Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

POETRY: Ariel (The Restored Edition)

Year of publication: 2004 (poems written 1961-62)
Found: Second hand at the uni co-op
Pages/Read time: 211, two weeks of lunch-break reading at work

I have your head on my wall.
Navel cords blue-red and lucent[.]
 – from The Other

This is the first book of poetry I have read in a long time, and the first reviewed here on this blog. In fact, I would hazard to say that this is the first collection of poems I have every properly read. I deliberately did not read the foreword of this edition until I had read through each of the forty poems contained herein. All I knew about Plath before reading was that she was an American, Cambridge educated scholar who happen to be married to the poet Ted Hughes at the time of her suicide in the early 1960s. All I knew of her writing was the poem Daddy (contained in this collection) and that this particular collection of her works was the whole contents and order of the folio of poems found on her desk immediately after her death.

At first, I didn’t get the hang of the rhythm or pauses until I heard Plath’s accent and timbre. The works take on a whole different shine after listening to recordings of Plath reading poems included in Ariel. The pieces work best when  read not as highly theoretical and rhetorical visions of human existence (my general concept of poetry that comes in volume form) but as the visual representation of the women’s very self –  her voice.

I let her go. I let her go.
Diminished and flat, as after radical surgery.
How your bad dreams possess and endow me.
I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly, it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.
 – from Elm

I have so often flown through books of poetry simply because they can be read so quickly. While reading Sylvia Plath’s collection titled Ariel, I often read lines, stanzas or even whole poems over two or three times. It’s like juicing an orange. You won’t get the whole thing out with a single squeeze, yet neither will you even truly drain a slice of every last drop. Whether you are an established poetry-lover or a relative novice like myself, Plath’s poetry is intelligently simple and very accessible. She has a unique way of pairing blunt, unsubtle and confronting imagery with more delicately balanced, highly cryptic yet guilelessly charming phrases.

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 dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet
 – from Tulips

Based on the extensive notes made in black pen and bright yellow highlighter by the book’s previous owner, I fear they fell into the trap of interpreting these forty poems through the lens of today’s post-biopic view of Plath, her work and her mental illness. After experiencing the collection, I then read the included foreword and interview with Freida Hughes, Plath’s eldest child. Hughes had chosen not to read the Ariel collection and only did so when asked to write the foreword to this very edition. Her account of her mother’s legacy is even-handed and insightful, sketching a less popular but perhaps truer version of the woman and her life pre-Hollywood.

This edition restores the poems missing from previous publications of the collection as well as facsimiles of Plath’s type-written manuscript. The poetry presented in this original format, is eerie. You can almost feel the weight of her hand on the pages as you turn the facsimile pages. She is still in my opinion, a very modern and active voice. Perhaps I’m getting carried away. In short, this a very real collection of poetry from a woman who’s legacy is so often the stuff of unreality. Even half a century after her death, Plath’s work retains the ability to shock, unnerve and beguile the reader. Thoroughly worth reading even if you think you don’t like poetry.

Reading suggestion: Here’s a recording of Plath reading Daddy to get you started.

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This entry was posted on January 26, 2017 by in biography, Bit of Both, British, Classics, Poetry, USA, Women Authors.

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