Branching Out Hartford: Carol Muske-Dukes on Sylvia Plath
Talking about Sylvia Plath is like talking over loud-volume rock music in a bar. The popular "myth" and gossip surrounding Sylvia Plath and her husband, the British poet Ted Hughes, often drown out the actual voice of either poet. Sylvia Plath has been termed, perhaps erroneously, a "confessional" poet. The term "confessional" is frequently used to describe a group of poets writing in the 1950's (including Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton) who incorporated details of their personal lives in their writing.
This talk will posit that linking Plath with the confessional "school" doesn't really capture the wild essential nature of her poems. The "myth" that the tell-all confessional style is the engendering force in her poems is false. It is true that Plath, like most writers, used material from her life as a point of departure—but where she disembarked was somewhere else indeed. Witnessing her "assignable" self, reporting on the "facts," was never her poetic intent. Her astonishing ability to myth-make, to spin into strange obsessive vision the most familiar threads of everyday life—within her near-flawless craft—has not been rivaled. This talk will provide examples of this myth-making and dervish-like spinning in order that an alternative version of her voice may be heard.
A joint initiative with the Poetry Society of America, Branching Out: Poetry for the 21st Century is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.