkens and tarnishes and when
The balled
Pulp of your heart
Confronts its small
Mill of silence

How you jump ----
Trepanned veteran,
Dirty girl,
Thumb stump.

Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:35 (fourteen years ago) link

not indefensible at all

The horizons ring me like faggots,
Tilted and disparate, and always unstable.
Touched by a match, they might warm me,
And their fine lines singe
The air to orange
Before the distances they pin evaporate,
Weighting the pale sky with a soldier color.
But they only dissolve and dissolve
Like a series of promises, as I step forward.

There is no life higher than the grasstops
Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
Pours by like destiny, bending
Everything in one direction.
I can feel it trying
To funnel my heat away.
If I pay the roots of the heather
Too close attention, they will invite me
To whiten my bones among them.

The sheep know where they are,
Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds,
Gray as the weather.
The black slots of their pupils take me in.
It is like being mailed into space,
A thin, silly message.
They stand about in grandmotherly disguise,
All wig curls and yellow teeth
And hard, marbly baas.

I come to wheel ruts, and water
Limpid as the solitudes
That flee through my fingers.
Hollow doorsteps go from grass to grass;
Lintel and sill have unhinged themselves.
Of people and the air only
Remembers a few odd syllables.
It rehearses them moaningly:
Black stone, black stone.

The sky leans on me, me, the one upright
Among all horizontals.
The grass is beating its head distractedly.
It is too delicate
For a life in such company;
Darkness terrifies it.
Now, in valleys narrow
And black as purses, the house lights
Gleam like small change.

cozwn, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:38 (fourteen years ago) link

What a thrill ----
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge

Of skin,
A flap like a hat,
Dead white.
Then that red plush.

what, i'm supposed to be impressed? fuck her. if she were alive today she'd do vlogs about her panties.

Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:43 (fourteen years ago) link

In the hands of any lesser poet it would be truly indefensible but she pulls it off.

the kid is crying because did sharks died? (Hurting 2), Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:47 (fourteen years ago) link

Can't stand "Daddy" though.

the kid is crying because did sharks died? (Hurting 2), Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:48 (fourteen years ago) link

As far as arguing the point, I'm having that "why bother?" feeling right about . . . now.

Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:49 (fourteen years ago) link

Thread of challops.

Dom J. Palladino (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:49 (fourteen years ago) link

Do you know, the first two lines of "Cut" might be the bit of poetry that repeats most often in my head.

Dom J. Palladino (Noodle Vague), Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:50 (fourteen years ago) link

As far as arguing the point, I'm having that "why bother?" feeling right about . . . now.
― Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, August 22, 2009 3:49 PM (1 minute ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

cozwn, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:51 (fourteen years ago) link

her poetry's enough argument itself tho, if u don't appreciate it whatevs

cozwn, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:51 (fourteen years ago) link

read "Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams" recently and was quite impressed. early stories were overwritten but the later ones were very good. wish she'd written more fiction.

zappi, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:51 (fourteen years ago) link

wait, did you seriously just "suggest ban" me?

Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:53 (fourteen years ago) link

lol did he sb me too?

cozwn, Saturday, 22 August 2009 14:55 (fourteen years ago) link

It was a sincere question. I've never SBed anyone and I guess I've just foolishly assumed that no one has ever SBed me. How do you find out what your score is, anyway?

Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:09 (fourteen years ago) link

I checked, no-one appears to have suggest banned anyone as a result of this thread. Well, not yet anyway.

\/*|_*/-\*|) (Pashmina), Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:15 (fourteen years ago) link

Cheers.

Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:29 (fourteen years ago) link

Daddy is horrendous but she's pretty ok.

123456789 (jim), Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:36 (fourteen years ago) link

UH @ this thread

horseshoe, Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:36 (fourteen years ago) link

We read a really cool short story of hers about Batman or something in high school as well.

123456789 (jim), Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:38 (fourteen years ago) link

Her poetry's quite good (as far as I can tell, I don't really do poetry). The Bell Jar is dull dull dull.

chap, Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:42 (fourteen years ago) link

sb'd u jim

cozwn, Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:43 (fourteen years ago) link

can't hate her because of her followers or college freshman, her poetry, arial in particular, is utterly fantastic.

akm, Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:44 (fourteen years ago) link

otm

horseshoe, Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:57 (fourteen years ago) link

i love her new website "goop"

fleetwood (max), Saturday, 22 August 2009 15:59 (fourteen years ago) link

plath wrath

velko, Saturday, 22 August 2009 18:28 (fourteen years ago) link

I think if this was called "defend the indefensible: sylvia plath fans" I would get the bile/hatred/dismissive stuff- it just seems like if you don't believe that people are responsible for their fans then you can't get off the ground with hating Syliva Plath on that score. If the charge is "bad poetry" it seems like there are far worse poets. If the point is that Plath's final decision is part of her life and thus that she is "responsible for" all the outcomes that trail from that final decision including both the personal pain and damage done to her family and the corny goth/emo cult of her suicidal authenticity, then we're having a "Suicide is indefensible" conversation and not a "her poetry is bad" conversation.

Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, 22 August 2009 18:51 (fourteen years ago) link

I rise with my red hair
and I eat men like air

indisputably classic surely?

Guayaquil (eephus!), Saturday, 22 August 2009 18:53 (fourteen years ago) link

her poetry drips with ego and smug self-satisfaction. i read her work and think, no one cares about you or your family or your suicide fetishism. just shut up and fuck off.

Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, 22 August 2009 18:58 (fourteen years ago) link

Was she actually an American-desperate-to-British, or do I just think that because of Gwyneth Paltrow?

ice cr?m paint job (milo z), Saturday, 22 August 2009 18:58 (fourteen years ago) link

i mean, fuck: "If I pay the roots of the heather /Too close attention, they will invite me /To whiten my bones among them." she can't even write about landscape without it coming back to ME ME ME. get the fuck OVER yourself, lady.

Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:01 (fourteen years ago) link

her poetry drips with ego and smug self-satisfaction. i read her work and think, no one cares about you or your family or your suicide fetishism. just shut up and fuck off.

― Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, August 22, 2009 2:58 PM (1 minute ago) Bookmark

with less force and personal investment, I must say your posts have the same effect on me.

Neotropical pygmy squirrel, Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:01 (fourteen years ago) link

maybe i should blog about it

Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:04 (fourteen years ago) link

bug, who are your favourite poets just out of interest

cozwn, Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:08 (fourteen years ago) link

"If I pay the roots of the heather /Too close attention, they will invite me /To whiten my bones among them." she can't even write about landscape without it coming back to ME ME ME.

don't read this as being about her at all, much more about the lure.

bnw, Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:15 (fourteen years ago) link

i like george oppen, mark doty, russell edson, erin belieu, michael s harper, robert creeley, li-young lee... i'm more into fiction, though.

Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:17 (fourteen years ago) link

http://www.bugoutwf.com/images/truck-bug-out.jpg

velko, Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:18 (fourteen years ago) link

<3 russell edson

bnw, Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:18 (fourteen years ago) link

her poetry drips with ego and smug self-satisfaction. i read her work and think, no one cares about you or your family or your suicide fetishism. just shut up and fuck off.

― Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, August 22, 2009 2:58 PM (1 hour ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

why the fuck are u reading her poetry if u dont care abt her family bro

fleetwood (max), Saturday, 22 August 2009 19:59 (fourteen years ago) link

i mean, fuck: "If I pay the roots of the heather /Too close attention, they will invite me /To whiten my bones among them." she can't even write about landscape without it coming back to ME ME ME. get the fuck OVER yourself, lady.

― Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Saturday, August 22, 2009 3:01 PM (58 minutes ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

my dude what is the second word in that quote--this isnt a set of lines about landscapes

fleetwood (max), Saturday, 22 August 2009 20:00 (fourteen years ago) link

lol @ me for taking this seriously tho

fleetwood (max), Saturday, 22 August 2009 20:02 (fourteen years ago) link

lol save-a-plaths

all yoga attacks are fire based (rogermexico.), Saturday, 22 August 2009 20:24 (fourteen years ago) link

lol at expecting lyric poetry not to be about the speaker

horseshoe, Saturday, 22 August 2009 20:29 (fourteen years ago) link

get the fuck OVER yourself, lady.

Of course she's got an ego and was self-obsessed: she suffered from depression. Anyone suffering from a depression only thinks about him/herself. One could argue that if Bug hatehatehates Sylvia Plath's socalled bloated ego,Bug (he? she?) should just stop reading it. That's a fair point, but I still disagree. What you should do, Bug, is argue why we're silly for loving her egotistic writings. But in a more... coherent and intelligent way.

Anyway, I never read her poetry, but count TheBellJar as one of my favourite books. Mostly because I read it at the right (or probably wrong) moment: I was suffering from a depression. But then I lack the right words. She didn't. My best friend of course hated it because 1 it was written by a woman and 2 the woman was also depressed. I wanted to throw the same words at her: if you hate it, convince me why I should stop loving it. But as of now I have yet to stop liking her book.

Nathalie (stevienixed), Saturday, 22 August 2009 20:39 (fourteen years ago) link

She also had an ego because she knew very well that she had talent.

Nathalie (stevienixed), Saturday, 22 August 2009 20:40 (fourteen years ago) link

this thread makes me wonder what bug thinks of teenage/young adult goth girls ... sylvia plath is definitely part of the teenage goth girl canon.

free jazz and mumia (sarahel), Saturday, 22 August 2009 20:42 (fourteen years ago) link

i've read her stuff because i was an english major and have read my share of poetry anthologies and been subjected to recitations of "daddy" and "lady lazarus." it's one thing that she was an egotistical asshole, but it's another for other people to validate her egotism and say she was correct in thinking so highly of herself.

lol at expecting lyric poetry not to be about the speaker

― horseshoe, Saturday, August 22, 2009 3:29 PM (4 hours ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

plenty of poetry is about the person speaking/writing it, sure, but plath, to me, is about nothing but plath. it irritates me that i'm expected to care about this person.

Yeah, well, jazz isn't exactly in love with Johnny either. (bug), Sunday, 23 August 2009 00:56 (fourteen years ago) link

i don't know, she says a lot of retarded things like "zoo of the new" and "flap like a hat" that bothers me

❊❁❄❆❇❃✴❈plaxico❈✴❃❇❆❄❁❊ (I know, right?), Sunday, 23 August 2009 00:58 (fourteen years ago) link

my dude what is the second word in that quote--this isnt a set of lines about landscapes
― fleetwood (max), Saturday, August 22, 2009 9:00 PM (Yesterday) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink

is about landscape tho

cozwn, Sunday, 23 August 2009 01:07 (fourteen years ago) link

hi, honey, no one cares!

buzza, Wednesday, 16 November 2011 06:10 (twelve years ago) link

irl, i don't think i know a single poet who enjoys thinking about or reading Sylvia Plath at this point in time. same with ginsberg.

who gives a shit?

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 16 November 2011 19:35 (twelve years ago) link

eleven months pass...

for the record there's a bad sentence above - I don't consider Plath greater than Berryman or Lowell, "other lesser confessionals" meant "confessionals you can name besides these ones" e.g. Sexton

Inconceivable (to the entire world) (underrated aerosmith bootlegs I have owned), Saturday, 10 November 2012 00:49 (eleven years ago) link

Snodgrass quite underrated these days

the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 10 November 2012 00:59 (eleven years ago) link

Berryman (the only one of the aforementioned that I know well) is all-time for me. I had to stop reading Dream Songs last year cuz I was at a really bad place in my life and the darkness in them was starting to get suffocating... but I recently picked it up again and I'm glad I did

What if an accident in Cuba had placed a baby in Obama? (bernard snowy), Saturday, 10 November 2012 01:23 (eleven years ago) link

first dream song is still my fav & one of v.few poems burned into my memory probably forever; but #29 (posted upthread) is one of my favs too

What if an accident in Cuba had placed a baby in Obama? (bernard snowy), Saturday, 10 November 2012 01:26 (eleven years ago) link

I have this constitutional aversion to the confessional, even after giving Lowell a genuine try after that 2003 collected poems got published. I'd rather read Merrill, Bishop, O'Hara, and Ashbery.

the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 10 November 2012 01:28 (eleven years ago) link

eh, different strokes; I like most of the names you just mentioned but Berryman's style is so electrifying I don't even pay attention to what he's "confessing" half the time

wish I could say more on the actual topic of this thread but I haven't read Plath since I was assigned to do a project on her in high school. I don't recall enjoying it very much (though I suspect I was a pretty bad reader/she went over my head most of the time), and I always think I ought to give her another chance, but there's always something else I wanna buy instead... *shrug*

What if an accident in Cuba had placed a baby in Obama? (bernard snowy), Saturday, 10 November 2012 01:30 (eleven years ago) link

They've all written poems I love though. The concision of and enjambments in "Near the Ocean" are breathtaking, and Plath's highwire act of imperiousness and vulgarity is unequaled; her strangeness eludes much of her collegiate claque.

the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 10 November 2012 01:34 (eleven years ago) link

calling berryman confessional is selling him short

otoh the same is true of plath and probably also of everyone called 'confessional' ever

Yorkshire lass born and bred, that's me, said Katriona's hologram. (thomp), Saturday, 10 November 2012 12:13 (eleven years ago) link

seven months pass...
five years pass...

I posted this on the LRB thread. It's compelling, but...

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n24/joanna-biggs/im-an-intelligence

Good cop, Babcock (Chinaski), Tuesday, 18 December 2018 12:54 (five years ago) link

three years pass...

re-reading Bell Jar and i think i will always stan for Plath

i dont know if i’ll articulate this the way i think of it but in her poetry and the bell jar there’s something i love about the way her direct, vivid-yet-blunt (& often grotesque) descriptions are presented so unapologetically in very refined, calm settings and she never belabors them or refers back to them, she just lets them, sit, & moves on


she’s not drawing attention to a “gloomy” mindset, or indicating it with any kind of moody gothy setup. like rooms and places and landscapes are always pleasant or inoffensive — she really captures the way weird or ugly thoughts and similes just land & fly away in one’s thoughts without necessarily being shown outwardly?

idk if that makes sense but anyway i love her

i recently read part of the recent Heather Clark “Red Comet” bio of plath and while i annoyingly didn’t get to finish before i had to return it, it is so impressively comprehensive and human and demythologizing, i am going to reborrow & finish it

i highly recommend

terminators of endearment (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 19 September 2022 22:00 (one year ago) link

I read The Bell Jar in February 20121 and whooped at every other sentence -- a hilarious, scary novel.

I recommend the book published last year about Plath and Sexton meeting for martinis at the Ritz.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 19 September 2022 22:18 (one year ago) link

xp great post

barry sito (gyac), Monday, 19 September 2022 22:19 (one year ago) link

also i never knew ~insulin~ shock therapy was a thing until rereading bell jar this time

horrifying https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin_shock_therapy

terminators of endearment (VegemiteGrrl), Monday, 19 September 2022 22:23 (one year ago) link

five months pass...

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

treeship., Tuesday, 7 March 2023 17:23 (one year ago) link

omg at this thread's early exchanges

the bell jar is monumental, her poetry...i've not encountered anything that isn't great

imago, Tuesday, 7 March 2023 17:30 (one year ago) link

the holocaust imagery in daddy and lady lazarus always offended me. today i realized that it is supposed to. she is reveling in her solipsism, the rawness of her experience, not framing it in a way that is easily consumed and digested by someone like me. at her best when she is transgressive, uninhibited, and uncomfortable.

treeship., Tuesday, 7 March 2023 17:34 (one year ago) link

i think ariel is my favorite.

White
Godiva, I unpeel—
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.

treeship., Tuesday, 7 March 2023 17:36 (one year ago) link

the same rawness and uninhibited openness to changing experience that permits TBJ's terrifyingly seamless fall from hilarious social satire to the case against life under medical abuse :(

imago, Tuesday, 7 March 2023 17:38 (one year ago) link

right. even in the social satire parts of the bell jar, she permits herself to be mean. she often laments the burden of living up to other people's expectations -- especially gendered ones -- but in her writing she doesn't seem to do that at all and this is her genius i think

treeship., Tuesday, 7 March 2023 17:41 (one year ago) link

i re-read Ariel again after Bell Jar - one of my new old favorites is ‘Letter in November’

the rat-rail pods of the laburnum
golden apples, red autumn, all the wintery colors in the mist

i enjoy her visuals a lot. and i love how her word choices uh “feel”? in yr mouth when you say them out loud

werewolves of laudanum (VegemiteGrrl), Tuesday, 7 March 2023 17:43 (one year ago) link

I read Elm just before I went to sleep last night. Sweet dreams.

I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Tuesday, 7 March 2023 20:28 (one year ago) link

I think about Tulips, often. I find Plath too raw sometimes. Maybe I mean too real. I think (late) Stevens aimed at the real in a similar fashion, but it never felt this flayed.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Tuesday, 7 March 2023 20:32 (one year ago) link

xp absolutely haunting poem. I think about it all the time.

giant bat fucker (gyac), Tuesday, 7 March 2023 20:42 (one year ago) link

and the final couplet:

The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 7 March 2023 20:51 (one year ago) link

five months pass...

Yikes at the early parts of this thread.

I finally read The Bell Jar. I enjoyed the shit out of it, reader! It's one of those books that, when you read it in public, you imagine people around you can see and hear the prose so loudly does it jump off the page: lines that wound, lines audacious and hilariously funny, lines that make you wince.

On that last point, it's kind of gauche or clumsy in places and I couldn't decide if this was a deliberate aspect of the narrative voice. She clings to similes too readily (on some pages there are five or more) and I found myself highlighting lines of excess, or where she personifies herself - things like 'I shivered' or 'my eyes sprang with tears'. It's something you pick up in a lot of student writing.

(picnic, lightning) very very frightening (Chinaski), Sunday, 27 August 2023 09:32 (nine months ago) link

that tendency feels absolutely part of the excoriation. it's a celebration of and a final judgement upon her life and the forces that broke it. i'm p sensitive to overdoing similes and here it feels wry rather than gauche

that central chapter where it flips from being a humorous satire to sheer horror is still one of the most haunting chapters in literature imo, it's so sudden and brutal

imago, Sunday, 27 August 2023 09:55 (nine months ago) link

Yeah, gauche is unkind. I think I'm so attuned to marking clunky student writing, seeing it in the wild like that is jarring and unsettling. Even the satire is brutal, though. Some of it made me think of Ballard - how dead-eyed everything is, how stark.

And yeah, passages like:

I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people's eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.

Holy shit.

(picnic, lightning) very very frightening (Chinaski), Sunday, 27 August 2023 10:01 (nine months ago) link

the most metal writing, gonna throw some horns 4 sylvia, reign in power

imago, Sunday, 27 August 2023 10:06 (nine months ago) link

I can take or leave Bell Jar.

From a search it doesn't look like the letters to her mother have been mentioned. That's my favourite collection of her writing besides some of her poetry.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 27 August 2023 10:17 (nine months ago) link

Imago otm.

Somebody (I think Camille Paglia?) Said of Emily Dickinson that she had a mean streak a mile wide.

Where I love Plath the most is when she just fucking lets loose. Rage, despair, hunger, madness. Bring it on

Pontius Pilates (Ye Mad Puffin), Sunday, 27 August 2023 10:22 (nine months ago) link

this piece (sub needed i think) is very funny on emily dickinson's mean streak: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n11/joanne-o-leary/bitchy-little-spinster

mark s, Sunday, 27 August 2023 12:12 (nine months ago) link

Thanks for that, mark s. Yeah ED was pretty layered, even sneaky, and that's part of the fun.

Read Janet Malcolm's longish NYer piece (or the shortish book) on Plath and you get the same sense.

I try to mainly focus on the work (as opposed to the soap opera aspects of their lives) but with some writers, it's hard to separate. Do NOT get me started on Woolf.

Pontius Pilates (Ye Mad Puffin), Sunday, 27 August 2023 12:30 (nine months ago) link

Yeah the Malcolm book is superb. I had never heard of it until I was telling xyzzzz__ about my English class’s absolute hatred of Ted Hughes, he was like, you need to read this book. We discussed it a bit here

Now the year is turning and the eeriness comes: what are you reading in autumn 2021?

ydkb (gyac), Sunday, 27 August 2023 13:08 (nine months ago) link

I'm debating whether to re-read the Malcolm book post-Bell Jar. I think I will. Also want to read the Heather Clark biography.

(picnic, lightning) very very frightening (Chinaski), Sunday, 27 August 2023 13:15 (nine months ago) link

That Malcolm book is an eye-opener.

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 27 August 2023 13:19 (nine months ago) link

But even those who admired Dickinson’s work have been put off by the demands she places on the reader. Denise Levertov found something chilling about her command on the page, an ugliness in her aristocratic self-assurance: ‘You know, actually those dashes bother me,’ she wrote to Robert Duncan in 1961. ‘There’s something cold and perversely smug about E.D. that has always rebuffed my feeling for individual poems ... She wrote some great things – saw strangely – makes one shudder with new truths – but ever and again one feels (or I do) – “Jesus, what a bitchy little spinster.”’

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 27 August 2023 13:56 (nine months ago) link

iirc Plath hated the public's interest in her personal life and in her relationship with Hughes. She called us onlookers the "peanut gallery."

I enjoyed the LRB piece but also felt a little queasy afterward about having any interest whatsoever in Emily's brother's lover's husband, as it's not necessarily relevant to poems.

Then I got over it, because once you are into this shiznit you may as well get the whole package. Purity is for soapmakers.

Pontius Pilates (Ye Mad Puffin), Sunday, 27 August 2023 14:13 (nine months ago) link

Also, for Alfred:

Bitchy little spinster I know, I know, it's serious...

Pontius Pilates (Ye Mad Puffin), Sunday, 27 August 2023 14:14 (nine months ago) link

The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot-
The big strip tease.

(picnic, lightning) very very frightening (Chinaski), Sunday, 27 August 2023 14:24 (nine months ago) link

nine months pass...

I've nearly finished the Clark biography, Red Comet. I don't see what else one could ask from a biography. It's meticulous, clear-eyed, compassionate; Clark has no framing narrative to follow, so - this far at least (October 1962) - there's no apportioning of blame, no sense that everything is heading for the vortex of her suicide (even if, well). Clark is a good critic, too - especially of Plath's short fiction and the later poems.

It's clear that 1950s New England was perfect in some ways but a hellscape of gender norms and expectations in others. The central event of her life was her post-New York depression and the disgraceful treatment at McLean. The suicide attempt and her subsequent internment are superbly recreated. It's a brutal and maddening indictment of patriarchy and institutional care.

Hughes doesn't come out of it well. How could he? I have a full sense of why Plath was so obsessed with him and a better understanding of the power of his early poetry; also, that he was an utter shithead but he's a believable shithead if that counts for anything. I don't think the punishment fits the crime but that's an ugly, glib and probably stupid way to frame it.

There's something, as ever, to be said about the limits of biography. Cleaving so close to the journals and the letters gives an illusion of an inner life but who of us is ourselves in our private journals and letters? Even if Plath more than anyone *seemed* to be building a version of herself in her private communication.

Obviously, the premise of the thread is bollocks. The price she paid is indefensible, but The Bell Jar and the later poetry are fucking astonishing.

I would prefer not to. (Chinaski), Saturday, 1 June 2024 20:56 (two weeks ago) link

yeah i loved Red Comet

the only thing i didn’t love was the critical analysis of her childhood poems: that felt like a bridge too far for me.

werewolves of laudanum (VegemiteGrrl), Saturday, 1 June 2024 20:58 (two weeks ago) link

Good posts.

the talented mr pimply (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 1 June 2024 20:59 (two weeks ago) link

I can see the logic of looking at the juvenilia though. Clark doesn't have a project, as such, but one thing she is trying to do is to give Plath complete integrity. The through line from her early poems is clear inasmuch as she inhabits and inscribes landscape with meaning from the very start.

I would prefer not to. (Chinaski), Saturday, 1 June 2024 22:57 (two weeks ago) link

yeah i can see that, it just feels unnecessarily invasive. like, just as a human being? like once you embark on a career publishing poetry that’s one thing, but to treat her childhood output with the same kind of critical rigor is a bit much. at least to me. i just kept thinking “if Sylvia read this part she’d be rightfully annoyed or upset by it” idk

werewolves of laudanum (VegemiteGrrl), Saturday, 1 June 2024 23:16 (two weeks ago) link

I finished the book. It's great. A couple of things.

1) The chapter on the 'afterlife of a poet' is a bit workmanlike after the immense rigour of the rest of the text. It's outside the scope of the book but it felt a bit loose after everything else. I guess after 8 years (!) of working on it, Clark wanted rid.

2) Al Alvarez doesn't come out of it well. Another 'how could he?' I suppose, but god, what a self-serving arsehole.

3) Olwyn. Christ, Olwyn.

4) There's a critical thread running through the text positing that Plath stood 'too close to the fire'. It goes something like the following. There's a well of poetic inspiration, Yeats had access to it, Lawrence too, Nietzsche, some of the Romantics. Freud and Jung mapped it, to some extent. Plath, who'd come up under a New Critical framework, was also drawn to it and knew it in her bones. When she met Hughes, he embodied the essence of it, was poetic inspiration made flesh - he, and the darkness they summoned together, were the missing pieces of the puzzle that enabled her to fall through her own trapdoors fully into that dark thought-cave, or word-hoard or whatever Romantic bullshit you want to call it. And, being a woman, she wasn't able to handle it. After her death, Alvarez wondered 'if all our rash chatter about art and risk and courage, and the way we turned rashness and despair into a literary principle, hadn't egged her on'.

5) Might as well call it the 'Lady Macbeth Gambit'.

I would prefer not to. (Chinaski), Sunday, 9 June 2024 19:25 (six days ago) link

The Janet Malcolm bio is so good about those matters.

the talented mr pimply (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 9 June 2024 19:43 (six days ago) link

I need to go back to it. Having engaged so closely with the poetry, it'll be like a new book.

I've got Jacqueline Rose's book too. Have you read that Alfred? Anyone else?

I would prefer not to. (Chinaski), Sunday, 9 June 2024 20:27 (six days ago) link


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