Thursday, August 20, 2009

Your Own Sylvia (copy)

I love this book! Last night I picked up Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill and read through it like a runaway train. Why? What propelled me? Is it that good?

Yes! It is the biography of Sylvia Plath written in verse chronologically from birth to tragic suicide. Marketed for teenagers, it enjoys a plethora of awards including the 2008 American Library Association Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults and 2008 Michael L. Printz Honor Book.

What a great way to introduce Sylvia Plath to a whole new reading audience. In my education she was sorely missed. I lacked exposure to her poems or books during high school and college although my friends were reading The Bell Jar as a word-of-mouth choice. I guess the educators thought it best not to study a woman who wrote with suicidal tendencies, but from Your Own, Sylvia readers will realize there is more to Plath’s writing.

The poems are written as if the person in Sylvia’s life at the time is speaking. For example, the poem titled “First Publication” is written as if the editor of the Boston Herald is speaking to the reader about Sylvia’s first published poem at the age of eight. Footnotes are included for each poem that explains the history behind the event or person featured. At the bottom of “First Publication” the footnote reads, “‘Poem,’ a sweet rhyming verse about crickets and fireflies, appeared in the Sunday Boston Herald on August 11, 1941, on the ‘Good Sport Page’ of the children’s section.”

I like the fact that this book leads readers to other books. It is natural to have the desire to read The Bell Jar after one finds out the real people who populate the fictional pseudo autobiography. For example, Janet Wagner who vocalizes the poem “Stigmata” appears in The Bell Jar as the “sweet, farm-fresh Betsy from Kansas.” In real life, the two were friends while guest editors for Mademoiselle magazine.

Need more convincing? Here are the first lines of “Owning Sylvia Plath” as vocalized through a reader of her poems.

Who are you, Sylvia Plath?
A cold comet locked in place by gravity?
A glint in the cracked ceiling above my bed?

Something shimmers out of your chasm.
Your language feels like words
trapped under my tongue.

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