Wednesday, May 7, 2008


There was one exception to my poetry aversion as a teenager: Sylvia Plath. Her poems, particularly those in her collection Ariel, seemed to transcend the evil poetry game.

I wanted to stand and cheer after reading “Daddy” for the first time, not because I think my father is a “bastard,” but because the imagery stayed with me—images of a “Ghastly statue with one grey toe / big as a Frisco seal” and a man with “A cleft in [his] chin instead of [his] foot / But no less a devil for that” (56-59). The speaker’s bare emotion drew me in, and I knew that I could care about a poem and not fear it. Her poems were more than just symbols, tone, and irony.

I particularly enjoy using her poem “Lady Lazarus” in my introductory English classes. I can see the amazement on students faces when they actually enjoy and understand poetry. We revel together in the language (“They had to call and call / And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls” (41-42)) and explore the poem’s mythological, historical, and psychological context.

Plath’s life is arguably as interesting as her poetry. For more information about Plath, read her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar or the 2008 Printz Honor Book Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill.

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