For me, reading is not just a pleasure; it’s more of an escape. Immersed in a book I can leave behind the ordinariness of days and travel to places, ideas, and imaginings more exotic, more exciting. I have an almost erotic affinity for words. I like the way they look strung together in lines that weave across the page. I like touching them and seeing the smudged ink on my fingers. I like the way they sound when bounced off one another, or when laid out in subtle rhymes that coyly invite you to read aloud—or to savor in silence, pure pleasure to the inner ear. I consider books an aphrodisiac, so I seldom ask for them as gifts so as not to be tasked to return the favor in the form of amorous quiescence (ha!).
This is my current wish list of books.
1) Her Husband: Hughes and Plath: Portrait of a Marriage by Diane Middlebrook
2) The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton Foreword by Maxine Kumin, Anne Sexton
3) Anne Sexton: A Biography by Diane Wood Middlebrook
4) The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings by Amy Tan
5) The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz, John Updike (Introduction)
6) Broken Music by Sting
I hope to get my hands on at least two or three of those books soon. Lately the space I inhabit is feeling a little claustrophobic. What better way to escape than to lose myself in one of these titles, eh? Two of those titles are about/by poets who kept me awake through college, had me prowling the dusty shelves of the library–places away from the fiction (novels) section, where people seldom browse. What can I say, I confess I tried to steal Plath’s Collected Poems, but as fate would have it, that day I wasn’t wearing a roomy enough jacket to hide the book in. My fashion sense saved me from expulsion, I guess.
I read some reviews of Her Husband, a dissection of the goings-on in the tumultuous marriage of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. What can I say; they feed the voyeur in me. Plath is one of my first (and constant) favorite poets. Though it is convenient to label her as a confessional poet, I feel that her work is more than that.
Consider these lines:
The woman is perfected./Her dead/Body wears the smile of accomplishment.
How appropriate to sum up a life somehow. In the spring of 1963, Plath put her two young children to bed, left bread and milk for them, stuffed the cracks of their bedroom door with rags, and then went down to the kitchen to gas herself to death. Sylvia Plath has been dead some 40 years, yet her words still resonate with us. Her poetry is strong, haunting, and still very much vital. And yes, this is the Sylvia that will be portrayed soon by Gwyneth Paltrow in that movie that’s much detested by Plath’s daughter, Frieda.
What is it with this fascination for women poets who end up killing themselves?
My other favorite, Anne Sexton is also an accomplished poet, a contemporary of Plath’s. Sexton too, took her own life, but left behind poems of such strange beauty.
In Wanting to Die, she declares,
Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,
leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.
As for that book by Sting being on the list, well, that’s almost self-explanatory. Pop may be mind candy, but this one’s still a good chew.