The Moment Sylvia Plath Found Her Genius

“The voluminous critical conversation about Sylvia Plath has tended to orbit a few topics: her suicide, of course, and the ways mental illness and madness perhaps predicted her death and marked her poetry; the blazing ferocity of her posthumous masterpiece Ariel; the co-opting of images and metaphors (from the Holocaust, for instance) in those late poems; and the overall relationship of her biography to her supposedly confessional poems, especially when it comes to Ted Hughes, his affair with Assia Wevill, and his curation of Plath’s legacy after her death. These are all compelling topics, and they’ve had a deep and lasting effect on how we read Plath’s poetry. But I prefer to think about Plath’s amazing poems and the creative surges that enabled her to write them. In Plath we have a unique example of rapid, surging development of a poet’s art. In only seven years—from 1956, when the first poems in her Collected Poems were written, to 1963, the year of her death—Plath went from being an obviously talented and excruciatingly ambitious (as her journals attest) apprentice poet with lots of technique and intensity but few real subjects on which to train those powers, to the author of unprecedented works of genius. In Plath’s first book, The Colossus and Other Poems, the only book of poetry she published in her lifetime, we have an unusual opportunity to pinpoint the moments when her art surges forward in particular poems—we can actually watch her grow as an artist, see a little bit how the magic trick was done, and perhaps learn from it. Plath’s earlier poems have a lot to teach about how poets expand their capacities, how they ‘find’ a voice by listening closely to their own minds, and how genius can be, if not made, then at least willfully courted. Plath was a poet who developed by breakthrough. She worked at poetry as a craftsperson, a wildly driven one; she sat down every day and made herself write, and churned the products of her writing until they became fulfilled poems. …”
The Atlantic: Why Sylvia Plath Still Haunts American Culture

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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