Thursday, April 30, 2009

Philip Larkin on Plath/Hughes

Philip Larkin on Plath/Hughes

“I see her as a kind
of Hammer Films poet”
—Philip Larkin
Letter to Judy Egerton
10 June 1960

Sylvia Plath—lonely in her flat
And me—lonely librarian at Hull
Mulling about the stacks—doing deskwork
She and I—had something in common

We both believed—in “Pwetry”
As Kingsley used to call it—but there
Just wasn’t enough good poetry
To go around—so I quit writing

Plath, of course—was good at it
In a Yankish way—carrying around her
Rohget’s Thesaurus—but until Sheg Shay
Got into the balmy stunt—nothing to say

Plath began saying—more or less
That she thought—madness would pay
And found out—she could do it well
But then she—fell face down into it

Personally I think—the only things
One can do—about Literature are
Writing it, reading it—publishing it
The rest—is a waste of time

Ted Hughes—as Poet Laureate
I suppose—he’ll do the job all right
Except for writing anything readable
His Mytholmroyd crap—puts me to sleep

We had the—Old Crow over at Hull
Recently looking—like a Christmas present
From Easter Island—he’s all right
I suppose—when not reading

At a recent—literature festival
A woman shrieked—and vomited during
A Ted Hughes reading—I must say I’ve never
Felt like shrieking—vomiting maybe tho

Did you know—Auden got a rectal fissure
From being buggered—by a sailor & had to
Have an operation?—“Letter to a Wound”*
People take the fun—out of life don’t they?

*Part of Auden’s The Orators (1932)

Notes on Philip Larkin, Plath, Hughes

Notes on Philip Larkin, Plath, Hughes

“Ted Hughes, the devoted father,” Telegraph, Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, 27 Mar 2009

1. “It was a fishing trip with his son Nicholas that brought to life a dream that had haunted Ted Hughes for years: that of a severed head pursuing him. Hughes had enjoyed hunting with his brother Gerald since childhood, and, prompted by the dream, he had written a story about two brothers hunting in America. "There is an episode in the story with a creature called Yetti. The elder brother is devoured, and all that is left of him is a severed head. The younger brother tries to run away, and the head chases him. When I wrote it, I felt that it will happen to me, and I imagined it to the last detail: the valley, with a forest, by a river that flows to the sea.”

2. "Two years later, I was invited to a poetry festival in Alaska. My son was with me, he was 18. We went fishing together, I took a canoe, and we parked in a remote place. And we reached a valley, by the sea; it was the same valley that I had an image of, but I was not with my brother but with my son. I am superstitious, and I was shocked."

3. “Hughes claimed that was the point at which he stopped writing prose "because everything that I wrote convinced me that I was prophesying what will happen in the next years, or that writing made it happen."

4. “This week, with the death of Hughes's only son, Nicholas, in Alaska, we were reminded of the disturbing story that the poet told us in 1996 during the only interview he gave in which he talked about his private life. It was indeed a week of chilling coincidences. March 23 is a date scorched in our memories since we wrote the biography of Ted Hughes's lover, Assia Wevill. Forty years have passed since that cold spring evening in 1969 when Assia rested her four-year-old daughter Shura on a makeshift bed, shut the kitchen door tightly, turned all the gas taps fully on and lay down beside the sleeping child. This year, the anniversary took on a new, tragic twist with the news of Nicholas's suicide in Alaska. The police investigation concluded that Dr Nicholas Hughes, a marine biologist, was "battling depression, no foul play suspected" and so closed case number 09-20959.”

5. Again occult muddleheadedness seems to enter into the Plath/Hughes tragic narrative. At first the “Ouija Board Dialog” and other poetic paraphanalia connected with Hughes’ so-called “mythological” and “shamanistic” and “Jungian-White Goddess” claptrap interested me. But now it all seems like a Sixities smokescreen for something else—free love, catting around, using Shakespeare for an excuse to get away with murder.

6. Biographers like Jacqueline Rose (The Haunting of Sylvia Plath) as well as personal accounts by Jillian Becker and Trevor Thomas the third member of the anti-Hughes axis of Elizabeth Sigmund and Clarissa Roche—these and other commentaries strip away the White Goddess veils and Hughes Estate “Wizard of Oz” curtain to reveal what?

7. The Hughes/Plath biographical project promulgated by the Hughes Estate and literary allies—seems to me to be rather pushy, fearful, overwrought and defensive. It reminds me of an octopus squirting clouds of murky ink—to distract critics from some “terrible revelation” as Aurelia Plath called it in her letter to Trevor Thomas.

8. Something similar to Robin Morgan's savage anti-Hughes poem included in the same folder as the typescript of the above memoir material. That a poem critical of Ted Hughes would be hounded by the Hughes Estate in the way it was fits exactly into the other examples of censorship and intimidation that took place with Jacqueline Rose, Janet Malcolm, Trevor Thomas, Jillian Becker and many other poets, writers and people privy to the facts of the strange case of the Plath “murder-suicide” cover-up. Here is Robin Morgan’s testimony about what happened to her when the Hughes Estate zeroed in on her:

9. “Robin Morgan's first book of poems made its own history. Thirty thousand hardcover copies selling in the first six months alone is unheard of for any book of poems, much less for a first book by a young poet. What no one, including Morgan and her publishers, anticipated was the size and hunger of the new female readership. Poets are accustomed to audiences of twenty loyal souls, but readings drew hundreds of people; on three occasions Morgan give readings for packed auditoriums that seated a thousand or more. The title poem, "Monster," was quickly termed ""The anthem of the Women's Movement,"" and lines from it showed up on buttons, bumper stickers, t-shirts, posters, and graffiti.”

10. “However, the book was attacked by the literary establishment because of Morgan's poem ""Arraignment,"" which implied that Sylvia Plath's suicide had been provoked by her husband Ted Hughes' battery and womanizing. Random House, without telling Morgan, made its separate peace with Hughes, who had threatened to sue even on the basis of the revised, irony-suffused version of the poem that finally appeared in the book. The publisher agreed to withdraw all copies from any markets in the entire Commonwealth, and Hughes then agreed not to lodge suit. There was nothing Morgan could do.”

11. “But women thought otherwise. Canadian women decided to publish a “pirated” edition--“pirated” with Morgan's permission. Within a month, women in Australia and in New Zealand published their own separate ""pirated"" editions. This happened all over the Commonwealth--spontaneously, furiously, astonishingly. Each edition was different, some with graphics by women, some with photos of Plath, some with both versions of “Arraignment.” Then an English women’s group published and distributed their edition--an act of special courage, since UK slander laws carry heavy sentences for printers and distributors as well as publishers.”

12. “Women all over the Commonwealth carried it further. They made it impossible for Hughes to give public poetry readings in his own country: English feminists picketed the venue with signs quoting lines from “Arraignment.” His reading tours in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States were canceled because of threatened mass protests by what came to be called “Arraignment Women,” who also repeatedly chiseled Hughes' name off Plath's grave marker.”

13. The politics of poetry, biography and homicide—merge together in the continuing “unraveling of the Plath archives.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gassing Sylvia

Gassing Sylvia

“Dying is an art—
like everything else”
—Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus

After the—third attempt
Sylvia’s head—stuck in the oven
She woke up—in her bed
“I’ll be fine”—she said
“Like Ariel—by the way
Have you—seen horses fly?”
She died—that night

Ted plodded on—moody
For thirty—more years
A poet laureate—his snout
Stuck in a sewer—behind the
graveyard wall—Black Boar

In both cases—Boss Cupid
The angel of death—paid them
A visit—from the Land of
Big Daddy—stomping his
Hob-nailed boot—on their
Pretty faces—squishing
Their—medulla oblongata

Trevor Thomas

Trevor Thomas

“He was the man who
had lived downstairs
from Plath on Fitzroy
Road and may have
been the last person
to see her alive”
—Janet Malcolm
The Silent Woman

I work all day—sleep at night
Waking at four—staring at the dark
Is that gas—from an oven I smell?
The crazy woman poet—upstairs
Interrogating the dead—daily
Abandoned by—her gigolo husband
Ariel death—a day nearer now
Up there—in Yeats’ kitchen
Sylvia’s head deep—in the oven

The gas seeps down—into my flat
Drugging me—wretchedly woozy
I go to work anyway—but get sent home
Later finding out—in her anxiousness
To exterminate herself—to get lost
Not to be here—not to be anywhere
Designing—desiring total emptiness
Divorce not good enough—really?
Did she have—a midnight visitor?

Later they had—a bongo party
Getting drunk upstairs—Ted Hughes
And his girlfriend—Assia Wevill
Not just a typical—wake he says
More like a celebration—a relief
Could the dizzy—American woman
Pretend to die—or was it murder?
It filled Trevor—with great fear
His fear—Ted Hughes a killer?

Assia’s face—one look told him
It wasn’t an innocent—unfocused blur
Most things—don’t happen that way
Her look—more like being scared
Worried about being caught—chilled
By realizing—how he raged out
How can one be brave—sleeping
In the same bed—next to a husband
Who didn’t whine—when he killed?

Death is no different—than living
There’s no need—to tip-toe the grave
The impulse to murder—slowly
Strengthens—no escape being
An accomplice—to murder
The flat upstairs—there’s much
To be done—tracks to be covered-up
Accomplices—to be done in
Gas seems to work—rather nicely


1. “Trevor Thomas was the third member of the anti-Hughes axis of Elizabeth Sigmund and Clarissa Roche. He was the source of the story about the party with bongo drums in Plath’s flat on the night of her funeral. Sigmund persuaded him to put his memories down on paper. At her urging, he produced a twenty-seven-page typewritten manuscript chronicling his two-month-long acquaintance with Plath at 23 Fitzroy Road, “Sylvia Plath: Last Encounters” Like Dido Merwin’s memoir, it renders an immediate and vivid self-portrait, and like Dido, Thomas remembers Plath unaffectionately. He presents Hughes as a haughty, menacing figure who was consistently unpleasant to him. “I knew from my first view of him he was someone I’d want to keep at a very safe distance.”—Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman, New York: Vintage, 1995, 193.

2. “Later, as I thought about Thomas’s house, it appeared to me as a kind of monstrous allegory of truth. This is the way things are, the place says. This is unmediated actuality, in all its multiplicity, randomness, inconsistency, redundancy, authenticity. …in the same way the narratives called biographies pale and shrink in the face of the disorderly actuality that is a life. The house also stirred my imagination as a metaphor for the problem of writing. Each person who sits down to write faces not a blank page but his own vastly overfilled mind. The goal is to make a space where a few ideas and images and feelings may be so arranged that a reader will want to linger awhile among them, rather than flee…”—Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman, New York: Vintage, 1995, 204-205.

A small archive of material deriving from the papers of Professor Trevor Thomas, neighbor to the Hughes's. Sylvia Plath; Aurelia Plath; Professor Trevor Thomas
Richard Ford (London, , United Kingdom) Price: £ 3000.00

Book Description: [1976-1990], 1990. The Mother, the Neighbor and the Black Hand of Ted Hughes

A small archive of material deriving from the papers of Professor Trevor Thomas, Art Historian, occupant of the flat below that of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath at 23 Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, London. It includes: a. Two Typed Letters Signed from Sylvia Plath's mother, Aurelia, airmail, to "Professor Thomas", detailed, 7 & 28 May 1976, one with handwritten date the other with a handwritten PS.7 May 1976: She is responding to the haunting contents of a long letter from Thomas, convinced that Sylvia would have left letters for her family which she quotes Thomas[?] as saying were "destroyed when found". She comments that many inaccuracies have been written about Sylvia's work. For example The Bell Jar wasn't autobiographical. She discusses the absence of a will and "her divorce [not having been] finalized", and Ted Hughes inheriting copyright. She is anxious for the children of the marriage - the living should count - her daughter can't be brought back. Ted Hughes has matured enough to look after them (formerly "foundering in immaturity"). She fears that the memoir he plans will stir up a controversy damaging to the children's faith in their father and to Hughes's later marriage to "a fine young woman of good family, who is both wise and loving in regard to the children". She understands the injustice he has suffered but would rather the children weren't hurt by a terrible "revelation." She asks him to send "the poems" [poems written by Thomas after Plath's death - see below). "I do believe that as a very sensitive person you were attuned . . . to something beyond our comprehension and that it was connected with my Sylvia. She adds details of the negotiations she and Sylvia were having about a return "home" in the spring. 28 May 1976: She has only just been able to read the poems he sent. "These are written with Sylvia's voice . . ." she briefly theorizes about the lingering spirit. Her grief is still alive after 13 years, and says that the last letter in Letters Home was in fact her last letter, and that "the bitter, accusatory letters had to be omitted for the children's sake.. A paragraph about poet, Robin Morgan. [* my asterisk] The critics have lambasted her about ellipses in the book of letters but she explains Hughes's control. She is upset at the ideas of "wild parties" in her "dead daughter's apartment". She is understanding of Thomas's statement that he would publish the poems cutting out "references to Ted Hughes that might hurt the children". "Will you do me one more favor? Please destroy this letter after reading it." The PS mentions Sylvia's brother, Warren.*A photocopy of Robin Morgan's savage anti-Hughes poem is included in the same folder as the typescript of the memoir.

Mytholmroyd Mon Amour

Mytholmroyd Mon Amour

“Every year a card from Honolulu.
It seemed you had finessed your
return to the living”
—Ted Hughes, The Offers

When I see a—young Goddess
And guess she’s—fucking herself silly
Taking pills—or wearing a diaphragm
I know—this is Paradise

Every time I dream—of Sylvia
Barriers and bridges—rise up and
Like some smooth—sleek draw-bridge
All the yachts and sailboats—slide through

I think about her endlessly—wondering if
I could only go back—to frozen London
Help her with her—new book Ariel
Thinking that we—could continue anyway

Rather than words—forget about poetry
Letting my—uncomprehending mind
Stoned in deep blue—Yorkshire silence
Be nothing—but a Mytholmroyd man

Waiting for the Goddess

Waiting for the Goddess

“Only two months dead
And there you were, suddenly
back within reach.”
—Ted Hughes, The Offers

Waiting for the Goddess—as usual
Waiting for her to come—back in my dream
Looking down at—the churning bathtub
Meant for us bathing—despite cockroaches
Scuttling along the—linoleum floor
Here in my ruined house—same place we
Always meet—when I’m nude and wet
Getting ready to take—a nice hot bath
But lately she’s lost—her daemonic smile
No light in her eyes—beneath the lead sky
Sinking down through—the drainpipes
Oozing down past—fire-escape rooms
Like this one—without electricity
Goddess morning—Goddess night

I misjudged Sylvia—while I slept
Thinking the third time—was a charm
That surely she’d go back—to Honolulu
But she kept wandering back—touching me
While I held my breath—getting into the bathtub
She couldn’t help it—her undisturbed excitement
How do you tell a Goddess—to leave you alone?
I held my breath—every time she came back
Knowing it was a dream—deep in my brain
Pin-points of—White Goddess pricking me
Painlessly at first—spilling the world back
Night after night—into my lost world
Goddess morning—Goddess night

Forgetting the Goddess—inside her
Turning to kiss her—I kiss Sylvia
Tipping the balance—toward her again
But such tender visitations—get old quick
How can I avoid her—with any grace
When every night—the promises she
Makes me take—enslave me even more
She refuses to leave—won’t go away
Her terrible goddess love—living this way
Part-dead, part-alive—St. Sylvia tonight?
But only when—she chooses to

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Ted Hughes Cult

The Ted Hughes Cult

“You came behind me at
a helpless moment, as I
lowered a testing foot
into the running bath…”
—Ted Hughes, “The Offers,”
Collected Poems (2003)

How risque—how urgent!!!
What an—underworld momento!!!
What a sleazy—deus ex machina!!!
How crummy—can you get?!?
Making it—with your dead wife?!?
How vulnerable—poor nude Ted
Always the Victim—of Women
Gawd—it gets old after awhile
The same old—broken-record!!!

Always the same—old cobalt jewel
A flawless thing—priceless, facetted
Ho-hum—how he finesses the dead
Indolently their victim—down in Dis
Held hostage—left by Sylvia as bail
While she escapes—to Honolulu
Poor Ted—high on Nitrous Oxide
Fumes—underworld noxious gasses
A migraine headache—bugging him
Brazen hussy Sylvia—betraying him

It goes on & on—of course, my dears
Poor Ted—gets on the Northern Line
There at Leicester Square—sits down
Jaysus christ—there’s fucking Sylvia
Blank, pale—almost as yellow as
She was in the morgue—Dead
Poor Ted—shudders and squirms
Thank gawd—Sylvia ignores him
He gets off at Chalk Farm—but not
Before spitting—in her face first

So much for the—Ted Hughes Cult
White Goddess stuff—Robert Graves etc
Is it just Jungian junk—Mytholmroydian
Storytelling—North Yorkshire yakity-yak?
Overly self-conscious—play acting?
Pulling the heartstrings—of opera queens
Mytho-melodrama—for suicide addicts?
Yawn—c’mon please give me a break.
Hughes standing naked—by his bathtub
Vulnerable to—spirit-demon’s sexy allure?

Nice little piece of—mythological “closure”
If you believe in—that sort of baloney
An easy way out—a convenient cop-out for
The usual “knot of obsessions”—biographers
Ponder—counting angels on the head of
Ted’s pugnacious pusilaminous—pretty prick
Throw in the usual Suicide Cult—holy rollers
The klug Feminist—post-structuralists like
Jacqueline Rose—The Haunting of Ted Hughes
Everything everybody—a “textual entity”?

Hughes even throws in—the kitchen sink
Dredges up Shakespeare and the Goddess of
Complete Being—cuts & pastes the Plays
Finding the “Cure”—for his “Fatal Flaw”
That nasty “Wounding Blow”—afflicting the
Great Poet Laureate—his literary development
Stepping naked—back into the world again
No longer vulnerable—the Wicked Witch dead
Autobiographical “persona”—his great Gift
His Poetic Self offered—to spellbound Readers?


Middlebrook mentions in her Introduction on page xix that Hughes’ poem "The Offers" pretty much pulls everything together:

"The Offers" is the central poem in Hughes's work of self-mythologizing. It marks the turning point in his creative life, showing in a set of images how the poet's powers were summoned back to him following the two successive personal disasters of the suicides of women close to him.”

It was published in the London Sunday Times on October 18, 1998. Ten days later he died. It was his last poem to be published. I kept reading my way through Middlebrook’s My Husband—waiting anxiously to read “The Offers.”

Middlebrook knows how to draw-out the suspense—there’s her calling out a premonitory lament:

“When will the stone open its tomb?
You will not die, nor come home”

I mean like—what’s there left after that? A magical resurrection—a rock ‘n’ roll White Goddess wedding? Can we talk? Anyway, I read Middlebrook’s concluding words about “The Offers” in Chapter 10 “The Magical Dead (280-283).

In “The Offers” Hughes describes a dream in which Sylvia Plath returns from the underworld three times, offering herself to his understanding. He first encounters her on the Northern Line of the London Underground, two months after her death… At the second of Plath’s offers, she is young and has assumed a different identity—he recognizes she’s flirting with him…

Flirting with him? Why does Ted Hughes have to somehow get “sex” into everything? Sex and marriage are okay—but Sylvia’s dead. Deader than a doornail. What’s sex got to do with it? Does dreaming it make it kosher? Does necrophilia get a feed ride—even if it’s the White Goddess disguised cleverly as your Halloween Surprise Night of the Living Dead Hubby? C’mon, please give me a break!!!

On the third visit, Hughes is at home in a house he describes as “ruined.” Poor Ted—you’d think a Poet Laureate with plenty of Sylvia’s royalties coming his way could do better than that? A dive—a ghetto dumpy ruin? Naturally Ted’s naked (ho-hum, as if anybody cares)—running a bath, when Sylvia sneaks up behind him. Now she’s young and vivacious—ready to get it on. She’s more beautiful (naturally)—then he’s ever known her, and more “alive.” She “accosts” him—grabs him by the you-know-what. Unfortunately, Ted’s not young anymore—like born-again Sylvia. All he’s got is a—skinny Turkey gobbler with a scrawny neck.

Ah, but fear not! Romance is saved—by the sound of rushing water in the dirty bathtub. It evokes such a beautiful scene—reminding Hughes of his passion for fishing. Immersed in the river’s force—wading into deep waters and holding still. Relaxing his attention—releasing himself from the Dominatrix dominance of his bitchy wife. The bathtub is what saves Ted—carrying him deep into his “animal” nature.

According to Middlebrook, it’s while Hughes is “naked, vulnerable, undefended, receptive to her summons”—that he realizes that he’s been victimized by both Plath and the sublime being of The Goddess. The three episodes correspond to his shaman’s journey: a summoning by female spirits; an ordeal in the female underworld; and a return to his new butchy muy macho body!!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Clairvoyance Hurts

Clairvoyance Hurts

"Had you caught something in me,
Nocturnal and unknown to me?"
—Ted Hughes, "The Rabbit Catcher,"
Birthday Letters (1998)

Plath had—Hughes’ number
He was a Yorkshire— predator poet
That’s what she wanted—isn’t it?
She wanted a Gamekeeper—like Lady Chatterley
Out in the Devon countryside—Court Green
She got her wish—and then realized
What she got—and what she didn’t get
A big bad wolf—who ate her up

“Fame will come. Fame especially for you.
Fame cannot be avoided. And when it comes
You will have paid for it with your happiness.
Your husband and your life.”
—Ted Hughes, "Ouija," Birthday
Letters (1998)

Sylvia got him going—professionally
First book, second book—Guggenheim
Faber and Faber—Miss Eliot and Miss Spender
Slobbering over him—even Miss Auden
A good day for a lay—Hughes was ambitious
A wolf in lambskin—a mere disguise
Except Sylvia—just as ruthless as him
Later Hughes realized—the occult truth

Clairvoyance hurts—it hurts bad
The Dark Goddess—may give you
What you want—but at what price?
He became Poet Laureate—but cursed Caliban too
The same struggle with each man—confronting
The Dark Boar—erupting out of his psyche
There is no victory—Caliban’s darkness wins
That and the usual—maimed Adonis-hood

Ted Hughes—fell further than most.
Achieving the Queen’s favor—Poet Laureateship
Plus the Dark Goddess’ revenge—metamorphoses into
Big Bad Wolf—gobbled up Sylvia, Assia
And all the other women in his life—even all the
Old queens—of the British literary establishment
Only Philip Larkin—smirked at Hughes
He knew a wolf—when he saw one


"Equally illuminating are letters and manuscripts in Hughes' hand that reflect the hurt and guilt he felt in the years following Plath's death. In a badly-worn notebook dating from the late 1960s, Hughes records a dream in which Plath comes back to life for one day. After the subsequent suicide of Wevill in 1969, Hughes writes to a friend and confides, "I wonder sometimes if things might have gone differently without the events of 63 & 69. I have an idea of those two episodes as giant steel doors shutting down over great parts of myself-leaving me that much less, just what was left, to live on. No doubt a more resolute artist would have penetrated the steel doors." In an undated manuscript Hughes confesses that he writes poetry in hope of some catharsis: "I am not composing poetry," he writes, "I am trying to get out of the flames."

A Fairy Tale

A Fairy Tale

“Oh Grandmother!!!”—she says.
Miss Eliot—as Little Miss Riding Hood
“I simply can’t—I shan’t look at it!!!”
“What a big Nose—you’ve got Ted!!!”

Ted’s huge Snozzola—fills the room
He’s the new—Farber & Farber poet!!!
There in the Gigolo Pit—of British Lit.
Wolfish, ruthless—sneeringly proud

Ambitious Yorkshire—Hunky Stud
Poet Hustler—Wolf among Lambs
Ted’s Snout—bristling with nose hair
Sniffing out—the queenly equipage

Three limp wristed—Red Riding Hoods
Miss Eliot, Miss Auden—Miss Spender
Plus Valerie Eliot—sizing up the Carnality
London Full Moon—Stench of Wolfbane

Maria Ouspenskya—shakes her head
Old Gypsy Witch—she’s seen it before
Lon Chaney Jr—into Wolfman drag
Evelyn Ankers—she likes rough trade

So does Valerie Eliot—needs it bad
Miss Auden miffed—slapping her wrist
“Now Valerie”—let’s not get greedy.”
Everybody wants—a piece of the action.

The Bitch Goddess

The Bitch Goddess

“the high priestess of
the confessional poem”
—Webster Schott,
The Cult of Plath

The Bitch Goddess—she’s here!!!
She’s in all of us—especially men
Women are—more honest about it.
Olwyn Hughes—Dido Merwin
Anne Stevenson—Janet Badia

Their exquisite—serpentine bouffants
Writing in purest—jealousy and hate
So refreshing—rather than Caliban clones
Ted Hughes, Irving Howe, Liz Wurtzel

The Dark Goddess inside us—closeted
Like Frieda Hughes’ painting—“Medusa”
Talk about—mythological whore story
Let me ask you—a question, my dears.

What’s the Medusa—staring at?
A copy of Ariel—new unabridged?
Or maybe—a tiny little pocket mirror?
Freezing her coiffure—forever?

Sunday, April 26, 2009



“The aphrodisiac
squid”—Sylvia Plath,
“Gigolo,” Collected Poems

Sugar daddies—know me well
The streets—so lizardly tonight
Scaly skin—extra-tight pants
We meet in—a cul-de-sac

Black velvet—cheap portraits
Grace—motel moderne walls
Thank god—for ersatz décor
No sickening family—photos

They pull—my gold tit-ring
It feels—like a sharp fish-hook
I smile—cool as Cleopatra
Where’s my Asp, honey?

Jellyfish Jell-O—squishes
In the shower—afterwards
They play—the sad victim game
How their wives—don’t put out

Their lips—move silently
My aphrodisiacal—squid squirms
Down their throat—oysters flow
I’m just a jailbait—gigolo

I notice—their gold rings
Their fat billfolds—their toupees
The way they—slide off onto
The plush—cheap carpet

Tattle-tale—they give it away
Their sleek new Cadillacs—in the
Empty parking lot—their wives
Kids—back in Poughkeepsie

Gluttons for—mother of pearl
My groin—never grows old
Sargasso Sea—in my shorts
Jetsam Boy—of Fontainebleau

Grateful—they ensconce me
In their—Fifth Avenue penthouses
We take strolls—in Central Park
Surely, my dear—marriage next?



“You know what
lies are for”
—Sylvia Plath
“Lesbos,” Ariel

Viciousness—in the Tea Room
The passengers—hiss and moan
It’s all a bad—Hollywood movie
Minneapolis—Mon Amour

Senator Spud—from Idaho
Such a hopeless—pathological liar
Sitting on a commode—between flights
Looking down—at the bathroom floor

It’s a pretty pink—linoleum
Stalls nailed to—cinderblock walls
Where you can—cry and puke
And forget—you’re a Beltway Man

BJ’s are so—very tacky
The man next door—faceless
Such pretty—polished wing-tops
A lonely executive—on the make?

Maybe he’s—a traveling salesman
I could eat him—that’s for sure
Sex is like—a pearl-handled pistol
One motherlode—at a time

I’ve off to—Boise City
To attend—a Rotary Convention
Meanwhile—my secret life
The busy—Minneapolis Airport

Gee baby—you’re special
Can you get it—underneath
The partition—I can only bend
Down so far—to strangle it

Once I was—a handsome man
Now I’ve got—bad hemorrhoids
My shiny head—bald as a cue-ball
I sold my soul—to the Lobbyists

My blue silk suit—and tie
Makes me look—so acceptable
Whitey—a man of means
But I’m really—down & dirty

I play toesy—between flights
I’ve got this—ball & chain
Bad habit—anonymous sex
My constituency—so cumly

I’m so sick—of crummy Idaho
Mashed potatoes—French fries
Potato salad—Hash browns
It’s hard being—a Senator

Fluorescent lights—glare
Rolls of toilet paper—spin
I’m so fat—I can’t even
Wipe my fat ass—anymore

Later during—Interrogation
The cute young—airport cop
Shrugs and says—“So what?”
When I mention—SPQR!!!

I hate my—dirty fingernails
I’ve got a history—of enjoying
Secret affairs—in Tea Rooms
Congressional aides—titter!!!

The smog—of busy airports
Jet lag—and voyeurismo
Sometimes I—stay overnight
At the local—No Tell Motel

Money talks—they say
Bullshit walks—they tell me
I’m just—an old Wrinkle Queen
A Foggy Bottoms—Has Been

I can’t smoke—cigarettes
On jet flights—high above
But down here—on my knees
I huff & puff—fat Cuban cigars

My life—an everyday Lobotomy
The only way—to forget things
But hurry up—please
My flight’s—about to leave

Cleaving Caliban

Caliban’s Blackness

“the dark divine substance
of the rejected Goddess”
—Ted Hughes
Shakespeare and the
Goddess Of Complete Being

I am—the Mytholmroyd Man
Prospero—mentions me often
Caliban’s—blackness inside me
I am the Thing—in The Tempest

“This thing of—darkness that
I acknowledge—he is mine”
I am the Wild Boar—full of
The rejected—Goddess’ rage

The blackness—of Dionysus
The blueness—of Krishna
I am the Boar—in all men
I’m the son—of the Goddess

The dark Queen—of Hell
I’m the crippled—White Adonis
I’m the one—who gassed her

But even worse—I’m Caliban
Who rejected—Sylvia’s love
Goddess—of Complete Being
Her pretty head—in the oven

How does a man—survive it
Assault—of darkest madness
Destroyed by—the dark force
From Cymbeline—onwards?

It only works—one at a time
Mistakes I made—the Boar
Charging into—my life and
The madness—erupting then

Sylvia’s—jealous fury
Her crying voice—but also
Her rage—the rejected Goddess
By the bathtub—behind me

Nick Hughes

Nick Hughes

“You are the one—
You are the baby
in the barn”
—Sylvia Plath
Nick and the Candlestick


Once upon—a time
Deep in—the dead boredom
Of the London winter—night
Pale snow—white as newts
Stalactites—hanging down
From the ceiling—sharp ice
Knifing the windows—like
Piranha—hungry for warmth
Plumbing frozen—electricity
On the blink—rocking Nick
By candlelight—dull blue
Glow—sniffing his nose
Holding my breath—then
Exhaling it—in the dark


Singing to him—softly
Rocking on—the Indian carpet
Cold floor—creaking like an
Old Victoriana—heirloom
Unused to—Arctic sub-zero
Crippled city—paralyzed like
Me in the flat—Nick my
Baby in the barn—alone in
Bethlehem—abandoned by
Holy Joe—stood-up by the
Three Wise Men—from the East
My little Ruby—baby boy in the
Manger—listen to your mother


You are the one—so solid in
This space—leaning into me
O embryo—how did you
Get here—your first gulp
Communion—crossed arms
Remembering—in your sleep
The womb—hung with roses
Deep inside me—down there
Inside my ruby—well of
Loneliness—your first
Dark address—before being
Born—listen to the Wolves
In Regent Park—they’re your
Gone father—howling tonight


The blood-jet—is poetry
There’s no—stopping it now
It flows—through you
Like a thick shaft—of blood
Little sack—of blackness
You are the—baby in the barn
Darkness—and frigid cold
Everywhere—freezing pipes
Stopping traffic—the gloomy sky
Turned hard—as brass cannonballs
Iron men—out on the streets
Kneeling, bent down—ice cold
We keep warm—tonight you
And me—candlelight power


Little ruby boy—my son
Go ahead and cry—your heart out
The pain you feel—isn’t yours
Your heart—isn’t cold like mine
Soon you’ll—be pastel male
Pink yellow—bright chartreuse
Geranium joy—sunny windowsills
Your father—gave me three gifts
You and your sister—two babies
Plus a star in the east—Ariel
I don’t need—W.B. Yeats anymore
Nor Lawrence—Lowell or Sexton
See!!!—here we are tonight
You, me—and the candlelight!


You are the one—baby boy blue
Through you blue veins—I flow
The brass Atlas—candlestick is
Keeping us warm—tonight
See how Atlas kneels—head bent
Panther mane—panther pelt
Young Hercules—standing in for
Atlas—the eleventh labor
Fetching—the golden apples
Hesperides—pelt loincloth
Hide of Newmean lion—killed for
The first of many labors—Bomba
The Jungle Boy—beardless son of
Tarzan—leopard-skin beauty boy


You are the one—one and only
Growing up with—Tarzan the Ape Man
Johnny Weissmuller —your father
Lupe Valez—your real red-hot mother
Acquanetta—the Leopard Woman
Her incisors—deep in your neck
Golden-wormed pubes—Jungle Boy
All of Africa—in your cute navel
Tommy Cook—your Panther boyfriend
Later mysteries—exquisite lobotomies
See how the Pike—flaunts your beauty
Your smile—and animal intelligence
So much like—the Mytholmroyd man
That’s you! Your father! And me!!!


You are the one—Alaska boy
All of the rainy—Pacific Northwest
Lover of sockeye—cedar silence
No urge to be—literary like us
Your father, mother—and sister
You’re just another—Yorkshire kid
A Mytholmroyd—young fisherman
Doing what—your father did
When he ditched—Cambridge lit
For Goddess—anthropology
Fisheries closer—to Pike and Crow
To be in the world—without words
Real wolves—Regency Park free
You got away—from Faber & Faber
Escaped—Poet Laureate glory
Fairbanks—instead of Fulbright

Friday, April 24, 2009

Philip Larkin

Mr. Douchebag
—for Philip Larkin

Inside the shack there’s—only room for books
“I’ll read it,” Mr. Douchebag always said
Mostly he read—paperback romances
He was in love with—even his asshole

The pills he took—make him constipated
So he douched himself—to get things going
Like Mae West did—for her Las Vegas acts
A cute masseuse—who gave her enemas

So that when Mr. Douchebag—got plugged up
Armando his cute—Mexican lawn boy
Shivered and shook off—the stinky nasty
Water-sports job—by getting a nice tip

Mr. Douchebag—bought a special toilet
It was a Lazy Boy—type of commode
With stirrups to keep—his feet in the air
And then Armando—with the garden hose…

Philip Larkin

The Trees
—for Philip Larkin

The cherry tree—blooms once again
More pink than—the pale white hawthorne
For awhile the lawn—is covered
With a kind of—delicate grief

Each year it seems—they’re born again
And I get older too—each time
But instead of—aging tree-rings
My face gets—more and more wrinkled

Instead of blossoms—I shed checks
Yes, I keep the paper—moving
Money makes—the world go around
My world stays green—all year around

Ted Hughes


“submarine delicacy
and horror”
—Ted Hughes, Pike

Mosasaur—fifty feet long
Monsters—of the Early Cretaceous
Twenty million years—ruled the oceans
Dominant marine killers—powerful swimmers

Stalking the shallow—epicontinental seas
Malevolent prehistoric grin—all teeth
Submarine horror show—sulky grandeur
Sleek like modern-day—monitor lizards

Elongated and streamlined—gloomy eyes
Webbed toes—elongated digit-bones
Tails broad and muscular—deadly fast
Slithery like sea snakes—conger eels today

Lurking in the shallows—ancient seas
Beneath seaweed stillness—looking upwards
Double row of pterygoid—flanged teeth
Double-hinged jaw—like anacondas today

Sea levels high—during the Cretaceous
Great inland seas—transgressing the land
Masosaurs—from the Gulf of Mexico
All the way to the—Canadian border

Embedded deep—in Maastricht limestone
Naming the final—six-million year epoch
Of the Cretaceous—the Maastrichtian
Sag belly and deadly smile—like pike today

Aquatic monsters—giving live birth
In the warm Cretaceous—shallow seas
Six million years—scaly and muscular
The same serpent eye—eyeing me now
Outlasting me—bobbing little Bayliner

Stilled by such—legendary hauntings
Deeper than—the deep blue sea
Past midnight—drifting on the lake
Hair on the back—of my neck erect

Lollygagging south—of Mercer Island
Mt Rainier—glowing in the moonlight
Volcanic plume-spilled—days of wonder
Flooding Enumclaw—plains northward

I get nervous—in the darkness
Hearing things—far down below me
Darkness—inside mosasaur darkness
Slowly rising up—towards me hungry

Philip Larkin

To Graham Lord—11 August 1984

The University of Hull
The Brynmor Jones Library

POETRY I am afraid the compulsion to write poems left me about seven years ago, since when I have written virtually nothing. Naturally this is a disappointment, but I would sooner write no poems than bad poems.

POET LAUREATESHIP I think the above circumstance disqualifies me for the Laureateship. A Laureate can fall silent, but he cannot be dumb from the start. Latterly it has been suggested that the Laureate should be a kind of “Mr. Poetry” and concern himself (or herself) with promoting poetry on a national basis, but this would not suit me either. Poetry to me has always been an intensely private thing, and I have avoided all its public manifestations.

There are several excellent poets of whom none of the above is true, and I expect one of them to be appointed. The office itself, linking as it does poetry and sovereignty, is a unique honor and should be treasured and preserved, but the temptation to turn it into a “job” should be resisted…

—Philip Larkin, Selected Letters of Philip Larkin (1940-1985), ed. Anthony Thwaite, London: Faber and Faber, 1992, page 716

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ted Hughes

Infamous Poet
—for Ted Hughes

Look at me—am I a monster?
What monstrosity?—am I not
Just a man—an ordinary fool?

Neither thin—nor fat
I’ve always been—an apprentice
Sylvia taught me—everything

My demeanor—that of a mouse
I didn’t mind—Sylvia being my
Dominatrix—I was her slave

First scrutinize—my eyes
For any spark—of meanness
I was—more pussy than Sylvia

Notice the—haggard exhaustion
On my stony face—how I slump
In the chair—drained dry by love

I used to be—a young wild
Dreg-boozed—Cambridge demon
A dirty little—Casanova prick

The women—just ask them
Was I a monster—well maybe
In bed—I did wreck hearts

But this dull—old world
Maybe it needed—some male
Pyrotechnics—some humiliation?

I was full of—youth & obscurity
I lacked Sylvia’s—autoclave of
Hot building-up—ambition

She made me—take baths
Typed up my—thought-fox mss
Got me published—I was amazed

Nobody had ever—cared for me
Not that way—the American way
Thinking about me—loving me

I was a dummy—lumbering
Around like—a Stegosaurus
Sylvia Plath—just smiled

Mytholmroyd—was full of
Young has-been—local poets
It still is—lost slackers

Sylvia made me—professional
Soon I had a—Guggenheim
Eliot published my—Lupercal

I fought it—tooth and nail
It’s hard for a—Yorkshire youth
To grow up—so fast and soon

I blinked—like Rilke’s panther
Behind bars—knowing I’d finally
Met my Other—White Goddess

I betrayed—my Ariel lover tho
I became—a chicken-shit monster
I wrecked her life—and mine

Like Alvarez said—cloudy weather
Hovered over my head—wherever
I went—my instinctual blood-jet

Inserted me—into Stillness
All I had to do—was trust my
Intuition—Stasis in Darkness

I got jaded—green Adam
How the world—shifted my
Clarities—women my weakness

I lost her—my lucky Godiva
She rode away—one London
Morning—when the pipes froze

Prince Charles

Riding Ariel
—for Prince Charles

“Tragic drama gives its
greatest roles to royalty”
—Ted Hughes
A Masque for Three Voices

The Island’s—poet returns
Prospero—waves his wand
From Yorkshire—to Mytholmroyd
The ghost—of the Lonely Man
Shapes again—the whole
Island—the moody moors

Being British—is no mystery
When man’s future—depended
On one nation’s—hidden strength
It was the—English language
That prevailed—over Albion
Not the Luftwaffe—bombers

Being British—is the mystery
A royalty—minted you and me
We speak through—the ancient
Tragic tongue—that stalked the
Anglo-Saxon soul—from the
Prehistoric depths—of hell

Being British—how else could
The Thistle’s Crown—the Unicorn
The Lion's Words—Streamlined Gold
The Honey Bee—Sovereign Rider
Riding forward—Beowulf’s gift
Once again—Ariel the Prince

Dishing Dido

Face Lift
—for Dido Merwin

“Writing is a self
that requires a
perpetual face-lift”
—Steven Gould Axelrod
Sylvia Path: The Wound
And the Cure of Words

Good news—for Dido!!!
She’s a born-again—beauty queen
Peeling back—the white bandages
The nauseous—wrinkles of the years
Three marriages—full of worries
She got so sick—of lime-green
Frog-husbands—petty jerks

Now she’s pretty—as Cleopatra
Fizzy with Demerol—high as a kite
Beauty is back again—leaking out
Of every pore—of her lovely face
She feels precious—again knowing
No stretch marks—give away the
Secrets of her—barren existence

Everybody raves—about her new face
She feels years younger—when she smiles
The stitches tighten—she thinks backwards
She’s twenty again—lounging on her
First husband’s—honeymoon lap
Years before—her lovely poodle died
Now in a vase—on the mantelpiece

Her new face—pink as a peach
Smooth as a—newborn baby’s ass
Only Sylvia—curt smirk-face poet
Dishes Dido—from Court Green
Dares to say—out of the blue
That her rival looks—better as
Miss Havisham—widowed nag

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Valerie Eliot Sizing Up Ted Hughes

Valerie Eliot Sizing Up Ted Hughes

Looking annoyed—as usual
Valerie Eliot—the Widow of
Queen’s Square—sizes up
Ted Hughes—tall dark and
Handsome—Yorkshire stud
Leisurely—sipping drinks
At a celebratory—Farber & Faber
Cocktail party—in 1960

After all—Valerie’s famous
Husband—Miss T. S. Eliot
Queen of—The Wasteland
And Miss Spender—had both
Got Ted his—Guggenheim
And Lupercal—published
Later inviting—Ted and Sylvia
To the Eliot’s—lavish apartment

Valerie—like Dido and Assia
Fell in love with—the young
Taciturn poet—who kept aloof
From effeminate—trite literary
Gossip and chit-chat—so very
Self-assured—and sexy as
Only hunters—and fishermen
And animals—can surely be.

Note: “the Widow of Queen’s
Square,” Philip Larkin, “Letter
To Anthony Thwaite—3 September
1984,” Selected Letters (1940-
1985), 1992, page 718

Monday, April 20, 2009

Anne Sexton

Ariel—Vieux Carré Baby

“Never mind last diggings.
They don’t matter. What
matters is her poems.
These poems stun me.
They eat time.”
—Anne Sexton

Ariel—Vieux Carré baby
Svelte—French Quarter Lady
No wonder—you’re haughty

Power is pain—your
Poems—should stun
Not put—readers asleep

You have—these words

Transgressing—us males
Amazingly—without coercion

Vieux Carré baby—brave
Nike poet—winged & beautiful
Help me—to be perfect too

Janet Malcolm

Interview with Janet Malcolm

“The transgressive
nature of biography
is rarely acknowledged,
but it is the only
explanation for
biography’s status as
a popular genre.”
—Janet Malcolm,
The Silent Woman

I tracked down—Janet Malcolm
A New Yorker writer—with a svelte
Psychoanalytical—poetic persuasion
Plus she was—very beautiful

I wondered why—people who talked
About Sylvia Plath—talked that way
I was interested—in why there were
So many unreliable—Narrators

Some lied—to cover things up
While others—hedged their bets
And kept their—mouths tightly shut
Fearing—the Hughes Estate Witch

I was interested—in Janet Malcolm
And why she wrote—Silent Woman
As if each interview—was a soiree
A dialog with—some Ouija entity

She suggested—that I interview
Jacqueline Rose—who was into
Post-structuralism—having written
The Haunting—of Sylvia Plath

But I ended up—where I began
Lost in Pale Fire—a Nabokovian
Labyrinth of—Zemblan queens and

Shady guys—playing ping-pong!!!


The Changing Light at Mytholmroyd

“As for the style—
I simply tried to shed
Everything. It was quite
An effort to get there—
As much of an effort to
Stay there—every day
I had to find it again.”
—Ted Hughes, Letter
to Keith Sagar, Letters
of Ted Hughes (2007)

Sylvia is dead—so is Assia
Now I—haunt Mytholmroyd

Admittedly—it was all a mistake
Anything written—simply doesn’t last

Poetry—rather than prose
Fairy tales—instead of reportage

Licked clean—old Stone Age walls
Voiceless—out here on the moors

The landscape—has a way of
Fragmenting—human narrative

Line by line—down the
Blank page—down it goes

Cleaving Ouija

The Planchette

“Sylvia Plath’s voice
is powerful because
it succeeds in
not negating—
vital contradictions”
—Mary Lynn Broe,
“Enigmatical Shifting
My Clarities,” Ariel

The Ouija board—is dead
It doesn’t talk—it’s cardboard
The Planchette—lives tho

You know—that by now
It’s midnight—séance time
It’s how—the dead speak

One night—in New Orleans
Mardi Gras—high as a kite
Deep in the—French Quarter

I met an—old voodoo witch
Who showed me—how it works
Her Planchette—and Talking Board

Automatic writing—is an Artform
Like—everything else Ouija
It triggers images—charms words

Her Planchette—was old
Ancient—and Chirico-esque
Disquieting muses—grumbled

Vieux Carré—descended
Over me—like a Bell Jar
There on—Royal & St. Peter

I ended up—staring out
Through elaborate—ironwork
Balcony galleries—into Night

I became—an unborn fetus
That’s what—a séance is like
A formaldehyde—hangover later

Mississippi—Delta muse
Francophone creole—iconographies
I heard voices—from Jackson Square

I bought—Madame Zimba’s
Black ivory—jixed planchette
For a steal—$10,000

It rattled—in an old shoebox
All the way—back home
Back to—Baton Rouge

According to—The Times Picayunne
Witch Sacorax—died that night
Peopled wanted—that Planchette

So I dropped—out of college
That semester—Bad Boy Bayou
Just to play—the Ouija Board

There’s a place—deep inside
The Swamp—called Zero Zone
It’s Cyclops eye—Midnight sun

Cypresses—moonlit cemetery
Rows of—shadowy headstones
Like Sylvia’s—Court Green

Voodoo Hoodoo—Ariel-esque
Mississippi levee—close by
Long before Katrina—arrived

Each night—the Planchette
Guided me—across the Board
Mardi Gras high—Lost mon amour

Japan—had its Hiroshima
Europe—had its Auschwitch
Katrina would be—our killer bitch

But that was—in the future
All mixed up—in magnolia time
I parked my MG—and listened

I could hear—the cane fields
South of campus—growing
Waxy smooth—in the moonlight

I was deep—into mulatto love
A kid—who smelled like sugar-cane
Nude—sweaty, sharp machete

I picked him up—after work
His skin was—pecan brown
His eyes—alligator gar green

I let him drive—fast at night
My Huey P. Long—Deep South
Decadent—Camelot romance

I lied to my—trusting parents
I skipped classes—kept an empty
Room in Balmer Hall—so what?

That’s what—it took to die
To speak—with the Living Dead
Rotting palms—my mildewy lips

The dead—aren’t doppelgangers
They ride—Streetcars Named
Desire—they dance at Lafitte’s

Ouija—is a night journey
Across—dark Lake Ponchatrain
To Walker Percy’s—gone cabana

Percy knows—all about it
Moviegoing—thru old movie
Houses—moving thru time

Initial readings—(re)write
Texts play—subversive games

(See—Michael Riffaterre
Modern Ouija—Textualities
Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1978)

Readings—as textual entities
More dream-state—than awake

Like Medusa—many-headed
Serpentine bouffant—coiling
Uncoiling—snakey insouciance

Making a deal—with the ennui
Dead—and the peanut-eaters

(If I were—an intellectual
I’d call it—publish or perish

Like with—Ted and Sylvia
Their genteel—divagations
Were pastiches—parodies

Like a—broken record the
Same old—palimpsest jive

Apparently—the dead
Well, they’re just as bored
As we are—the living dead

Is there really—any difference
Once you start—playing the
Textual entity—poetics game?

Beyond—rhyme and reason
Word-craft—surreal seasons
Only spontaneity—cures?

My Planchette—originally Creole
Clairvoyant—now Anglo-Saxon
In vogue—Jambalaya Love

(Re)reading—my (re)writings
Oozing closer—to Ouija Lit
The story—of my voyeur life

Years later—when things go
Bump in the night—it’s the
View Carre—speaking thru me

(Re)Writing Ariel

(Re)Writing Ariel—4 Poems

The Thought-Cat
The Suicide Club


“There is a panther
stalks me down:
One day I'll have
my death of him."
—Sylvia Plath, “Pursuit”

She was so—attent and sleek
In bed—more coiled steel than
Living—a poised dark deadly eye
With a pair of—wrap-around legs

She knew—I was the biggest seducer
In Cambridge—knowing I was vain
I looked slovenly—my suit jacket wrinkled
My pants hanging—unbelted in great folds

My hair black—and greasy in the light
She knew who my next book—would be
Dedicated to—probably my own navel
Perhaps my penis—I was so selfish

She wanted me—not the vain, selfish boy
From Yorkshire—but rather the big, dark,
Hunky man—good at lovemaking today
Tomorrow—all morning and evening

The dirt was too deep—for Halo shampoo
And Lux soap—my raggedness too far gone
For the neat nip of trimming shears or
Chit-chat with Miss Eliot or Miss Spender

I ripped off her—headband and earrings
After I gave her—a bang smash on her lips
She bit me on the cheek—and a hundred
Times later—bit me down there too

She felt me up—in the bathtub afterwards
Smelling my head—full of long jet-black hair
Sniffing and kissing me—in delectable places
Making me feel—all hot and hard and lovely

I felt streamlined—like a bullet or shark
Automatic with a purpose—my single-minded
Skull, body and mind—full of the blood-jet
Of black silent deep—waters weeping

No indolent—procrastinations
No yawning stares—no unrequited love
No distracting thoughts—or wondering why
Only making it, doing it—all the way home

—for Robin Morgan

I stared at—the monster in the mirror
How difficult it is—to define what others
See as a monstrosity—my ordinary
Appearance—neither fem nor feminist

I stared at—Truman Capote on stage
Giving a reading—recently publishing
Other Voices, Other Rooms—along
With his faggy—Breakfast at Tiffany’s

What’s so great—about a fem queer
Living in Northampton—having an
Affair with Newton Arvin—one of
Sylvia’s gay—Smith professors?

Funny how Sylvia—admired Capote
But got jealous—over his fame
Which in a perverse way—made her
Try to write—even better than before

But for me—Capote was a monster
Sylvia and I argued—about it a lot
Homosexuality and—the gay muse
His fem side—my Mytholmroyd meat

Sylvia laughed—at my homophobia
What kind of man—is threatened by
Another man’s—obvious femininity
What if I were Lesbos—she queried

Naturally—or rather unnaturally
I was shocked—deep in my maleness
Years later that’s why—I objected to
Jacqueline Rose—and her biography

But especially—her interpretation
Of Sylvia’s poem—“The Rabbit-Catcher”
Saying that—lesbianism strangled her
Rather than my—strong hetero-hands!!!

The Thought-Cat
—for Ted Hughes

I imagine—prehistoric moments
When the midnight—sun is alive
And the moon—is a blank page
On a screen—full of pixels

The cat is my—familiar other
There’s something—in him
That’s still got—a little bit of
Saber-tooth tiger—still alive

The morning darkness—outside
Is the best time—to be a poet
Writing like—Plath and Stafford
A little bit of darkness—still left

I’m not the—romantic type
I’m barely human—until I sit
Down at the roll-top—drinking
Some coffee—and waking up

Meanwhile the cat—concentrates
On being the thing—I forgot how
To be—he’s so good at being my
Lap cat—even my laptop says so

Outside the window—cherry trees
Are blooming pink—and hawthorne
Pale white petals—are covering
The lawn—that needs mowing

I survived another—stormy winter
Monsoon storms—are so difficult on
Mediocre poets—I’d rather be Lana
Turner—in The Rains of Ranchipur

Pretty soon—perhaps it’s osmosis
The thought-cat—deep in my head
Sticks its nose out—and then two
Eyes not mine—boldly stare out

The grandfather clock—starts ticking
The House of Secrets—wakes up
A brief—window of opportunity opens
Up and I think—a different way

It doesn’t last long—the clock ticks
Neat little Verdana font—footprints
Come out—doing their business of
Automatically (re)writing—Ariel again

The Suicide Cult
—for Frieda Hughes

Poetry—a murderous art
It’s like playing—Russian roulette
With six cartridges—in the cylinder

Have you ever—had the feeling
In a curious way—that what you’re
Writing is written—posthumously?

Rewriting life—as soap opera
The narrative—that never dies
A series of—unending installments?

Disclosed—discursively after death
With lurid chapters—and the same
Old sensationalist—newspaper stories?

Anything to keep—the peanut-eaters
From getting bored—rewriting the movie
The lurid novel—the journalistic exposes?

Is it the same with—poetry too?
Marital problems—the suicide cult
T. S. Eliot—in her Victorian nightgown?

Notes on (Re)Writing Ariel

Frieda Hughes objects to Ariel and her mother’s life and poems being filmed or fictionalized—but what about Plath’s poems being echoed by other poets?

According to Linda Wagner-Martin, “Separated from the thousands of imitative poems is the more recognizable kind of patterning—the echo, a mode in which the writer consciously draws on lines, phrases, imagery from the Plath oeuvre, expecting the material to be recognized. In the dialogue between the later poet and the originating one (here, Plath), the reader is forced to become a participant. Part of the success of the poet who aims for echoes is that the reader is privy to the source of the material.”—Wagner-Martin, “Plath and Contemporary American Poetry,” The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath, ed. Jo Gill, 2006, 56.

Frieda Hughes objects to the appropriation of her mother’s poetry for literary and filmic fictionalization; but then again there’s the question of poets echoing Sylvia Plath’s work. Are they just as politically-incorrect as novelists and movie-makers?

“My mother’s poems cannot be crammed into the mouths of actors in any filmic reinvention of her story in the expectation they can breathe life into her again, any more than literary fictionalization of my mother’s life—as if writing straight fiction would not get the writer enough notice (or any notice at all)—achieves any purpose other than to parody the life she actually lived. Since she died my mother has been dissected, analyzed, reinterpreted, reinvented, fictionalized, and in some cases completely fabricated.”—Frieda Hughes, “Foreword,” Sylvia Plath’s Ariel: The Restored Edition (2004)

According to Jo Gill, “Frieda Hughes has every right to disagree with the ideas of people who attempt to reconstruct Plath ‘through her own interpretations’, but such interpretations are what writers open themselves up to when they put their work in the public domain. Interpretation is what writers seek, even if they, and those who know them, are sometimes made uncomfortable.”—Jo Gill, Modern confessional writing: new critical essays, Routledge, 2006.

Gill continues: “Jacqueline Rose [The Haunting of Sylvia Plath] correctly asserts ‘the right of every reader of Sylvia Plath to form her or his own view of the meanings and significance of her work.”

“Interpretation depends on access to the writer’s work. Frieda Hughes’ new foreword to Ariel seems to read Plath as a confessional writer who hangs her poems on real events. For instance, the foreword tells us that ‘Berck-Plage’ is ‘about the funeral…of a neighbor, Percy Key’, while ‘the couple so wickedly depicted in [“Lesbos”] lived in Cornwall’. ‘Stopped Dead’, we are told, ‘refer[s] to my father’s uncle Walter’.”

“Yet Frieda Hughes is critical of others for proceeding from a similar methodology: “I saw poems such as “Lady Lazarus” and “Daddy” dissected over and over, the moment that my mother wrote them being applied to her whole life…”

Echoing” is the method of (re)writing used in the above 4 Hughes poems. Ted Hughes used the same echoing method in his Birthday Letters (1998)—such as echoing or mirroring certain Plath poems like “The Rabbit-Catcher.”

This echoing process had lit crit reverberations as well—with Hughes’ prose interpretation contrasting with the Jacqueline Rose's reading of “The Rabbit-Catcher” in her biography The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (1992).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sylvia Plath

(Re)Writing Ariel

“Sulfurous adulteries
grieve in a dream”
—Sylvia Plath,
“The Other,” Ariel

Now I’m the Goddess—I shot you dead
Too many stolen horses—broken hearts
I got sick of you—my Dark Marauder!!!

Coming home late—licking your lips
After making love to Assia—Butcher in bed
What’s that bad smell—all over you?

Your life no longer—seems intriguing
My deepest emotions—feelings of betrayal
I shot you dead—before you could kill me!!!

I beat the Suicide Club—those literary hacks
I’d rather be a murderess—than a weak sister
I empowered myself—with a black Luger!!!

Ted Hughes under my bed—and Assia Wevill
May you both sleep now—forever and a day
No more dishing—poor suicidal Sylvia!!!

It’s a luxury—being goddess empowered
Getting them—before they could get me
I want them down there—I want them dead!!!

No more Romantic Love—no blue plaques
Nailed to crummy—London brick walls
No William Butler Yeats—wiping his ass!!!

No more Ted Hughes—arrogant savage
Your thick-veined throat—all black and blue
Your turkey gizzard—Yorkshire genitals!!!

No more playing Big Shot—Lord of Love
No more El Perfecto—brooding Big Daddy
Just another skanky—Third Reich pimp!!!

Mytholmroyd’s full of them—failed local poets
I made you professional—you resented it
Goodbye for now—I’ve got a new Double!!!

No more schmaltzy loneliness—tacky ennui
I don’t need subtext anymore—I need sexy
Subversive cleaves—Doppelganger Love!!!

Ariel is my Other—she is my Goddess
My Winged Victory—Nike of Samothrace
Al Alvarez can have—his mediocre Medea

Poor Olwyn Hughes—haughty Dido Merwin
They hated me so—jealous old nags
Like handbags—darkness inside them

My handsome husband—I murdered you
You don’t need—your bloated oeuvre anymore
Did we ever need—a gangster poet laureate?

Philip Larkin would’ve—been a better one
Serving the Queen—with his writer’s block
Letting Madam Thatcher—rot in the Falklands!!!

You don’t need us anymore—or the Queen
You’re an embarrassment—to Great Britain
Rewriting Ariel—without you


Notes on (Re)Writing Ariel

“The thing about Ted is
that he is a terrifically
attractive man,” Al
Alvarez said. “Before my
second marriage, I had an
Australian girlfriend, who
knew Ted, and she told me
that when she first set eyes
on him her knees went weak.
‘He looked like Jack Palance
in Shane,’ she said.”—Janet
Malcolm, The Silent Woman,
1995, 121

“And I knew another woman,
a psychoanalyst, who had
such a strong reaction when
she first met Ted—she told
me [Alvarez said] this many
years later—that she actually
went to the bathroom and
vomited. Ted kind of went
through swaths of women,
like a guy harvesting corn.”
—Janet Malcolm, The Silent
Woman, 1995, 121-122

“She frequently depicted
Hughes not simply as big
but as dangerous as well.
“During their courtship
she called him a “black
Marauder” and a “panther.”
—Steven Gould Axelrod,
Sylvia Plath: The Wound
And the Cure of Words,
Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1990, 192

“Judith Kroll is right to
observe that part of Plath’s
presentation of Hughes “is
as a reformed or reformable
destroyer.” After the marriage,
Plath continued to entertain
violent fantasies concerning
him, but with growing
ambivalence.” —Steven Gould
Axelrod, Sylvia Plath: The
Wound and the Cure of Words,
Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1990, 193

“On one occasion she ran out
of the house following a
nighttime quarrel, sat in a
park, and then spotted him
striding down the street:
‘He paused, stared, and if
he weren’t my husband I
would have run from him
as a killer.” —Steven Gould
Axelrod, Sylvia Plath: The
Wound and the Cure of Words,
Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1990, 193

“Later Hughes gassed an
injured bird to death—ostensibly
an act of mercy but possibly
an oblique threat to Plath as
well, since she identified
herself with the “panic bird.”
Her description of the dead
bird—“composed, perfect and
beautiful in death”—strangely
foreshadows her last self-
representation as a being who
has been “perfected.”
—Steven Gould Axelrod, Sylvia
Plath: The Wound and the Cure
of Words, Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1990, 193

“As Sylvia had described it, his
face whitened, his body contorted,
his gaze intensified. He was on
top of her—not kissing her, as he
usually did, but choking her. Finally,
at the moment when she began to
lose consciousness—the moment
she said she resolved herself to die
Ted released his grip and stopped
his assault as abruptly as he had
started it”—Janet Malcolm, The
Silent Woman, quoting Paul
Alexander, Rough Magic: A
Biography of Sylvia Plath, New
York: Penguin, 1991

“This is a horrible story. Who is
this close friend who can charge
Hughes with nothing less than
attempted murder? How reliable
a witness? A confidential source,
Alexander calmly writes.”
—Janet Malcolm, The Silent
Woman, 1994, 167

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cleaving Hughes

The Murder of Sylvia Plath

“Everybody hated her.”
—Ted Hughes

“Plath’s mysterious meeting
with an unknown companion
the night before her suicide”
—Jillian Becker, Giving Up:
The Last Days of Sylvia Plath

Was Sylvia Plath—murdered?
It would be—one of the most
Scandalous—Literary homicides
Of the 20th century—it would
Truly be—Murder Most Foul

Was Sylvia Plath—murdered?
Upsetting—the whole apple-cart
Of the Suicide Cult—reversing
The whole—Mytholmroyd Mythos
Generated by—Ted Hughes

Was Sylvia Plath—murdered?
A cover-up—once revealed
Setting in motion—a paradigm
Shift for—Plath literary criticism
Provoking—a terrible new Ariel

Was Sylvia Plath—murdered?
Was Ted Hughes—the mysterious
Unknown companion—who visited
Sylvia Sat Night—before her
So-called suicide—Monday morning?

Was Sylvia Plath—murdered?
Is that why—Ted Hughes queered
Sylvia’s original—Ariel manuscript
Stanza by Stanza—Line by Line
Sabotaging—Sylvia Plath’s oeuvre?

Was Sylvia Plath—murdered?
Is that why—Hughes censored Ariel
Mysteriously lost—her Journals
Ruthlessly suppressing—poems
And biographies—he hated?

Was Sylvia Plath—murdered?
Assia Wevill—murdered too?
Hughes—the Yorkshire Ripper?
The Rabbit Killer—Poet Laureate?
Sleek Killer Pike—of the Moors?

Notes to Murder

Notes to Murder

“how can
I accuse
Ted Hughes
of what the entire British and American
literary and critical establishment
has been at great lengths to deny
without ever saying it in so many words, of course,
the murder of Sylvia Plath”
—Robin Morgan, Arraignment,
Monster, New York: Random House
1970; reprinted in Upstairs in the
Garden: Poems Selected and New,
New York: W. W. Norton, 1990

“Then Olwyn asked me:
‘Do you want to be a murderer?’
I looked at her, stunned.
Do you want to be a murderer?
she asked again.”
—Judith Kroll, Chapters in a
Mythology: The Poetry of
Sylvia Plath

“He reminded me of Heathcliff—
another Yorkshireman—big-boned
and brooding, with dark hair flopping
forward over his craggy face,
watchful eyes and an unexpectedly
witty mouth. He was a man who
seemed to carry his own climate
with him, to create his own
atmosphere—and in those days
that atmosphere was dark

and dangerous
—Al Alvarez, Stevenson,
Bitter Fame, 189

“On Saturday evening Sylvia
put on her blue and silver dress
and went out. She didn’t say
where she where she was going
or whom she hoped or intended
to meet. Whatever had happened
the night before, whomever she
had seen, whatever had been
said, had resolved something for
her. She seemed invigorated,
mildly elated, she had things to
do, she said, all of the night.”
—Jillian Becker, Giving Up:
The Last Days of Sylvia Plath,
New York, St. Martin’s Press,
2003, page 57

“Fate was a big theme with both
Hughes and Sylvia. Both of them
Believed that doing violence
To reason released intuitive
creativeness.” —Jillian Becker,
Giving Up: The Last Days of
Sylvia Plath, New York, St.
Martin’s Press, 2003, page 58

“In 1998 Hughes’s sister Olwyn
introduced me to Ann Stevenson
the Plath biographer semiauthorized
by Hughes. When, in Olwyn’s
presence, I told Stevenson what
Hughes had said at Sylvia’s
funeral—that “everybody hated
her”—Olwyn stopped me. “You
can’t put that in
,” she shot at
Stevenson. In the end nothing

I related about the funeral
appeared in Stevenson’s
book Bitter Fame”
—Jillian Becker, Giving Up:
The Last Days of Sylvia Plath,
New York, St. Martin’s Press,
2003, page 56

“In correspondence with the
Hughes’s, [The Haunting of
Sylvia Plath] was called “evil.”
Its publisher was told it would
not appear. I was asked to
remove my reading of ‘The
Rabbit Catcher’, and when I
refused, I was told by Hughes
that speculation of the kind
I was seen as engaging in
about Plath’s sexual identity
would in some countries be
‘grounds for homicide’.
—Jacqueline Rose, Preface,
The Haunting of Sylvia Plath,
Cambridge: Harvard, 1992 xi

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cleaving Ariel

Nike of Samothrace Louvre

Sylvia Plath Version

“It was a place
of force…”
—Sylvia Plath,

I was sick—of him
By then—the malignity
Of his great—male beauty
Had lost its—extravagance
His love—more like torture

His fist—wrapping around
My throat—gagging me
With my hair—blowing in
The sea-cliff—wind above
An oil-slick—spreading below

His tall dark—handsome
Face no longer—blinding me
With Mytholmroyd—grace
And magic—now he was
Just one big fat—Zero

There was—only one place
Left to go—back to America
A teaching job—at Smith
A couple of kids—some grief
Leaving behind—Yeats etc.

I was sick—of Ted Hughes
My love life—narrowed
Down to a—blinking red
Empty—lonely goodbye
Motel—vacancy sign

I felt—a still busyness
Deep inside me—growing
A different kind—of poetry
Different than—Lowell
More blunt—than Sexton

Suddenly—I was Ariel
My Tempest—was over
My Other—cocky Caliban
Could keep—England
Old Island—of shipwrecks

I’d give—another reading
Another BBC—bombshell
Not just Daddy—but the
Whole goddamned—thing
ARIEL—broadcast LIVE!!!

(then a knock at the door….)