Sorry Sylvia (Plath)


Sitting at the state library,
that great bunker for truant nerds
and the elderly.

At the next table
in between text messages,
status updates
and instagram likes
a table of private school uniforms
are preparing one more essay on Sylvia Plath.

Dutifully copying out details of
the dissected wreckage of her life,
finding among the bones and coffin splinters,
the pretence of our knowing,
the hermeneutics of the blood,
the black shoe,
and the gas oven hiss.
And all of this is done for ticks in boxes,
for ‘well dones’,
and ‘good to see you did your research’,
and dumb grades.

Could you imagine this Sylvia?
That this is what we would do to you?

That high school teachers
would keep dragging you out of the ground,
and laying your bones out for inspection,
looking for symptom,
and signifier,
pretending like we could ever know
what you looked like on the inside of your skin.

We are the boot in the face.
We are fat seals barking commands,
dumb throated and dead.

And then one of them reads aloud to the others:

At twenty I tried to die
and get back, back, back to you.

And they fall quiet.
And the spine of this poem breaks.

These young Molotov bomb minds,
with their angry lash,
their razors,
and their suicide plunge poems
they are made knowing you.
They don’t need to see your bones
to know what you knew.

They know the brutal tyranny of skin.
They know the bite and swallow of the mirror.

And though we try to drown it out of them
raising old women in their place,
they know you.

In their bones,
they know you.

-with acknowledgement that this poem directly incorporates certain lines and metaphors directly from Plath’s work

115 thoughts on “Sorry Sylvia (Plath)”

    1. I often wonder if when we are dissecting the writer, we are really just dissecting a version of our own anxieties, our own selves.

  1. OMG I love this, I have been tutoring English LIT ET AL for the last 6 years and have stopped. Sylvia did it for me. A lazy private school boy couldn’t even be bothered to expand on references I gave him and didn’t want to think about her as a person. I resigned and now wish iId written your poem.

  2. Dear Simon,

    Silvia might not have liked the scene you saw, but she might have liked seeing you write it. Or reading you write it. I certainly did – not that I am any type of Sylvia.

    You should try publishing it…


  3. Poor bones. Signposts, markers for another generation, words of pain. Too much Plath all at once is dangerous. Like reading too much Edgar Allen Poe. I don’t know why, but I’ve read too much of each at different times and was left with the same dread, angst and bewilderment. Great poem, though, even if I remember the Bell Jar a bit too clearly all of a sudden.

  4. Wow, this is splendid. Full of fantastic ideas that are so truthful, very well written. I like the part about how only a few really know what Sylvia was like without seeing her bones and reading her story through research because they have been in her place, they know where she is coming from. Sadly, I am one of those. That is why this poem touches me so deeply. I just love it. Again, very nice job.

    1. It’s great to know you had such a strong response. Writing can be a lonely thing and knowing that others respond so strongly is always good to hear.

  5. his is thought provoking..sylivia plath is one of my favourites..its sad how education drains the emotions out of such great works..reducng theminto a formula for student to muggle and vomit

  6. Interesting. I’ve written some poems as odes to my poetry favorites as well. Sometimes we forget the person behind the poetry.
    I just finished re-reading the Bell Jar. Makes me wonder if sometimes poetry and writing isn’t enough to save us. Sometimes we have to save our self. I really enjoyed reading.

    1. Indeed… In the end it’s just us and the sky. We are definitely our own hope and doom together.

  7. Brilliant! I really enjoyed this, some fantastic imagery and a very clear intent. I love ‘what she looked like on the inside of her skin’..and the repeating at the end of the ‘they know you’.

  8. Your metaphors are so moving and rich. What a thoughtful look at the artist’s soul – but then, YOU are an artist yourself.
    Thank-you for this perspective on what we do when we have kids dissect the work of a poet’s life:

    ‘And all of this is done for ticks in boxes,
    for ‘well dones’,
    and ‘good to see you did your research’,
    and dumb grades.’

    …fresh thoughts, great work!

  9. was it your intention to write this in a manner akin to Sylvia Plath? if so – genius. the gravity in the message conveyed, the intensity of the imagery. powerful stuff. i was left with goosebumps, as i get each time i read Sylvia Plath.
    beautifully written, Simon. one of the more unforgettable pieces i’ve read in WordPress.

    1. Thanks for all your kind words Kat. I am stunned by how strong a response this poem gets. It was really just a single draft written in about half an hour with a tiny edit or two later. I agonise over some poems but this one came together quite easily. As a result, I didn’t really expect it would get any significant response. Goes to show that I’m a terrible judge of what others will respond to. A number of the lines and elements I incorporated from Plath’s work were ones that I overheard the ‘table’ talking about and others were ones that have stuck with me. In terms of intention, I didn’t have a direct intent to adopt any particular style but the presence of Plath’s images and quotations probably did that by themselves.

      1. it’s, undoubtedly, one of the best pieces i’ve read here on WordPress – i;m following more and looking forward to exploring more of your work x

  10. At twenty I tried to die
    and get back, back, back to you.

    And they fall quiet.
    And the spine of this poem breaks.

    my favs but all in all brilliant

  11. I was just talking to my friend today,about how we claim to know her by just reading her poems and the novel, when in reality, it is just a glimpse, a sample of what she was feeling. Great poem!

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