Book Review

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Photo on 21-06-2013 at 18.12

I will be the first to admit that I’m not an expert on poetry. That I don’t read enough poetry. That I don’t know enough about poetry. Cards on the table, this isn’t my field. However, after recently reading (and very much liking) The Bell Jar, I decided that Sylvia Plath would be as good a person as any to begin my adult explorations into the world of poetry with.

The poetry I do like, to put it simply, is confessional. Is anecdotal. Is virtuous, scandalous, arrogant. I like Allen Ginsberg, I never really grew into poetry past Howl, which I still regularly read and still scream with joy whenever I do. Given how much I love Howl, I really should be exploring further. I have read other poets, Beats in detail and the obligatory first year of a BA in English depthless scan of “everyone important” (i.e. male, white and dead), but I’ve not UNTIL NOW taken the initiative and dived in. I bought this second hand, as I do the vast majority of all of my books, and because I came across it before The Colossus, not because I consciously intended to read this, her posthumous collection, first.

There were beautiful images throughout, a lot about nature, a lot about animals and insects and bodies and the physicality of existence – blood recurs, as do (does?) stigmata, and the notion of virginity. But where Plath’s poetry comes to the fore – or flies closer to my personal preferences and interests – is when she is angry, when she is personal, and when she is cruel. When she hates and luxuriates in pain, when she is mean, and when she makes clear that she has been hurt, that she hurts (in both senses) and that life, existence, all but poetry, are for her a difficulty. Her unpleasant marriage is something widely known about, so a lot of rage can be read at her errant husband, as well as (in the famous ‘Daddy’) her absent, now dead, father.

I loved The Bell Jar for its frank, open and honest engagement with mental illness, and I loved Ariel when it did the same thing, when it talked about confinement, entrapment, wishing for death, hating life, hating family, hating everything, finding momentary solace in the most arbitrary of things. Bees, for example. Bees.

I enjoyed many of the poems (picks being ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Tulips’, ‘Cut’, ‘Berck-Plage’, ‘Letter In November’, ‘Fever 103°’, ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’ and ‘Edge’), but not all of them. Though I could see the strength in her writing throughout, and though I observed the presence of the elements, themes and tone that I had loved in her novel, I was not overall convinced by the collection as a moving piece. Some excellent poems, some nice images, but nothing that made me shudder with understanding, recognition or catharsis. Except possibly ‘Berck-Plage’ and ‘Cut’. I do fear that my taste in poetry is still a little teenage, though. ‘Cut’ is basically an ode to self harm.

I’ll look back over this when I’m a bit more up to speed. Happy Friday!

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