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* 23 April 2004 *
'The Plath Effect'
James Kaufman of Learning Research Institute at California State University recently completed a study of why poets die young--younger than novelists, playwrights, and other writers. In this study, Kaufman also studied poets and mental illness.
"What I found was pretty consistent with the death finding actually, female poets were much more likely to suffer from mental illness (e.g., be hospitalized, commit suicide, attempt suicide) than any other kind of writer and more likely than other eminent women," he said.
You can find Kaufman's study in the Journal of Death Studies.
Update: A more detailed article on Kaufman's study can be found in Saturday's edition of the New York Times.
* 20 February 2004 *
Baking Poems Like Cakes
In today's edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, Julia Baird writes of 'The Wife and Mother Who Baked Poems, Sylvia Plath. Baird explores Plath's role in influencing the domestic lifestyle of women past, and in redefining today's. She also asks the question: Would Sylvia's life have been more bearable with the presence of child care and a prescription for Prozac?
For decades now, women have pursued the Plath legend because she represented thwarted genius, frustrated desires, brilliance cloaked by an apron. And the release of a film about her life, when the subject of women and work continues to stumble unhappily along the public agenda, is still provocative.
The reason Plath's story still resonates is that women are still fearful of limited choices, of subsuming ourselves as she and many of her peers did. So we remember that Plath was torn, that she stuck her head in the oven which had breathed height into her cakes, killing herself. Not that she triumphed. Plath was fiercely ambitious, certain of her talent, and even at times of enormous grief, defiantly productive.
Readers can reach Julia Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* 22 January 2004 *
Oregon Daily Emerald Article
Plath's talent overshadowed by death, an article by Aaron Shakra, appears in today's issue of the Oregon Daily Emerald.
But of course, the mistake might lie in trying to say Plath is any one thing. Suicide is clearly an idea that Plath gained a mastery over; with words she painted poems such as "Lady Lazarus" and her novel, "The Bell Jar." Yet, describing Plath by her suicide often overshadows what else she wrote about. Which was a heck of a lot. But because suicide was her ultimate end and is such a sensational subject, it unduly receives more than its fair share of attention.
Update: The entire text of last month's article on Sylvia is now available online.
Plath's continued popularity can be chalked up to both the emotional immediacy of her confessional poems, and a biography that careens from apple-cheeked sorority sister to suicide at age 30. The combination continues to intoxicate three groups in particular: script writers, biographers and angst-ridden teens.
* 6 January 2004 *
Al Alvarez article
Check out "Ted, Sylvia and me" by Al Alvarez from the Observer this past Sunday. Alvarez was a good friend of Plath and Hughes as well as a fellow poet. He writes of his experience as a consultant for Sylvia and of personal memories.
All was far from well in Sylvia's life at that time and she was using her troubles as a source for her poetry. By doing so, she was on her own artistically as well as socially, exploring territory where few other poets had yet been, and I think she was glad to know there was someone making a case for the new style of poetry she was now writing.
* 15 December 2003 *
"Sylvia, Jane and me" in the Times
The London Times literary supplement had a Plath article this past Thursday: "Sylvia, Jane and me" by Ruth Fainlight, a friend of Plath's. An excerpt:
My first impression was of a burningly ambitious and intelligent young woman trying to look like a conventional, devoted wife but not quite succeeding. There was something almost excessive about that disguise. I retain a clear mental image of a small hat pressed onto elaborated dressed hair, and a tight – bodiced, full-skirted dark, green shiny dress, the sort of costume one of my New York aunts might have worn for a cocktail party.
* 3 December 2003 *
Article in Psychology Today
I recently came across an article published in the November/December issue of Psychology Today on Sylvia: "Dying for Melodrama." Unfortunately you cannot access the entire article online. I will make available the full text of the article as soon as I can.
* 23 November 2003 *
Great article in the Smithsonian Magazine this month that you can read online: Seeing Sylvia Plath.