Sylvia Plath Speaking On Why She Lived In England

Filed under: The Writing Life — joy at 9:45 am on Tuesday, May 4, 2010

sylvia plath on why she lives in england spoken word listen mp3

Sylvia Plath would hate how people see her today. Like other iconic figures–Marilyn Monroe comes to mind–people don’t see the person she was but the things she symbolizes for them. Monroe is the poster for a sexually desirable woman, Plath is the poster for the tortured suicidal artist girl. But Plath wasn’t like that at all. Mental health issues aside, Plath was brilliant, hardworking, and very funny. The tragedy of Sylvia Plath is that she cut off her life right when she was starting to reap the fruit of all the labor she had put in during her teens and 20s by writing poem after short story after poem. She did not have a flash of genius, write her last poems, and then, with nothing else to say, kill herself. Instead, at age 30 Plath was finally coming into her own as an artist, and she didn’t stick around long enough for anyone to see what would come of it. We get a taste of her artistic maturity in poems like “Daddy,” but it’s just a taste–imagine what would have come later if she had lived. In the writing sense of things, Plath’s suicide is like cutting down a rose bush that is loaded with buds just about to open.

And that is sad. But I would like us to move away from seeing Sylvia Plath as some sort of emo goth-girl abandoned-wife victim, and instead try to understand what a brilliant, interesting woman she was. And that brings me to my latest toy: Sylvia Plath (Spoken Word), which has just been released by the British Library. It’s not available in the U.S. until July 15th, but no matter, you can order it from Amazon U.K. just fine. They don’t even charge you exorbitant shipping rates.

Recordings of Plath reading her poems have been around for awhile now–here’s Plath reading “Daddy,” for example–but Sylvia Plath (Spoken Word) is way more awesome than that. It includes an interview of Plath and Ted Hughes on their marriage, readings of lots of poems I hadn’t heard before, a review of a poetry anthology by Plath, and best of all, a short gem of a track where Plath talks about England.

She was part of a program called “What Made You Stay?,” where seven Americans were asked why they chose to live in England. Plath’s answer is delightful and sharp. In 7 minutes, she touches on her literary geekdom, how perplexing she found the British beaches, why she wants to raise her children in England, and how much she loves English butcher shops before launching into a funny story about an eccentric British woman. It shows more about her character and personality than most of the literary information about her that you can find.

And how could I set that up and not give you a sampling? So go ahead and listen to Sylvia Plath talk about why she lived in England here. Click to listen or right click on the link to download.

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