Notes from Reading Sylvia Plath for POETS Day

The Unexpectedness of the poppies
their gratuitous beauty in
her own frozen life
               – Unknown Annotator

I checked out Sylvia Plath’s collections The Colossus and other poems and Ariel from The Emmet O’Neal Library in Mountain Brook, Alabama a week or so ago. Rather, I checked out Sylvia Plath’s collections The Colossus and other poems and Ariel from O’Neal Library, formerly The Emmet O’Neal Library until Emmet’s views on segregation that no one knew or knows about were dug up and found to be too embarrassing to city council public relations people but not so embarrassing that the O’Neal family’s, gracious benefactors it seems, name suffer as well, in Mountain Brook, Alabama a week or so ago. Someone got to Ariel before I did. Actually, lots of people got to Ariel before I did. At least I assume so. The earliest stamped date in the book, copyrighted 1966, appears to be May 7, 1987. A lot of people likely signed their name from the card that used to be in the check out sleave adhered to the last page. It’s all computerized now, of course, so the card is no more. Some library books still have them and I like to see how many people read the book, or at least took it home, before me. Not Ariel. The card is gone. I know at least one person checked it out though, because she wrote all over the place. That’s the someone I’m focusing on, because that someone went from being a someone to being someone.

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POETS Day! Sylvia Plath

Photo by Megalit, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

[This entry is cross posted at ordinary-times.com]

Welcome to POET’S Day of the second week in Ordinary Time. Today we try to make anguish take wing, be a light for those in the land of gloom, and bring abundant joy by encouraging you to usher in the weekend a few hours early. Why wait until Friday evening when a slight bending of the truth can get you out of work in the middle of the afternoon? It’s POET’S Day by God’s sake. Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. Dissemble, obfuscate, and gleefully trespass the norms that preserve our hopefully durable civilization, but be as pious about it as you can this time. Be humble and thankful at this opportunity to escape the sultry bonds of employment you’ve been given. Use the time wisely. Marvel at natures grandeur in a local park. Join in fellowship at a local watering hole before happy hour even has a chance to kick off. You deserve it. No matter how you end up spending your gotten free time (remember, stealing hours from work are only “ill gotten” if you fake being sick) maybe take a moment to enjoy a little verse.

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This week’s POET’S Day poet is Sylvia Plath which makes banishing anguish, bringing light and abundant joy a thing of the weekend activity rather than the poem. Sorry about the bait and switch. I won’t go into her background because I want to do something different this time and break this week’s featured poem down stanza by stanza. Plath was mentally ill. She described her manic depression in a 1958 journal “It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.” In January of 1963 she told her doctor that she had been deeply depressed for six or seven months. In February of that year she put her head in a gas oven and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the months before her death she wrote poems that would be posthumously collected along with a few of her previously published but uncollected works and titled Ariel, released in 1965. In the introduction, poet Robert Lowell wrote that these were composed at a furious pace, “often rushed out at the rate of two or three a day.” She and Lowell were among those known as “The Confessional Poets” with Elizabeth Bishop and John Berryman among others. None of them were fond of the moniker. In The Wounded Surgeon, Adam Kirsch writes that “Plath scorned the notion of poetry as ‘some kind of therapeutic public purge or excretion.’” Not that it mattered. They all were heavily autobiographical. In Ariel Plath writes of her past suicide attempts, resentments towards her father and husband, and carbon monoxide poisoning should there be any doubts that her suicide wasn’t considered long before it’s execution.

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