Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thoughts on poetry and Sylvia Plath

The cliche to reading Sylvia Plath entails a certain darkness. It should be nighttime, cold, the reader in a dark and hushed environment, wrapped in a heavy blanket, melancholy and sadness set deep in order to fully appreciate the distinctly depressive undertones that ripple throughout Plath's poetry. The reader is in a deeply meditative mood, contemplating each word and every sound individually and carefully. That's the cliche.

So of course I sat down to read Plath's The Colossus on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon at a pool party, with a loud, cheerful pop playlist and the happy sounds of the party-goers enjoying themselves in the pool accompanying Plath's gorgeous heavy poetry.

I've liked Sylvia Plath for years, ever since I first read The Bell Jar. I read the book in one sitting at the library, curled up in a thoroughly uncomfortable chair, but completely and utterly enraptured by the characters and the language of Plath's only novel. I was barely sixteen, at a particularly difficult point in my life, and that "gorgeous heaviness" spoke to me. A few weeks later, I started investigating Plath's poetry, but I never really delved into it fully. Now, a few years later, I find myself visiting this strange tortured land again and yes, I love it.

This isn't a review of The Colossus. At this point in my life, I absolutely lack the credentials to review poetry. I can only enjoy poetry for what it is, enjoy it for its sounds and its rhythms, for the emotional impact it leaves on me and for the way it touches me. Poetry is less about the technical, individual aspects that I can dissect novels into. Poetry is much more personal - what hits me like a ton of bricks might not even make your eyelids twitch.

I liked The Colossus. Plath has an obvious way with words (her vocabulary is unreasonably and wonderfully complex), but more than that the poems breathe. They're different and beautiful and powerful all at once. Unlike most poetry collections, I was able to sit and swallow The Colossus in one or two sittings, without feeling like the poems repeated themselves thematically or lyrically. And contrary to what we like to say, Plath's poetry isn't really dark. It's a bit heavy, yes, but I didn't feel as thoroughly depressed as I might get reading teen poetry anthologies. Or even some classic Romantic poetry. Not happy, but I left The Colossus feeling not as though I'd been emptied, but as though I'd been filled somehow - beautiful words, images and thoughts that have left me with a taste for more poetry...

1 comment:

  1. Her poetry really is beautiful. I've never sat down and read a volume of it from start to finish though! I have a big collected poems of, and I dip in and out as the mood takes me. Her imagery can be just stunning.

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