Saturday, October 26, 2013

Thoughts on Plath the night before her birthday

Tomorrow afternoon, I am reading two of Sylvia Plath's poems at a commemoration event on her birthday at West Chester University's Poetry Center. It is rather hard for me to sum up, in a personal reflection, what this writer has meant to me over the years in a few sentences. Heartfelt as they may be, the words I truly want to say seem rather cliche: her work gave me the confidence - the power, if I may be so brazen - to believe in my own abilities, to say the hell with everyone else's expectations of what I should be, do, say, etc., and to just, in the end, be myself, whatever that may be.

I have decided to read two poems, "The Disquieting Muses" and "Mirror." And here's what I've decided to say. Perhaps it is cliche. But it is heartfelt. A/J

I chose to read these two particular poems because they have been two of the most meaningful to me over the years.  When I was younger, in my twenties, just beginning my work on Plath, they represented for me the subject position of the oppressed young woman, a girl trying to come into her own who was weighed down, drowned if you will, by all of the paraphernalia that adorned American girlhood and womanhood. I, like Plath, felt suppressed by my elders, by the expectations other people had for me, by my earlier successes that made future successes seem all the harder to achieve. Now, however, I can place myself within these poems in the subject positions of the stifling mother and the aging woman who sees the old hag rising out of the dredges of the mirror. When I was twenty, the mirror and all that it represented (judgment, failure, standards of beauty that I felt I couldn’t achieve) was what resonated most; now, in my late thirties, it is the woman who matters more, the woman in the poems who tries to navigate toward a self, all the while drowning in herself. What I love most about Plath’s work is that it grows as I grow, ages as I age, developing a whole new meaning as I develop into a different self. I wish most that Plath had afforded herself this same opportunity. 
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