Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Here's (above) Sylvia Plath's "Daddy," read by Plath. I like this poem, but it seems self-indulgent and even crazy to me. Boy, Sylvia could certainly can hold a grudge. What could her father have done to her to make her write a poem like this? My guess is...not much. It's possible that he had a mentally disturbed daughter who was willing to throw his reputation under the bus in order to establish her own reputation.

Anyway, love it or hate it, you have to admit that it represents an interesting extreme of revenge literature. The unrelenting, venemous intensity reminds me of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" and the several pages long curse in the Bible aimed at anyone who touches the Arc of the Covenant.

Here's (above) Allen Ginsberg reading "America." I confess to liking this poem even though I completely disagree with the content. Walt Whitman popularized this kind of rambling, sloppy, stream-of-consciousness dialogue where the poet argues with an abstraction. Like Whitman, Ginsberg is often silly and easy to parody but you have to admit that it's appealing on some level.

Here's (above) Jack Kerouac reading one of his poems on the old "Tonight Show" with Steve Allen. Kerouac comes off as immensely sincere and the poem is an interesting, example of word music, at least when Jack reads it.


Lester Hunt said...

I hereby nominate Syvia Plath for the Self-Indulgent Trivializations of the Holocaust Award, for her equation of my father = my husband = Adolf Hitler.

Thanks Eddie, those were great. I had never seen any of them. I had always read "America" as both screamier and more ironic than Allen did it. But I guess he has a right to his own interpretation...

William said...

Plath was kind of expected. She was never the uplifting one...

I love, love, love Walt Whitman but could never really get into Ginsberg. It seems his generation allowed him to be praised for being simply, really an artist, at its most primal form of being selfish and lazy. I just don't see how I'm supposed to respect anyone who's proud of having no self-discipline. Despite this, like you Eddie, I have to admit I like hearing it. How you can split that to make sense I'm not sure. (as an aside, though, I have to have a soft spot for someone who wrote songs about Volkswagens...)

I loved the Kerouac one! He's almost exactly how I imagined him, very earnest. I didn't even know these clips were out there.

Jenny Lerew said...

I love Plath, as you know, and for me her poems get much better and more meaningful and enjoyable(yes! pure enjoyment!) as I get older.

Self indulgent? Trivial? Hardly. She was a poet of the old school, incredibly disciplined and careful.
And she did loads of uplifting 'positive' poems, along with the most famous ones. I guess it depends on what's uplifting to a person, though...poetry isn't just prettiness, it tries to get at all sorts of things.
Poor Sylvia gets a bum rap as the "college girl's suicidal buddy" or whatnot, but that's usually from people who've only heard she died by suicide and/or wrote "Edge" and "Daddy"--not people who actually go further and read the poems for themselves, as they were meant to be read-usually aloud, like most poetry.
As for "Daddy", there was a lot of black humor in it for Plath...I didn't play it, but does your YouTube clip play her introduction, the one she did on the BBC along with this recording? She pokes fun at herself a bit...but she was a dry-witted person.

In the first place, it's NOT just about her father--it's not quite that literal, exactly. It's also about her then-almost-ex-husband, who'd abandoned her for a girlfriend leaving her alone in a freezing fall and winter with her two babies. That said, what did her father do? Read "The Colossus" which IS all about him: quite simply, he died; he deserted her when she was about 8 years old(the age when children feel deserted by death). She was crazy about him, and felt responsible for his dying.
As for equating her father/husband/Hitler, it may seem cheesy now, but it was unusual then, and it was something she meant, whether it offended people, or not. The words worked, you know?

I will stand up for Plath as the semi-knowlegable continue to throw tomatoes at her through the decades: the miracle isn't that she killed herself(she was definitely a very ill person, ultimately, bi-polar probably)but that she lived for as long as she did, and produced fantastic poetry--poems that, like someone once said great art should do "blow your mind". Whatever the superficial mood of the poem, the strength of them is their sounds, their creativity, they are fists shaking at an undeserved fate.
Read "Elm", "Balloons", "Nick and the Candlestick", and the genius "Lady Lazarus". There are a hundred or so deserving others, all amazing, many gently beautiful.

Over & out! : )

Anonymous said...

Ted Hughes wrote "The Iron Giant". Coincidence? I think not!

Lester Hunt said...

"Self indulgent? Trivial? Hardly. She was a poet of the old school, incredibly disciplined and careful."

The self-indulgence I was referring to was the wallowing in hate that the poem expresses, not any quality she possessed as an artist. Hatred is so tempting because, among other reasons, it is actually quite pleasant (because it creates an illusory, drug-like feeling of power). (I cheerfully admit this last comment was based on introspection.) As Homer said, "sweet as a river of flowing honey." Not trivial but trivializing. If I say, "I hate all tyrants, from Hitler to my mother-in-law" I intend to make my mother in law sound bad. But you can't do that without making Hitler sound not-so-bad. And offending everyone who understands how evil real tyranny is.

Jenny Lerew said...

No problem--I got you. Lester--no offense, I hope--and btw you're not the first to see te references in the poem as trivializing the Holocaust and the fate of the jews in WW2--critics said so immediately, and you and they are frankly probably right.

But if you "forgive" the imagery(and that's a hell of a big pardon), it was a cathartic poem for Plath to write, and represented for her a break with an old, old father-fixation she'd carried around inside her all her life. I do not think it "wallow[s] in hate"; it is an expression of extreme anger, yes, but Plath knew and use the fact that extreme love and extreme hate are two sides of the same coin--epecially where family is concerned.

Here, for the record, is Plath's self-penned (and read aloud on air)intro for "Daddy":

"Here is a poem spoken by a girl with an Electra complex.
Her father died while she thought he was God. Her case is
complicated by the fact that her father was also a Nazi and
her mother very possibly part Jewish. In the daughter the two
strains marry and paralyse each other--she has to act out the
awful little allegory once over before she is free of it"

Plath is "the Girl" but she is also "the Author" of this poem, and its master, completely. I think some people imagine she was scribbling madly on the backs of envelopes, no editing, no careful thought, just raw emotion. Nothing could be more untrue--these are complicated, layered poems.

I think the first lines of "Daddy" are absolutely brilliant, though--and even Plath detractors usually admit they're a great piece of writing.

I promise this is the last I cram the comments with Plath--but I am an afficionado of hers, so I just can't help it. ; )

Jenny Lerew said...

I lied.

One more thing:

Plath, a a very self-critical poet, thought this one of her very best poes, and read it eagerly to many friends in London who were also writers. One of them, another woman, said she/they howled with laughter at it. Hardly the keening artiste!

Plath was not only smart, she was self-aware of her "issues"--poems were her medium as pen & paint is to many of us. Actually, she drew very well, too.

Max Ward said...

Poetry is always better when it is written by everyday man types, like Jack Kerouac and Ralph Bakshi. It loses its credbility and immediately becomes a cliche when folk like Ginsberg read & write poetry, even more so with his kind of content.

Anonymous said...

Theory corner is the place,
for Uncle Eddie to post his taste.

The love of poetry, cartoons, culture and art.

Placed firmly close to Eddie's heart.

With a glimmer in his eye.
Eddie post his theories, with a restful child like sigh.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: Really interesting comments! Plath seems to be full of uncaused rage. She's a good poet but I just don't see the point in walking around mad all the time.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I love poetry, it's so much more romantic than plain prose. Even if the subject is a bit dismal or silly, anything goes, it's great. When I was a kid, I wanted to run away and ride trains, write songs; pretty much be like Guthrie or Dylan. I'd write hundreds of poems, lyrics etc. I realized pretty soon I should stick to cartooning, haha!

stiff said...

I never cared for poetry until I discovered good hip-hop music (and I don't care to start a debate about how awful that genre is, only let me say that "good" hip-hop requires poetic prowess like these clips demonstrate, and I assure you that there are a few such artists out there). So, I missed out on a lot, and never read any Kerouac, but having seen that clip of him, I now know that I NEED to get some of his stuff. Thanks Eddie!

Jenny Lerew said...

Okay, Eddie--you seem determined to cite the cliche rather than the actual poet where S. Plath is concerned but short of publishing every joyful phoot of her and every happy poem she wrote(yes, they exist), what can I do? ; )
I think you're missing out on some great poetry(and writing), though.

Jenny Lerew said...

You're, by Sylvia Plath

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo's mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark, as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools' Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

There you are. A happy, life-affirming poem about her baby daughter. I also think it's a fantastic piece of poetry. But it must be read aloud to be really appreciated

And the very last stanza of "Nick and the Candlestick"(written this time for her baby son)is a bit of verse I often think of, that just sounds lovely:

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.

No rage there either. : )

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: Very pretty lines. It's been so long since we talked in the Tiny Toons/Animaniacs days that I forgot that Plath was a favorite of yours. Boy, people take their poets seriously. I'm that way about music. There's a piece that I never play for anybody because if they didn't like it I'd have to hit them on the head. Anyway, I'll ease up on the Plath criticism.

Jenny Lerew said...

Hahah! Eddie, it's that way for me about: music, poetry, fiction, and animation. And most evreything else! I certainly do find Plath fascinating but then I also consider myself a bigtime fan of Wordsworth, St.Vincent Millay, Dante, Byron and Rilke. : ) I'll happily arm wrestle all over the goddamn place for any of them!

I mean to say--you needn't "let up" on Plath at all! I love to discuss and argue--I know you do, too(TTA isn't so long ago that I'd forgotten that about you). Hmmm...I don't ever remember mentioning Plath then, anyway--so no wonder you don't recall me liking her work.

Funny, we have a lot in common as omnivores of culture: I LOVE Kovacs, I LOVE CLampett(and Sid Caesar, and Monty Python, and Beyond the Fringe)--but although I try and find out anything I can about them I don't limit myself to them alone.

I used to go to the paper shows where people sell film memorabilia. If I'd buy a Carole LOmbard still from a film I liked I'd be asked by a seller "Oh! So, you collect Lombard (or Colbert, or Welles, or Ford, or-you get the idea)?"
I'd always be confused for a sec--thinking, well, hell--I'll buy ANY interesting photo; I don't have set rules of "collecting". Same thing goes for all the other stuff I am interested in. I'm always mystified by those people who find they must focus on just one thing--be it riding, dogs, cats, snowboarding, ice skating, writing, singing...why not just do everything?

Did I ever tell you I tookup the 'cello?
; D
(thanks for the indulgence!)_

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Good! Then Plath is still arguable! Yeah, I like a lot of stuff too. My current favorite poem is this one by Keats: "On First Reading Chapman's Homer."

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Jenny Lerew said...

Oh, wow, that's beautiful. Thanks for posting it.

Austin Papageorge said...

I know this is an old post, but I simply have to share this:

The Sick Rose by William Blake

O rose, thou art sick:
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

And Eddie, I'm suprised that you quoted Keats, as he is in quite a diffrent class than Ginsberg or Plath.

And as for sincerity..., well, let's just say that I'm fond of Harold Bloom's paraphrase of Oscar Wilde: "All bad poetry is sincere".

Now, sincerity, I suppose is welcome in "low" arts like animation, but when you mix "sincerity" with high art, lesser talents crumble, like, in my opinion, Plath, Ginsberg, and Kerouac.

Whitman has more to do with high modernism than with low rent rhasphodists.

Here's Ginsberg:

I'm crying all the time now.
I cried all over the time when I left Seattle Wobbly Hall. I cried listening to Bach
I Cried looking at the flowers in my backyard in my backyard, I cried at the sadness of the middle aged trees.

Happiness exists I feel it.
I cried for my soul, I cried for the world's soul.
The world has a beautiful soul.
God appearing to be seen and cried over. Overflowing heart of Paterson.

Here's Whitman:

We, capricious, brought hither we know not whence, spread out before you,
You up there walking or sitting,
Whoever you are, we too lie in drifts at your feet.

Here's T.S. Eliot:

We have lingered in the champers of the sea
By sea-girls weathered with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown

And my favorite line from all Eliot's poetry, from The Wasteland,

These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hiroymo mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih shantih shantih

Of these three, who do you think harbors the deepest waters?

Anonymous said...

T.S. Eliot's because it makes room for the use of beautiful language, something Ginsberg didn't appear as interested in (in the example cited.)

I love when they put the adjective after the noun.

"Sea girls weathered" "Seaweed red and brown"

Austin Papageorge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.