Plath's daughter slams feminists in her new book of poetry

from: The Montreal Gazette - February 1, 1999

by Catherine Milner and James Langton

Frieda Hughes, the daughter of the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, bitterly attacks feminists who made a cult of her mother's suicide in her first book of poetry to be published next month.

Hughes, who made a rare public appearance at the Whitbread Book Prize dinner last week on behalf of her father, who won the plaudit for the second year running, said he played an important part in editing her poems.

"He didn't like my poems if they were anything like his," she said.

But it is clear that in addition to a bleak view of nature inherited from her father, and an acid quality in her writing that is reminiscent of Plath's work, she has the makings of an important poet herself.

After Plath's death in 1963, radical feminists accused Hughes of having effectively driven her to commit suicide.

In her new collection, Frieda Hughes is scathing about the critics. In one poem, Readers, she slates feminists who used Plath's misery:

to breathe life into their own dead babies, 
They took her dreams, collected words from one, Who did their suffering for them. 
They fingered through her mental underwear, With every piece she wrote. Wanting her naked. Wanting to know what made her.
While their mothers lay in quiet graves, Squared out by those green cut pebbles, 
And flowers in a jam jar, they dug mine up. 
Right down to the shells I scattered on her coffin. 
They turned her over like meat on coals, 
To find the secrets of her withered thighs, And shrunken breasts. 
They scooped out her eyes to see how she saw, And bit away her tongue in tiny mouthfuls, 
To speak with her voice.

The collection is called Woorolo, after the Australian hamlet where Frieda Hughes once lived. She now lives in London with her third husband, Laszlo Lukacs. Hughes, 38, has said she began writing poems in childhood but kept them private to avoid comparisons with her parents' work.

She was 4 when her mother left their Devon farmhouse on a February night in 1963, having put out a glass of milk for her daughter and her son, Nicholas, and killed herself.

Ted Hughes refused to talk about his relationship with Plath until last year, just before he died, when he stunned the literary world by releasing 88 poems about her - The Birthday Letters. Having often been accused of being flint-hearted and a cold fish, indifferent to the unhappiness of his wife, Hughes is now perceived in a new light, having unmasked the intensity of his love for her.

Frieda Hughes's book is being published by Bloodaxe on Feb. 25.

Copyright Copyright Montreal Gazette 1999

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