Wednesday, July 29, 2009

the lure of plath

When I was fourteen, I used to think Plath's life was a template: live romantically, write a beautiful novel with fashion and numbness and pills, write poetry, angry and curious and angled, fall in love with a poet, marry, have two children, and by thirty, have achieved enough to die.

It's awfully morbid, my introducing Frank and Plath as my touchstones, a quick succession of poor role models, as timelines go.

But again, here we have a writer who started something in me: a curiosity to learn more of the life behind the words. To learn the words entirely, a comprehensive study of poet both publicly and privately.

I have yet to read every Plath poem and I still haven't opened one of her biographies, but I do have a shelf at home, collecting dust. I have a bookcase of critical studies on other poets' work, of biographies and memoirs and collected letters.

This is my place to center all that, to pause.

And this autumn semester, I opted for an independent study with MDB, who is retiring after this semester, and this study will fulfill a literature requirement for my MFA. I felt I ought to pause and take a close look at poets whose work I know only peripherally but ought to know more intimately: founding American poets Emily Dickinson, Edna St Vincent Millay, and Elizabeth Bishop.

But why stop there, of course? Why not center myself, study as many poets as my lifetime permits?

There are two issues I seek to resolve with this space: 1.) My memory is a bit more faulty than the average nearly-thirty-year-old. It's a bit disturbing, actually, just how much leaks out, and it's strange what sticks and what doesn't. Here's my attempt at making more of the good stuff stick. 2.) I need accountability. I have a charming tendency toward distraction, finding myself trotting off to knit a small army of dishcloths or photograph the entire baking process of a zucchini loaf. My distraction holds hands with my procrastination, and I hope to sever that, if only briefly, if only here.

I intend to take a close look at the lives and work of the poets. I intend to keep that experience here, preserve it, let it become a way of seeking out what came before.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the book that started it all

I suppose it would make sense that the person who inspired me, who woke me up from the string of professions every little kid wants to be (lady police officer being the very first, when I was in pre-school), would be someone whose only published book was also a diary.

I remember there was this scene from My So-Called Life where her social studies teacher asks something like what might be a word to describe Anne Frank, and Angela, looking all dreamy-eyed, murmurs, "Lucky."



Brian: Because it's written in the first person.

Mayhew: Thank you. Does it say, 'She was forced to go into hiding'? Somebody else besides Brian... Brian?

Brian: No.

Mayhew: No, she says, 'I', 'I was forced to go into hiding.' [the buzzing
of a fluorescent light increases as it comes into view] It's called the
first person, okay? This will be on the quiz. So how would you describe
Anne Frank?

Angela: [staring at the light, unconciously speaks outloud] Lucky.

Mayhew: Is that supposed to be funny, Angela? How on earth could you make a
statement like that? Hmm? [Jordan comes into class late, Angela watches him
behind the teacher] Anne Frank perished in a concentration camp. Anne Frank
is a tragic figure. How could Anne Frank be lucky?

Angela: I don't know. 'Cause she was trapped in an attic for three years
with this guy she really liked? [glances at Sharon behind her, Bell]

When I was a kid, I used to think lucky too, but not for those reasons. I was envious because Anne Frank's writing was so good for her age, and because her words, her book became symbolic of a moment in history, would be read on by so many generations. Because I wanted to write something so important it would be published and exist forever too.

It makes sense that The Book That Started It All (and by "it," I mean so many things, but most notably, that itch to write) doubled as a peek into the life of the author. I'm a voyeur, it is true. When we walk the dogs in the evening, I gaze in at open curtained rooms, the soft yellow glow of a living room at night, the man in an easy chair, the woman sponging at the sink, the patter of children's feet, the news flickering at the window. What will become of the receipts, the yellowing love letters, the photo albums? What choices are being made to lead us down these roads we take? Who holds our hand as we fall asleep? What's beating in those hearts inside?

Lucky: Yes. I am.