The Voice of the Poet: Sylvia Plath

Overview

Featuring the most distinquished twentieth-century American poets reading from their own work. A first in audiobook publishing—a series that uses the written word to enhance the listening experience—poetry to be read as well as heard. Each audiobook includes rare archival recordings on cassette and a book with the text of the poetry, a bibliography, and a commentary by J. D. McClatchy, the poet and critic, who is the editor of The Yale Review.
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Overview

Featuring the most distinquished twentieth-century American poets reading from their own work. A first in audiobook publishing—a series that uses the written word to enhance the listening experience—poetry to be read as well as heard. Each audiobook includes rare archival recordings on cassette and a book with the text of the poetry, a bibliography, and a commentary by J. D. McClatchy, the poet and critic, who is the editor of The Yale Review.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is part of a handsomely packaged new series, in which archival recordings of noted poets reading from their works are paired with accompanying text volumes. The poems are published for cross-reference, along with historical photographs and introductory biographical essays by J.D. McClatchy, editor of The Yale Review. (Other poets included in the launch are W.H. Auden and James Merrill.) The Boston-born Plath (1932-1963) reads her works in an incisive and forthright manner, carefully enunciating her words to give a strong sense of structured internal rhythms. Largely written while married to the British poet Ted Hughes in the years just before her suicide, these works dwell--presciently--on themes of marriage and death. In "November Graveyard," she speaks of "...the bare room, the blank, untenanted air." Read aloud, the rawness of Plath's vision comes across especially immediate and acute. Of interest to scholars and general-audience Plath fans alike. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In a brilliant audio packaging concept, these three tapes initiate an "audio and book" series. The poets (all now deceased) read from their work, and there is a 64-page book presenting an introductory biographical and critical overview by editor J.D. McClatchy, plus text of the poems, photos, and illuminating fragments from letters. Plath's two readings, as the editor notes, show a dramatic tonal difference, from the flat recitation of early poems to the stark, cutting, forceful severity of her voice as she moves through the poems that would be collected posthumously as Ariel. The readings by Merrill and Auden are culled from various sources, especially important in Merrill's case, where McClatchy has sought out the more accessible of the poet's often complex poems. Surprisingly, Auden's reading is the least pleasurable, perhaps because there are many other recordings of him reading his own work. These tapes, and hopefully others to follow in this series, are a perfect means of introducing interested but uncommitted readers and listeners to poetry. Essential for all libraries.--Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Read by author. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375405990
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/1/1999
  • Series: Voice of the Poet Series
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Pages: 64
  • Product dimensions: 4.52 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was born in 1932 in Boston, and her work reflected both her New England heritage and the landscape of England where she later lived with her husband, the poet Ted Hughes. What Hughes called "her crackling verbal energy" is apparent in her poems' biting precision of word and image. Gestures in her life of defiance and acstasy, love or despair, are re-imagined in brilliant archtypal patterns. In the year before her suicide, she was writing the poems that secured her fame--poems about her children and her failed marriage, about death and her imagination. Robert Lowell once called them her "appalling and triumphant fulfillment."

Biography

"I was supposed to be having the time of my life," Sylvia Plath writes as her alter ego Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. Like Esther, Plath was a bright young woman who had earned scholarships and awards, and had all the talent to back them up, and saw this—but could never enjoy it. Her struggles with depression were in fact what often motivated her to write, until she committed suicide at age 30 in 1963.

Plath is among the best-known confessional poets, coming from a school (at its peak in the ‘50s and ‘60s) that left few stones unturned when it came to self-examination and revelation. Though not always bald or literal in her expression, Plath chronicled her flirtation with death—and with life—in her poems. She writes in "Lady Lazarus," a verse about a woman rising from the dead yet again, "Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well./I do it so it feels like hell./I do it so it feels real./I guess you could say I've a call." She has an ability to convey deep, almost frightening emotion, but do it in a deceptively lilting, almost-but-not-quite humorous language.

"Lady Lazarus" was published in Ariel (1965), a collection that appeared posthumously, as did other well-known collections such as Crossing the Water (1971), Winter Trees (1972) and Collected Poems (1981), for which Plath was awarded the Pulitzer. Though not all death and despair, Ariel stands out among Plath's works because it represented a departure from the first collection that was published while she was still alive, The Colossus and Other Poems, but primarily because it was such an intimate record of the end of her life. As poet Bob Hass remarked in a PBS interview, "Readers in general discovered this book [Ariel] of a young woman with two babies, whose husband had left her, living in a cold house, trying to be a mom, trying to be a writer, trying to put her life together, who didn't make it—who killed herself—and wrote poems full of rage, bravery, and it electrified people."

Plath's father died when she was eight years old, an event from which the poet never quite seemed to recover. She writes in Ariel's "Daddy": "At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do." Oddly (or perhaps appropriately) for a woman so devastatingly able to feel and react to people, Plath often writes about humans as objects, things that make noise, can be broken or repaired, marked in a continuum from birth to expiration. A child on the floor is like "an unstrung puppet"; cats howl "like women, or damaged instruments"; people are compared to statues. The technique provides a twisted understatement to the emotional effects Plath writes about, in a world where even the states of love and motherhood are accompanied by darkness.

Whereas Plath's poems often seem strange and dreamlike, The Bell Jar is direct and accessible. It ranks with Catcher in the Rye in both literary achievement and status. Plath gets across not only what it feels like to struggle with the most deadly and devastating emotions, but also how hapless and impotent the people around her are in coping with her. She portrays a woman at odds with the world, but does so without affect or pretension. It's no wonder the book has become a classic, particularly among young female readers. At times of despair, readers find comfort and empathy in Plath's words. All of her painfully wrought "confessions" are of us, for us.

Good To Know

Plath married fellow poet Ted Hughes, whom she met while studying in Cambridge. At the time Plath killed herself, Hughes had left her for another woman (who also eventually killed herself). He wrote about his relationship with Sylvia in Birthday Letters, an autobiographical collection of poems published just before he died in 1998.

Plath was portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in Sylvia (2003), a film produced by the BBC and Focus Features. The Bell Jar was adapted to the screen by director Larry Peerce in 1979.

The Colossus was Plath's literary debut in 1960, but she also published A Winter Ship that same year, anonymously. The Bell Jar was initially published under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Victoria Lucas (pseudonym)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Death:
      February 11, 1963
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

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