Sylvia Plath

As part of the South Bank festival on Sylvia Plath I was asked to write a little bit about my first response to her poems.

We all heard about ‘ the oven’- haunted by it even. An iconic image of what exactly? A bright woman at the end of her ability to cope? The tragedy of the lack of care for the mentally ill? I was scared to read Sylvia Plath. We were at the same university, she was a woman and so was I and I’d fallen in love with a writer too. Why did I know so much about her life before I’d actually sat with her poems? What if her words spat at me through the pages and I was pushed down into a place full of too many shadows? However one day I did sit with her and the oven disappeared, in fact the chair and table I was sat at disappeared and I was alone in such a clear and vivid poetic world that I didn’t come out of it until hours later. I felt I was reading a poet who was talking to me about something vital and I felt simultaneously repulsed and enraptured. She was more ‘a woman’ than any writer I’d ever read, and perhaps am yet to read.

I learnt how to mimic her voice in the reading of Daddy, revelling in her anglo american lilt and the beautiful tension in her throat. The way she articulates ‘do’ in the first stanza still makes my stomach flip with joy.

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

She became a sort of totem, a totem for the audacity and sharpness of truth. These poems didn’t float amongst daffodils, they sweated and heaved their way through the tumults of the mind. Her poems hold all the ugly messy strangeness of being alive, along with the paper thin delicateness of it. Her imagery is so vital and strong that it is never figurative, rather her metaphors live and breathe and as the reader you are the receiver of their punches or their exhalations. For this reason Plath inspired me hugely as an actress- her words fly like an arrow toward the perfect and precise meeting point of meaning and image. It is only right that she is still being celebrated.