Sunday, April 1, 2012
Happy National Poetry Writing Month, everyone! Although I'm not brave enough to attempt this writing marathon (which asks you to write a poem a day for a month) myself, I greatly admire all my friends, writing acquaintances, and anyone else who will be participating this year. Even though I don't consider myself a poet, I have set some modest poetry-writing goals for the month, and I've decided to encourage those who are fighting the good fight of NaPoWriMo by posting favorite poems here on the blog. I can't promise a poem everyday, but I will try to post one at least every two or three.
First up is one of my favorite poems by Sylvia Plath. It's a poem that I spent a lot of time with a few years ago when I was taking a graduate course on "Poetic Materials," working on a seminar paper investigating the murky history of her collection Ariel, thinking a lot about authorial intention and editorial interference, and in particular Plath's tumultuous relationship with her husband and sometime editor/critic Ted Hughes. It's a poem that encompasses all of the elements I look for in poetry: intense, precise imagery; just enough abstraction to allow the reader to make a personal connection or interpret the poem multiple ways; and a final line that knocks the air from my lungs.
"The Rabbit Catcher" (1962) from Ariel**
By: Sylvia Plath
It was a place of force--
The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair,
Tearing off my voice, and the sea
Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead
Unreeling in it, spreading like oil.
I tasted the malignity of the gorse,
Its black spikes,
The extreme unction of its yellow candle-flowers.
They had an efficiency, a great beauty,
And were extravagant, like torture.
There was only one place to get to.
The paths narrowed into the hollow.
And the snares almost effaced themselves---
Zeroes, shutting on nothing,
Set close, like birth pangs.
The absence of shrieks
Made a hole in the hot day, a vacancy.
The glassy light was a clear wall,
The thickets quiet.
I felt a still busyness, an intent.
I felt hands round a tea mug, dull, blunt,
Ringing the white china.
How they awaited him, those little deaths!
They waited like sweethearts. They excited him.
And we, too, had a relationship--
Tight wires between us,
Pegs too deep to uproot, and a mind like a ring
Sliding shut on some quick thing,
The constriction killing me also.
** This version comes from Plath's manuscript for Ariel, which was published posthumously. When Ted Hughes prepared the manuscript for publication, he left out this poem. It was later included in Winter Trees, but it wasn't restored to Ariel, its intended home, until the facsimile of Plath's manuscript was published in 2004 (Ariel: The Restored Edition).