(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).

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