Happy Birthday, Sylvia Plath!
Yesterday, the Poetry House at West Chester University threw a party for the late, great Sylvia Plath. Poets, artists scholars, and visual artists were on hand to talk about what Sylvia's work has meant in their lives.
|Poet Anna M. Evans|
Plath was one of the giants who made me want to write poetry in the first place, so I was glad to be on hand to celebrate her genius, and to hear from the many talented women who had gathered to pay tribute.
|Angela Alaimo O'Donnell|
One of the wonderful presenters was Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, who read this poem:
Sonnet Saint Sylvia
February 11th, 4:30AM
Now’s the very time that she did it.
Time both of day and of year.
The violet hour, between wake and sleep.
Her milk-fed boy in the sealed room.
The poems stacked neat. The kitchen clean.
Her wifely duties quite done.
Only then did she kneel at the oven.
Her heart untrained for distance.
Tired of the hurdling, tired of the run.
Dying to rest before morning
cracked the door on another gray day.
She sought the darkest places she knew—
the basement, the oven, the grave.
There she could be brave.
Another was visual artist Holly Trostle Brigham, whose watercolor "Mourning Sylvia" mingles autobiographical imagery and Plathian themes in a work inspired by Victorian eye portraits, which were given as tokens of love.
And poet Jane Satterfield also was on hand to read this Plath-inspired poem:
Not one on nodding terms with the dead,
I was surprised to meet Sylvia.
A regular out for a cigarette, I'd simply
stepped back a second from crowds, bottled ale, jazz.
The backroom's rafters ruptured with light.
She was fresh from the flowers--
they made exquisite poems in her hands.
Understand, I was the one without flesh tone.
Fallen, towed under Atlantic spill,
fumbling to catch the blessed line.
Thanks to Kim Bridgford, director of West Chester University's Poetry Center, for hosting this lovely afternoon of poetry, fellowship, and birthday cake!
Of course there's only one way to end this post: by letting the birthday girl speak for herself. Here is one of my many favorite poems by Plath, itself a birth day poem:
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.