In honor of Rebecca’s Bakeoff and Ivy’s post on Plath a few days back, I wanted to post this, one of my favorites, though there are many.
Poppies in October
Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly --
A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky
Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.
O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.
Funny, but I encountered Plath first not through the poems, but The Bell Jar, picked up in the JHS library simply because the Bangles had a song titled that on their Everything album, which was a permanent fixture in my tape deck that year. I read it all in one sitting after school, compared it to the song, threw it aside and said, “whatever.” Mind you, my vague aspirations were not toward writing in those days. Outside of a few scribbled poems in my diaries, I couldn’t see myself at all in Plath’s novel—not then--not for another couple of years. There were several factors those first couple years of college that changed me—personal, academic, creative-- so that the next time I picked it up, I somehow GOT it. Then I was reading it over and over again. And of course in my aspirations toward poetry, Plath’s journals and letters, which I devoured, were sort of my guidebook on how one conducted a literary career (granted a slightly outdated one and minus the oven.) I was obsessed, only then turning to the poems and still devouring every bio I could get my hands on. By the end of my undergrad education, I was an expert on Plath’s life. I’d still count Plath, along with Sexton, who I encountered a couple years later as chief influences on my work. It’s not so much the confessional aspects but something else in the language, subject matter, and approach that draws me regardless of its tabloid “truth.” I think Sexton can be more playful, but Plath more urgent, with more at stake. I often wonder what Plath’s poetry would have looked like 10 years later. 20 years later. How it would have changed the icon image. Already the poetry I was writing at 30 is different from what I’m writing now at 32. Already even that is shifting.