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Plath in Performance


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hHjctqSBwM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esBLxyTFDxE&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUpZQMeHumw&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfgtiDvvAR8&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUpZQMeHumw&NR=1

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Apr/12/2009, 2:09 pm
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Re: Plath in Performance


Tere,

Over at poets.org, I entered into a discussion about Plath's poem "Daddy" with dmanister. Boy, do we disagree on the interpretation of that poem:

http://www.poets.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6431&start=15
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Re: Plath in Performance


I've been having fun chatting with Diana despite the fact that I often feel the way you say you feel when writing a poem, Tere: a high wire act with no net. You know the poem I mean?
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Re: Plath in Performance


Chuckling here, Katfriend. Certain discussions with certain interlocutors make me feel that way too. You bet I remember the poem. It is another one of those ars poetica type poems I've written over several decades. Its title, in fact, is Ars Poetica. By the way, I borrowed the high wire image from Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." As did Ferlinghetti before me and to the same purpose. At least I am pretty sure he got it from Nietzsche.

Good luck up there.

Tere
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Re: Plath in Performance


Oh my f**king God. I just read the exchange between you and dmanister. As you know I am persona non grata on the board. Even if I wasn't, however, I wouldn't enter the exchange. As your links demonstrate I've already been there and done that.

Something occurs to me for yet another time. What was it Shakespeare said? Methinks the lady doth protest too much? I am convinced that critics who take the likes of Path, and the other so-called Confessionals, to such a hard task are in fact operating out of fear and discomfort. They have been made queasy. They are afraid of what a certain order of poetry raises to the surface: interior or interiorized content perhaps they themselves must at all cost avoid. This animadversion of the present critic towards Plath is highly suspect in my view, far more revealing of the commentator than of the subject. Just look at the needlessly harsh condemnations and wholly with out balance or objectivity. Why is so much invested in destroying Plath? Not just her poetry but the poet herself. It is all highly suspect. Psychoanalysis, by the way, is double edged; it can also be brought to bear on the analyst. Christ, were Jung alive today he would probably be diagnosed bipolar and put on meds.

As a side note there is a much simpler, less convoluted explanation of a suicide's motives. The notion that a suicide is, in anger, looking to harm others has always struck me as BS. It is merely looking to place blame on the suicide herself for her own suffering, which is key. In my view and in my experience all the suicide wants in that particular moment is surcease from pain. Just make it go away.

(note to self. when Katfriend gets laser focused duck.)

Tere
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Re: Plath in Performance


Tere,

When reading your post, I was suddenly struck by something you wrote in another thread:

“Brown & Dilke walked with me and back from the Christmas pantomine. I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes all other considerations, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

I read this passage over two decades ago and it damn near slammed me between the eyes. What I take from this is that Shakespeare did not need what most people, and artists, need. He did not need the crutch of dogma or religion or ideology or any other "ism". His sense of beauty obliterated all other considerations. Thus his negative capability, his genius for living and creating in uncertainties without the nagging need for dogma, ideology or, and especially, group identity.


In face of "uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts," it's only natural to reach "after fact and reason," but in the end, all the isms become irritable, slip, slide, perish, will not suffice. I am reminded of some lines by Antonio Machado:

"Mankind owns four things
that are no good at sea:
rudder, anchor, oars
and the fear of going down."

and

"Why should we call
these accidental furrows, roads? . . .
Everyone who moves on walks
like Jesus, on the sea.

. . .

You walking, your footprints are
the road, and nothing else;
you make the road by walking.
By walking you make the road,
and when you look backward,
you see the path that you
never will step on again.
Walker,* there is no road,
only wind-trails in the sea."

translations by Robert Bly

*sometimes translated as wanderer or traveler

quote:

As a side note there is a much simpler, less convoluted explanation of a suicide's motives. The notion that a suicide is, in anger, looking to harm others has always struck me as BS. It is merely looking to place blame on the suicide herself for her own suffering, which is key. In my view and in my experience all the suicide wants in that particular moment is surcease from pain. Just make it go away.



Yes, I wonder why it is the very real suffering and despair of suicides is so often overlooked. I read somewhere that what suicides are looking for is rebirth but that physical death and a hoped for rebirth is the only way they know to try to achieve it. Barring that, they'll settle for an end to pain. They don't call despair "the dark night of the soul" for nothing.


 



Last edited by Katlin, Nov/11/2009, 6:15 pm
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Re: Plath in Performance


Good on ya, Katfriend. Here is what your cited passages bring to mind.

I don't know which parts, if any, of poetry making can be taught or even acquired through teaching. I suppose the mechanics of it all I can. I am settled, however, that the capacity for what I keep calling poetry comprehension cannot be taught. I am also convinced, to say it again, that the gifted poetry reader, my ideal, cannot be made. She can only be born that way. It took me awhile but I finally learned to limit all poetry commerce to just this sort of reader. With any other sort the conversation is a non-starter.

I've told this story before. But anecdotally here is what I mean. I once had a lover who was a married woman. Her husband knew something was wrong with their marriage but he didn't know what. He kept asking his wife to explain. In one way or another her reply was always the same: if you have to ask you don't get it. (I actually felt sorry for the man. He was clearly out of his depth.)

How do you explain certain things? How do you explain poetry, genius, the gifted poetry reader, which, in my view, is another variety of having genius? And so we are reduced to citing poetry as if it is an explanation by way of illustration or demonstration saying, this is what I mean.

You know something else? I do wish certain types would leave the body of Sylvia Plath alone. And Sexton too for that matter. And a bunch of others. Stop using them for their own "irritable reaching for fact and reason."

Tere
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Re: Plath in Performance


Tere,

Rereading your "ars poetica" poem reminded me the thread "Poems by L.D. Cooper":
 
http://www.runboard.com/bdelectablemnts.f4.t465

This was the part that came to mind:

"There are no nets in the desert,
no safety in numbers;
your foot a dry turning upon
dust and longing.
You are brave
but you are not yet human."

But then I started reading the whole poem and many sections struck me as appropriate to this thread:

"They who tarry are trapped,
trapped
in their own knowing.

They who tarry are trapped,
trapped
in their own knowing."

and

"This is my one strength:
I do not turn away
from doubt;
faced squarely in my inner chamber,
it is ever before me,
questioning my motives,
sanctifying the temple of my
incessant yearning.

Do you know what it is,
to yearn pilgrim;
to suffocate in the bile
of your own inadequacies,
to always be a dollar short
and the train just leaving?
You thought that I would be an
extraordinary power,
a stronghold
of wisdom and endurance.

But I am your temptation.
How easy it would be
to remain here,
my devotee,
how sweet and spineless a destiny."

and

"Days we will travel.
Wildness and silence
shall be our cloak and seal.
No road
to guide us there,
no hope
to thread our dreams.

It is a dryness in the throat,
a soreness in the hip,
where the world ends
and the wilderness takes hold;
your life an unknown such as mine,
your mind a wasteland waiting
to be discovered."

and

"Swinging here like dried garlic,
a tanning hide,
amused and not a little
world worn,
bound at the ankles,
hanging upside down.
You know there is a reason.
You know it
but have you felt it?"


And more. . . . Have I lost my mind, or do you see the connections? emoticon
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Re: Plath in Performance


In another thread, I just post a link to an interview with Jane Hirshfield. In it she was asked about "negative capability" and responded this way:

Jane: It’s always hard for me to summarize my essays, but the gravitational center of that one is that good poetry always includes not only knowing but also some real measure of not-knowing. Uncertainty is the basic condition of life, a condition that most of the time we try to ignore. Good poems let that essential unknowability into the room, and we are changed—our relationship to our lives is changed—by agreeing to its presence.

I’m in general wary of certainty, which tends to limit not just the imagination but also compassion. We do need to know things of course. Facts exist, and they matter. There are objective truths, at least for the purposes of daily life. Yet our certainties also create fixity and boundary in us, and a surfeit of sureness can lead to rigor mortis of intellect and heart. It’s a poet’s job to be vulnerable, and at risk. The subject haunts my poems as well as the essay, and has been much on my mind in recent years, raised in no small part by the seeming increase of fundamentalist beliefs in the world. Those reified beliefs’ effects seem to me universally disastrous, no matter which ones or whose they are. I am aware of the irony of the seeming certainty with which I say this. But I’ve come to feel that nothing is more dangerous to self and others than a person sure of her or his own rightness. When I find myself adamant, in life or in a poem, I try to catch that tone, and administer a useful antidote—a question. “Is that so? Is it the whole story?” Sometimes I’ll end up letting a statement stand, sometimes I’ll change it, or add to it. The habit of questioning a little further is what matters—it throws open the doors to the new.

. . .

To find your way to any discovery requires exceptional attention. The mind and heart and tongue need to be free of shackles if they are to leap. The teaching motto of the Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahnim was “don’t-know mind.” The Japanese Soto Zen teacher Suzuki-roshi famously said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s, only one.”


http://www.pirenesfountain.com/showcase-interview.html

She nails it, doesn't she, with regard to the dangerous, disasterous effect certainty has on both imagination and compassion?

Last edited by Katlin, Nov/12/2009, 9:21 am
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Re: Plath in Performance


Boy she sure does nail it. A nice riff on Keats's comments.

I want to remember to post a Robert Graves poem about the deliberate stance of uncertainty.

Tere
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Re: Plath in Performance


Katfriend, I almost missed your postings from L.D. verses. You are not crazy. He was of Keats's tribe. I swear he was like a an ecstatic Sufi dancer for whom truth was motion, motion unpredictable and therefore true.

Tere
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Re: Plath in Performance


Has anyone else been following the dmanister/katfriend exchange over on poets.org? Color me impressed. Kat's (Indy's) clear advantage is her lack of vested interest in her position. It is pretty clear she does not have an especial dog in the hunt. This to me is the lit crit approach at its best. This is how it should go. I am particularly glad that Katfriend is involved in a lit crit conversation as widely read as all posts are there. This topic alone has well over 28,000 views. Sure I am glad for Kat. But I am more glad that the information with which she bellies up to the table gets circulated. Plath's poetry, and her thinking, was not as the post's author would have it to be. It was not one dimensional. It was not limited to the personal confession. Nor was it narcistic. It worked in the range of the personal universal and in the same way a Lorca poem, a Neruda poem, a Whitman poem, a Goethe poem does. I find it interesting that a woman poet working in the same range has been approached reductively by the post's originator who, I have to add, is another woman poet.

But I am particularly struck by something Kat suggests in the course of the conversation. That working in myth perhaps proved overwhelming for Plath. I don't know if this is common among poets. I do know I've met with the circumstance before. It happened to Sexton. It happened to Rimbaud. It happened to Byron.

I think I remember right that Plath's last collection of poetry, Ariel, was finished off pretty much on the eve of when she killed herself. The case could be made that she got overwhelmed by the deep time of archetypal experience she brought to the surface. And in the same way shamans sometimes get overwhelmed, sybils too, by the chthonic they bring to the surface.

Tere
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Re: Plath in Performance


Gotta say I'm liking this conversation better than the one at p.o. Getting an education in Negative Capability and the fertile ground of uncertainty which is no ground at all. I've become wary of these exchanges where statements are turned into territory to be held and defended. A few years back I tried to write my sense of this:

This statement is the gesture
of a hand, the unloosed arc
of a shaken fan. Nothing upon
which to stand.

Or something like that...got critted for being obscure and more interested in sound than sense, etc...

but my point is I've been interested in this for a while and I'm so glad to see the subject raised and all these ways to look at it.

So I'm baking bread today. Whithot a breadmaker, well, I'm the bread maker. I've never done this before, it always seemed like magic to me. I'll check in later.

Chris
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I get your point, Chrisfriend. As is your way you say a true thing. I hope you've caught the Graves poem I posted in the Right Word forum.

On a different note this Plath talk has brought to mind a review I read a year ago. It is a review of the "Letters of Ted Hughes." I've not read the book but the article quotes from a few of Hughes' letters. Here is a lengthy passage from the first letter Hughes wrote to Plath's mother, Aurelia, after her daughter's suicide. I still can't read it without choking up.

"The particular conditions of our marriage, the marriage of two people so openly under the control of deep psychological abnormalities as both of us were, meant that we finally reduced each other to a state where our actions and normal states of mind were like madness. My attempt to correct that marriage is madness from start to finish. The way she reacted to my actions also has all the appearance of madness - her insistence on a divorce, the one thing in the world she did not want, the proud hostility and hatred, the malevolent acts, that she showed to me, when all she wanted to say simply was that if I didn't go back to her she could not live...

"We were utterly blind, we were both desperate, stupid, and proud - and the pride made us oblique, she especially so. I know Sylvia was so made that she had to mete out terrible punishment to the people she most loved, but everybody is a little bit like that, and it needed only intelligence on my part to deal with it...

"I don't want ever to be forgiven. I don't mean I shall become a public shrine of mourning and remorse, I would sooner become the opposite. But if there is an eternity, I am damned in it."

Robert Graves said something this whole sad tale of two poets of genius falling in love brings to mind. He said 'It is death to love a poet, be a poet, or curse a poet.' The context of which is a tragic story he tells of two ancient Welsh poets who fell in love with each other and whose love ended badly. Given his own 9 year relationship with Laura Riding I figure he knew what he was talking about. It tallies with my experience too.

What a sad, sad letter involving two poets who cancelled each other out.

Tere
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Yes, the Graves poem, L.D's above, the Jane Hirshfield excerpts, Machado...it's a good, thought provoking thread.

I re-read the exchange at p.o. It is impressive and avoids devolving into a pissing contest. What is it about disagreement that baits the whole ego? If I knew the answer I'd graduate a notch. I appreciate the example set in that exchange.

Chris

Last edited by ChrisD1, Nov/16/2009, 9:21 am
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Yes, Chrisfriend. It is a thoughtful thread. There is another L.D. poem put up by his first wife on the thread she started for him. She scanned it to the link and so I cannot simply cut and paste it to here. I guess I am going to have to type it out at some point. He called it a slap song, by which he meant he would slap the beat against his chest in recitation. The poem makes it crystal clear his take on what negative capability is all about, this strength of the artist and thinker to live and create in uncertainty.

On a different note the poets.org exchange has focused my attention, yet one more time, on the Plath/Hughes case. I realized something today. That that marriage between two poets of genius, and borrowing from Hollywood, amounted to the perfect storm when the conditions are such it could only take the vector it did. Human, all too human, they both were.

Tere
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Probably I should make this post on our Right Words forum. But I mean it as a comment on the Plath/Hughes case and so I'll place it here in our discussion forum's thread devoted to the case.

Something has recently been reported to me that I did not know and that I should have known. The report places the context of the Plath/Hughes tragedy in an entirely different light.

What I did not know and what I should have known is that Plath and Hughes, as was the case for many poets of that decade, were both hugely impacted by the Robert Graves White Goddess thesis. I think it is right to say that it was an integral part of their courtship even. His thesis is straight forward and pretty simple. A poet's muse plays the White Goddess to his role as her sacred lover, her son/lover. In effect she is Sovereignty. He her Consort. The story Graves tells is much more complicated, what with all of its historical grammar, but this is the story's mythogem.

Dealing in myth, however, is a potent thing. With its archetypal content it can both bring to the surface enormous psychic energy or it can overwhelm the individual and cause an emotional breakdown. Put metaphorically, when a shaman or a sybil enters the underworld the safe return to the upper world is not guaranteed. Madness is as much a possibility as are the culture gifts of transformative renewal and rebirth.

I think it is clear that neither Plath or Hughes were mentally sound. In Jungian terms their personalities were not well individuated. It is also clear that Plath could be cruel to her husband. Just as he demonstrated abandonment of her as husband and father. It now seems plausible that they both took the mythic dimensions of the White Goddess a bit too seriously. Charged with intense sexual energy between the two it actually becomes likely. They didn't just play out the roles. They became the roles, and Plath maybe more so. As Hughes' Muse she could not have tolerated any betrayal, especially since such a role demands self-sacrifice.

Graves was no light weight. He understood that his thesis could become a dangerous game to play, a psychically dangerous game to play, that could annihilate the individual personality. He has a poem involving the muse/poet dynamic. It is called "Beware, Madam!"


Beware, Madam!

Beware, madam, of the witty devil,
The arch intriguer who walks disguised
In a poet's cloak, his gay tongue oozing evil.

Would you be a Muse? He will so declare you,
Pledging his blind allegiance,
Yet remain secret and uncommitted.

Poets are men: are single-hearted lovers
Who adore and trust beyond all reason,
Who die honourably at the gates of hell.

The Muse alone is licensed to do murder
And to betray: weeping with honest tears
She thrones each victim in her paradise.

But from this Muse the devil borrows an art
That ill becomes a man. Beware, madam:
He plots to strip you bare of woman-pride.

He is capable of seducing your twin sister
On the same pillow, and neither she nor you
Will suspect the act, so close a glamour he sheds.

Alas, being honourably single-hearted,
You adore and trust beyond all reason,
Being no more a Muse than he a poet.

(poem by Robert Graves)

This finally makes sense of the story for me. It is the stuff of myth and fairy tales. But as with all myths the archetypal content raises to the surface powerful psychic energy. There is something else to consider. The poet's muse can never work double duty, not in his eyes. She must always be the wild woman, Lady of the Wild Things. She can never become a domestic the way Plath, once a mother, had to. Twice over Hughes demonstrated the truth of the insight. He betrayed Plath for another woman once she had domestic chores to see to. And he betrayed a second woman for the same reason.

(Make no mistake about it. This White Goddess stuff ain't for everybody. The stakes are high. The consequences can make for life and they can make for death.)

I've never read Plath's Daddy poem as addressed to either her father or to Hughes. To me it has always been a political poem addressing a decadent patriarchy. But I might be inclined to concede a point, at least partially. That poem might have been her means of breaking a certain spell. She may have tired of being a man's, any man's muse; which would have amounted to a different sort of political statement.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Nov/17/2009, 4:45 pm
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The thread has suddenly taken a radical, decisive turn for me. Do what I just did. Make a google search. Type in: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and Robert Graves. Hughes influenced by, Plath impacted by Graves' White Goddess thesis. With reference after reference the information is out there.

It seems Hughes introduced the thesis to Plath. It also seems she bought it, hook, line and sinker. Love between poets is funny that way. He believed in it. She believed in it. And they both became possessed by the charge.

I found a Plath poem on line I had forgotten about and about which I had no reason to put into the context of Graves' White Goddess theme. It is called "The Moon and the Yew Tree." Depending upon the critic's point of view Graves either rediscovered or imagined an ancient Welsh alphabet that ascribed a consonant to each of the thirteen lunar months and that ascribed a vowel to each of the five high festival days: days sacred to a pagan, pre-Christian Celt. He also ascribed each letter of the alphabet (month and high festival day) to a tree. He said this was how the ancient Celtic poets worked in poetic language.

There are two trees he associates with the winter solstice: a day of the old year's death and the new year's start. For the old there is the silver fir. For the new there is the yew tree, which tree signals an "entrance to new beginnings."

I am persuaded that Plath was deliberate in her constructions. The notion that she was pathological or compensatory is bullshit, more speaking to the critic than to her poetry. This is why:

http://www.sylviaplathforum.com/thread.html

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Nov/17/2009, 8:43 pm
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I've come to the conclusion that whatever a person thinks about Plath, the woman, and her death says as much, if not more, about that person than it says about Plath.
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Good on you, Katfriend. Your up-from-under comment incites me to state what I really think about Plath's critics inordinately needing to disqualify her poetry because of her, shall we say?, messy personal life. What you say is not only true, it is damn true. The critics' reading of Plath invariably says more about the critic than it says about the poet. What does the critic's reading speak to motive? This has become my essential question everytime I read a critic looking again to once again flay the lady alive.

What I really think is this: Plath is a litmus test by which I measure all critics and all poetry readers. And the test, like all existential exams, is pass/fail. The question is not: does her poetry cause discomfort. All poetry should cause discomfort, should be the banana peel on which we slip in our steps, forcing us to certain re-evaluations. Rather the question is this: how does each reader respond to the disorentiation involved, what should slice away at certain agreed upon conspiracies kept to in order to protect each of us against sensual truth. And Plath's truth, technically mastered, was sensual.

And it isn't just Plath who makes for this litmus test of mine. It is Sexton, Berryman, and Lowell too, even Roethke. All of whom operated at that liminal level, that threshold between the upper air of sanity and the lower underworld of madness, and who did so with damn near perfect, technical, prosodic, skill which, itself, is a signature of sensual clarity.

Yeah. I have no patience anymore for the critic operating in self-compensatory fashion. And god damn if they don't seem to be dirtying the air waves of poetry.

Tere
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Excellent post, Tere. Sounds like this could be your poetic manifesto:

All poetry should cause discomfort, should be the banana peel on which we slip in our steps, forcing us to certain re-evaluations. Rather the question is this: how does each reader respond to the disorentiation involved, what should slice away at certain agreed upon conspiracies kept to in order to protect each of us against sensual truth.

I like it.
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Discussing Jean Valentine with Dragon in another thread reminded me of a poem she wrote about Plath and Sexton that made an impression on me when I heard her read it:

"To Plath, to Sexton

So what use was poetry
to a white empty house?

Wolf, swan, hare,
in by the fire.

And when your tree
crashed through your house,

what use then
was all your power?

It was the use of you.
It was the flower."
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Re: Plath in Performance


First of all, thanks for the compliment, Katfriend. In the measure of a fortnight I've been humbled twice over. Truth is, it's really all I know, all I keep to.

And especially thanks for posting the Valentine poem! This is it, isn't it? This is the thing, the flower(s) of both poets respectively. I swear I don't get how or why some people don't get it. I've probably mentioned this before. But Robert Graves had a concept he kept to he called the "assault heroic." What he meant was to alchemically transform the baseness, the ugliness, the pain, the assault by reality through poetry. He specifically had in mind his four years spent in the trenches of WW1, which reality he needed some thirty years to overcome. The assault heroic. Both Plath and Sexton made the same alchemical transformations.

Tell Jean Valentine I wish I had come to her poem before she did.

Tere
Dec/12/2009, 5:49 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Plath in Performance


This discussion of Plath and Sexton reminded me of a paper I wrote in grad school (and just dug out), which included this portion of a poem by Diane Wakoski:

"Pain. yes, isn't it a burden to get
from day to day?
But how to respect anyone
who willingly gives up that struggle?
Anne, Sylvia, John, Virginia,
you were all cowards. I'll say it now,
and get it over with.
We all suffer.
It angers me to hear only those cowards who give up
spoken of as 'sensitive.'
How much dignity, power,
we must have to carry on, precisely when it is too painful."

In the margin next to the poem, my teacher, who had known Sexton when she was alive, wrote: "She's wrong about Anne." At the time I didn't think to ask him why he said that, probably wouldn't have had the courage to if I had. Now I would, just to see what I might learn about both of them.

Last edited by Katlin, Dec/14/2009, 9:57 pm
Dec/13/2009, 10:57 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 


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