Poetry Review: Sylvia Plath Poems Chosen by Carol Ann Duffy

Ruby Sutherland
August 24, 2022

Genre: Poetry

Content warnings: post-natal depression, depression, anxiety, death, suicide

Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: meaningful poetry and a woman ahead of her time

They had to call and call / And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls. / . . . Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.

Sylvia Plath is many things: a woman way ahead of her time, a tragic figure whose thread of life was cut too short, a feminist icon or perhaps one of, if not the, greatest female poets of the 20th century. You might have studied her poetry in school, sitting in class with your poetry book open and without the least bit of interest in the craft (or you might have been a ‘misunderstood’ teenager who surfed Fanfic.net for your edgy, I-am-damaged next read, not giving Plath any thought). The good news is that I was the former, not the latter. I found poetry a very boring subject – I did not understand it nor did it speak to me personally, and I thought that English teachers really sucked the fun out of it and placed ideas into our heads that the author did not intend. I remember being told to look at ‘Lady Lazarus’ by Plath. One of us was asked to read it, and I was praying that I would not be picked because I have terrible reading aloud skills. Unfortunately, I was picked. As I started to read the poem out loud, I finally understood all the hype over poetry. Plath spoke to my mind and my soul.

After I had finished reading it aloud, the teacher said I ‘knew how to read Plath’ (whatever that means – I’m now 22 years old and I still don’t know). This memory resurged for me when I picked up Sylvia Plath Poems Chosen by Carol Ann Duffy. According to the blurb on the back of the book, Duffy has selected poems from Sylvia’s repertoire that allow the reader to ‘walk through the landscape of Sylvia Plath's poetry’. Duffy holds to this statement, collecting poems from Plath’s work, such as ‘Ariel’, ‘The Colossus’, ‘Daddy’ and ‘Fever 103°’. The collection is separated into four parts, which allows the reader to see Plath’s descent into depression as well as her brief moments of happiness. Many of the poems are based on her previous life experiences; however, they are ambiguous enough to relate to many people with their own different experiences.

This collection of poetry is the perfect way to grasp Sylvia Plath’s mindset and her eventual downward spiral. It does make reference to topics such as postnatal depression, anxiety and suicide, so please keep this in mind. However, these topics and the emotions Plath evokes have made her poetry even more successful with both current and past generations, and it is well worth the read. So put those headphones on, find the saddest reflective music you can think of and enjoy. My rating is 4.5 stars.

Illustration of four and a half stars drawn onto a torn slip of paper.

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