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YOUR OWN, SYLVIA: A VERSE PORTRAIT OF SYLVIA PLATH

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

25 April 2007 YOUR OWN, SYLVIA: A VERSE PORTRAIT OF SYLVIA PLATH by Stephanie Hemphill, Alfred A. Knopf, March 2007. ISBN: 0-385-83799-9; Lib. ISBN: 0-375-93799-6

 

"April 24, 2007 NEW YORK -- Julia Stiles is to star in and produce the film version of the semi-autobiographical Sylvia Plath novel 'The Bell Jar'."

 

All I'd previously known of Sylvia Plath was that she'd been a poet who'd written THE BELL JAR and had committed suicide. All I knew of Ted Hughes is that he wrote poems for adults that I'd never read and THE IRON GIANT which I'd really enjoyed reading. I was not aware of Plath and Hughes having been married.

 

I know much, much more about them now.

 

"Madness

Dr. Ruth Barnhouse Beuscher, Sylvia's therapist

Fall 1953

 

"Repression cuts off

circulation like a tourniquet,

and Sylvia throbs with desire.

 

"I advise Sylvia to experiment,

to stop fretting over a white

wedding dress. Does this shock

the patient? Not really.

Sylvia has been slicing at her arm,

waiting for someone

to grant her permission. "A junior in college,

she may be ready for this.

'But what would Mother think?'

Sylvia snickers. She wraps a mink stole

of secrets around her shoulders,

luxuriates in playing foul

behind her mother's back.

 

"Perhaps when she holds back

her desires, her mind

splinters into madness, into deadwood

that we must burn away by electric shock.

I encourage her to release her idea

of the bad girl, punishable for physical contact.

 

"I ask her to think about herself, not her mother,

about how Sylvia represses Sylvia.

I want to tell her to do what she wants.

I need to help her to let go of her fears."

 

"Dr. Ruth met with Sylvia for daily psychotherapy sessions, during which Ruth explained to Sylvia her methods and techniques and why she was using them. Sylvia responded well to this sort of inclusion and respect. Dr. Barnhouse Beuscher employed fairly orthodox Freudianism, which entailed leading analysis and discussion about Sylvia's childhood. At the time of the above poem, Sylvia and Dr. Ruth met at McLean Hospital for inpatient treatment, but later they would have sessions at Dr, Beuscher's private practice. They were in contact via phone, letters, or in person every week until Sylvia's death ten years later."

 

Through inclusion of a book-long series of artistic images, the creators of a graphic novel provide readers with a second dimension -- a visual dimension -- to a story that is also being told with words. In those cases where the images work harmoniously with the text to create an exceptional graphic novel, the reader experiences a piece of literature that is greater in its impact than the sum of its textual and visual elements.

 

In crafting YOUR OWN, SYLVIA, a striking portrait of the poet who took her own life at an early age nearly half a century ago, author Stephanie Hemphill has similarly provided a second dimension. That second dimension in this case is not visual but textual.

 

Some may believe that Hemphill's poems, which are conveying the story on one level, constitute the second dimension that adds depth to the factual information appearing throughout the book. Others would propose that, on the contrary, the factual information is the dimension that supplements the poems which are written with the guidance of primary source materials and from the points of view of an amazingly large cast of family members, friends, colleagues, and mental health professionals who knew this a poet who, like a shooting star, burned brightly and was then gone.

 

What cannot be argued is that, like a graphic novel done to perfection, the author has intertwined these two integral textual dimensions of the story in a manner that makes this portrait of Sylvia Plath consistently intriguing and compelling with all the power and edge of the best tragic, contemporary verse novel.

 

In fact, there are events within this tale that are so horrific that it is sometimes necessary to remind oneself that they took place in the real world.

 

Interspersed with the poems from the various points of view are several which are co-titled "Imagining Sylvia Plath," and are each written in the style of one of Sylvia's better-known poems.

 

"...She blocks Ted out, the rake, her children's

Unfaithful father, invisible as the man who draws

The stage curtain, who ties up the show.

She doesn't need him

To tell her when to begin, when to end.

 

"Poetry taps beat after beat

From her typewriter keys.

She studies the page, astonished

At her maniac poems, buzzing real as an ear.

She cannot send them back.

 

"She cannot remember writing them down.

She can only remember the way

The words felt, honest as a morning moon.

And she is their creator,

Standing alone in her laurel crown.

 

"She escapes this way.

Her early-morning pen

Breaks the kill hours, cleanses her in blood,

Burns the wrinkles from her face.

She radiates language.

 

"She will not be shut up, will not be eclipsed."

 

Sure, at times it is like staring in fascination at a terrible accident happening in slow motion, but there is no question that YOUR OWN, SYLVIA will be responsible for bringing the words of Sylvia Plath to the attention of a new generation. It is a haunting and true story that certainly grabbed and held my attention.

 

Richie Partington

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

BudNotBuddy@aol.com

http://www.myspace.com/richiespicks

 

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