Haiku Review: Take 2

Well. I’m still injured, but I’ve read six more books. I also woke up at 4:30am for reasons I do not fully understand. So here is an ill-advised Haiku Review Edition!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

A familiar punch

right in the solar plexus.

So glad to re-read.

Adventure Time: Candy Capers by Yuko Ota

This book went through me

over a feast of Pop Tarts.

Yes, I am a child.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

In a flood of strong

masculine non-feelings I

may have grown chest hair.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

No tour de force, but

what a thrill to not put down

a book for hours, days.

Into the Wild by John Krakauer

So many feelings.

I want to shake McCandless

and also hold him.

Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis by Mick Middles and Lindsay Reade

Post-punk insiders

jealously guard their street cred.

Why even publish?

Haiku Review!

For those of you who didn’t know, I have been having trouble writing. Physical trouble. Somewhere between a repetitive motion injury and tendinitis in my hands and wrists. I don’t want to go into it much, but suffice it to say that it’s work-related and there’s not much I can do but rest as much as possible when I’m not working.

It’s really demoralizing for someone who considers herself/aspires to be a writer to not be able to type for long stretches. Or sometimes hold books for long periods of time. (Or spend a lot of time hand-writing.) But I have been reading. It’s also really hard to stay off the computer. It’s how I communicate with people the most, and also how I keep informed. So in order to compromise, I’ve got an update on my reading progress for the year. It’s kind of like my last post, but in haiku form.

So, without further ado: haiku review!

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I did like the film.

On the page, the characters

All suck a lot more.

Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross

Read all you want, but

Maybe there are no answers.

My teenage heart breaks.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero

Can money buy dreams?

Must be read to be believed.

What a story, Mark.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Now twice badly read,

Austen’s hardest novel stokes

inner Fanny Wars.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

This book is candy

for English grads who ache for

college at our jobs.

A Heart So White by Javier Marias

Prose like a rich mousse.

I crave fresh fruit. This novel’s

just too dense right now.

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook

Hook feels like a friend.

No more answers than Debbie.

Only Ian knows.

A Generic Patchwork Quilt

I haven’t been updating, but I have been reading. I don’t want this blog to become an abandoned project, but that’s also something that needs to happen for a number of reasons I’m not going to address.

Instead, here’s a bunch of mini-reviews of books I’ve read since I got to know half of the McKade brothers intimately. My reading has gone all over the place. In the order I read them:

Hondo by Louis L’Amour – I was supposed to read this for my undergrad thesis, but never finished it. I chose it as my staff reading challenge’s final book, the Western. Three years ago (eep!) I wrote said thesis about Blood Meridian and the first chapter of Hondo (Louis L’Amour’s first novel, which was actually a novelization of a John Wayne movie based on one of his short stories) was more than enough to demonstrate how Cormac McCarthy deconstructs tropes of the Western genre. I don’t really know what to say other than reading Louis L’Amour in a postcolonial context makes me feel pretty gross. Sexism, racism, imperialism…all your old friends are featured.

Touching From a Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis – This year has gotten off to a rough start, and one thing that has comforted me during these troubled times has been the music of Joy Division. More than just the music, I watched the pretty-good fictional biopic, Control, and Jon Savage’s excellent Joy Division documentary. Touching from a Distance was written by Ian Curtis’s widow, Deborah. Written in a scattered, confessional style, I thought Curtis’s portrait of her husband—who committed suicide at age 23 on the eve of the band’s first American tour—was compelling. But it was also really depressing.

It’s not always the best thing to realize that the person who wrote the music that gets you through the day spent a lot of time mistreating his wife and exhibiting emotionally abusive behavior. In addition to extreme mood swings, Ian Curtis spent a lot of time toward the end of his life giving Deborah the cold shoulder—which made me wonder how her perspective of things would measure up to his if we could ever know it.

Also, no side of the Curtis story I’ve explored so far seems to give all sides a voice. On tour, Ian Curtis began an affair with a Belgian fan, Annik Honoré, while Deborah took care of their only daughter alone in England. Surviving members of Joy Division have said the events as portrayed Control is highly fictionalized and Deborah Curtis reportedly hated it. Jon Savage’s documentary features Annik as an interview subject and acknowledges her involvement in Ian Curtis’s life without divulging many details, whereas Deborah’s only voice comes from extracts of Touching From a Distance onscreen. And of course, Deborah is not exactly a fan of Honoré—and somewhere on the internet I found Honoré saying the book is untruthful. It’s not that Ian Curtis’s love life is that important to the story of Joy Division, it just gives the feeling that things are skewed or left out. Part of me wants to read bassist Peter Hook’s memoir of the band, but part of me wants to just listen to the music without context.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson – I participated in a book group on Housekeeping this spring. My repertoire is pretty devoid of twentieth century lit, especially that from the postmodern era. Housekeeping was a really lovely read, though. It’s ethereal, poetic, impactful, and not at all what I was expecting.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton –  Adventures in Contemporary Lit brings us to this 800+-page tome that captured the 2013 Man Booker Prize. I have a lot of complex thoughts and feelings on The Luminaries, but I’ll keep it short: Catton’s ability to plot is nothing short of masterful. However, her emulation of Victorian style kept me at arm’s length as a reader—the opposite of my experience reading actual Victorian authors like Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, etc. The enormous pantheon of characters made the novel feel stretched thin to me; that is, I had trouble feeling close to any character. The resolution felt a little neat to me, and while throughout the text I appreciated the rehashing of the immensely complicated plot, it felt like that distracted the book from the depth I was searching for. Overall, good but not great—and it took me four months to get through.

Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot – Another author I’m ashamed not to have read is James Joyce. Here we have Talbot’s memoirs of growing up as the child of an eminent Joyce scholar intertwined with the biography of Joyce’s own daughter, Lucia. As far as graphic memoirs go, the only one I’ve read was Alison Bechdel’s peerless Fun Home, a dense, complex, and beautiful work. Unfortunately, when Fun Home sets the bar, Talbot’s shorter, sparser, divided work doesn’t measure up. After reading it, I only want to re-read Fun Home and pick up Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? Oh yeah, and James Joyce was a dick. Anyone famous is a dick.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King – Winner of the Michael L. Printz Honor Award, I decided to pick up this novel after John Green’s superhit The Fault in Our Stars left me cold. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is about the daughter of teen parents in a nowhere town trying to move on after her best friend’s betrayal and subsequent death. This book was pretty good, but it was only halfway there compared to how I remember feeling about some of the YA lit I read when I was a teen. Also, while John Green’s characters are philosophically pretentious, King is guilty of dropping Sonic Youth references, which can be just as bad even if I have loved Sonic Youth since I was the characters’ age (+50 indie cred points). I liked the main character because social outcast characters are my catnip and the fact that there were plenty of burnouts, skinheads, and other unsavories. However, some of the devices (multiple perspectives, the “evil burnout” trope, an abundance of “destiny talk”) just didn’t work for me. I want to get lost in a book, not feel like it’s trying to mask its Very Special Episode-ness or feel like the main character is too clever to be real. That’s been my problem with my recent attempts at YA lit.

The Good House by Ann Leary – Library displays really do work and books are designed to be judged by their covers. I picked this novel up on a whim. It’s the story of Hildy Good, a townie on Boston’s North Shore who is also a recovering alcoholic, divorced real estate agent in her 60s. I liked that the main character was an older woman, and in spite of myself I liked her descriptions of the East Coast-ness of the town and growing up in its East Coast-ness. I’ve spent a tiny bit of time in New England and have very mixed feelings about the place overall, but I liked the way Leary painted it from the perspective of someone who had an ancestor hanged in Salem. (Sorry, East Coast readers, but from my observations it sometimes seems hard for your part of the country to get that people come from other places that are different.) But I felt like some of the other characters involved in the main plot fell flat. Overall, reading this novel felt like eating at the Black Eyed Pea: it wasn’t bad and it’ll do for the day, but I’ll never think about it again.

So yeah. Like a poorly coordinated potluck, I have sampled so many types of literature and have been overwhelmingly disappointed by my findings. But so far, I’ve finished 15 books out of my goal of 40 for the year.

I’ll try to be better about updating over the summer.

Teenage Angst Has Paid Off Well. Now I’m Bored and Old.

Well, I’ve been gone awhile. I could explain, but I’m going to just cut to the chase: today is the day that Nirvana gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s also the twentieth anniversary of April 10, 1994, the date when thousands of mourners more or less spontaneously gathered at Seattle Center to mourn the loss of Kurt Cobain.

When I was a teenager, I was an enormous fan of Nirvana and even while I don’t listen to them as often as I used to, I find it to be the musical equivalent of one of those friendships where you can always pick up where you left off. I’ve been thinking a lot about Nirvana lately and its place in my life, so I’ve compiled a list of twenty of my favorite Nirvana songs. I would hesitate to call it my for-sure Top 20 because a) the list fluctuates a lot, b) I left off most of the hits on purpose, c) I tried to limit it to 2 songs per major release, and d) I haven’t re-listened to everything I have.

(Also, technologies are mysterious to me to an embarrassing degree, so they’re all YouTube links because I’m the dumbest and my computer is old and I’ve been spending most of this year pining for pre-internet times, which hasn’t helped.)

ANYWAY, without further ado, and in no particular ranking:

1. “Love Buzz” (Bleach)

2. “Swap Meet” (Bleach)

3. “Dive” (Incesticide)

4. “Aneurysm” (Incesticide)

5. “Lounge Act” (Nevermind)

6. “Something in the Way” (Nevermind)

7. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” (In Utero)

8. “Pennyroyal Tea” (In Utero)

9. “Lake of Fire” (Unplugged in New York)

10. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (Unplugged in New York)

11. “Blandest” (all the following are B-sides and rarities that appear on the box set With the Lights Out unless otherwise noted)

12. “I Hate Myself and I Want to Die

13. “Curmudgeon

14. “Verse Chorus Verse

15. “Old Age

16. “Even in His Youth

17. “Marigold

18. “Clean Up Before She Comes

19. “Oh the Guilt

20. “Sappy

 

I read an honest-to-god romance novel and my brain needs a thousand showers

Spoiler alert: I read a Nora Roberts novel and I hated it. If you don’t like snark, judgment, and possible myopia, click away my friend. Click away.

I now have only one book left in my staff reading challenge: a Western. That means I have conquered a romance novel.

Before I start talking about the actual book I read, I want to point out that there are a lot of underlying issues here that I want to dig deeper into with time. Sexism in the publishing industry is an issue I don’t take lightly. I mean, Jane Austen writes about read novels being dismissed as a silly, “female” past-time, and two hundred years later Austen’s books are still dismissed for their being “girly” and so are many other books aimed at female readers.

That being said, the romance novel I read was fucking awful. Like, maybe the worst novel I’ve ever read. Like, I’d rather re-read The Sacred Fount ten times than re-read this one. So I’m going to be honest and say that I had a hard time trying to actively deconstruct the issues in place surrounding the genre because trying to finish The MacKade Brothers: Rafe and Jared caused me to expend the majority of my mental energy trying to keep my eyes from rolling all the way into the back of my head.

I knew at the outset I would have to read a romance novel for the staff reading challenge I’ve been on about for months now. I had no idea which one. I decided to try to pick a novel that was only a romance, i.e., did not blend with other genres like urban fantasy, mystery, or historical fiction. No naughty dukes for me. But I still suffered over what to pick. I’m almost never about the love story. Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Tilney are pretty alright, but secondary to Austen’s wit. I rarely watch movies where romance is the focus. There are exceptions to this rule, of course (even if I argue romance isn’t at the center of my beloved costume dramas, I still love Rushmore). So picking a book with no pretense other than the love story made me a little crazy.

When I tried to do research, I discovered this list of romance writer Bella Andre’s ten favorites. Her Number 1 book wasn’t available in physical book format from the library where I work and I don’t have an eReader (the reading challenge needs to involve books available in our catalogue). I picked up books with hunk-a-licious entanglements on the cover for months and put them all back.

One day, I couldn’t take my own over-analysis any longer and pulled The MacKade Brothers: Rafe and Jared out from the pack of Nora Roberts novels. The book is actually a twofer, containing both the short novels The Return of Rafe MacKade and The Pride of Jared MacKade. It was like the worst piece of Wrigley’s Double Mint Gum ever.

The Return of Rafe MacKade

Nora Roberts has published over 200 books and something like 175 of them have been #1 bestsellers. I am about to say a myopic, judge-y thing: this fact makes me lose faith in humanity. Even with troubling social tropes in play throughout the novel, it’s very badly written and it’s very boring. In short, I’m offended as a feminist, as a reader, and as a writer.

The Return of Rafe MacKade is the first book in a series about the four chiseled, green-eyed MacKade brothers of Antietam, Maryland. But they’re all different. Their eyes are even four different shades of green because symbolism. Bad boy Rafe comes back to town after a decade-long absence in order to restore a decaying old house to its 1862 splendor. And who better to help him than Antietam newcomer Regan Bishop, the local antique dealer and the only woman possibly ever to rebuff Rafe MacKade’s advances…at least at first……

Let’s start with the bad writing. The book certainly does. Chapter One opens thusly:

The bad boy was back. The town of Antietam was buzzing over it, passing fact, rumor and innuendo from one to another, the way guests at a boardinghouse passed bowls of steaming stew.

It was a rich broth, spiced with scandal, sex and secrets. Rafe McKade had come back after ten years. (18)

So his return is like an awkwardly executed, overly specific soup metaphor? Like, a friend stayed over at my apartment on Valentine’s Day and in our own stew of ironic zeitgeist, holiday spirit, and chardonnay we tried to read this book out loud to each other for the lulz but it was too bad to continue.

I will just  briefly list some of the problems: the perspective shifts are scattered and jarring, the characters are drawn with such broad and divergent strokes that they’re both clichéd and confusing, and a pretty major subplot about Civil War past life/ghost business appeared suddenly and then was dropped. And so much telling-not-showing—Rafe is a bad boy but he’s also sensitive. What about his own character drives him forward? It’s pretty much not answered. We get the allusion to some daddy/mommy issues, but other than that he’s a bad boy stereotype who goes against type at periods that occur seemingly at the author’s convenience. Even as someone whose knowledge of the genre comes from pop culture osmosis, it felt like Roberts was going through the motions.

Also, I found The Return of Rafe MacKade to be sexist in a lot of troubling ways. I give Roberts credit for at least attempting to cast Regan Bishop, the female lead, as someone who treasures personal independence. you know, when it’s convenient. Rafe MacKade, again, is a “bad boy”—he picks fights and lets out his aggression by committing violence (or threatening to). For example he threatens and/or beats up on his brothers for talking about Regan’s physical attractiveness and for one having gone out with her on a couple of chaste dates before Rafe knew she existed. It bothers me that Rafe’s possessiveness and aggression make him somehow heroic, especially because Rafe is contrasted with another character’s physically abusive husband.

And let’s see…at some point, aforementioned physically abusive husband attacks Regan for getting . And what is Rafe upset about? Regan didn’t call him to come rescue her. I mean, what kind of woman is so preoccupied with stabbing an assailant in the eye that she doesn’t think to call her knight in shining armor? And she lets his butt-hurt over this fact actually convince her that she’s in the wrong. The couple also discuss how they have few things in common and make a friendly bet about something I’ve forgotten. If Regan loses, she must appear in a pool hall in a leather mini-skirt. If Rafe loses, he’s supposed to recite Shelley. Because no woman can love pool and no man could love poetry. And because they both want to prove how much they love each other, they each hold out the loser’s end of the deal. Of course, Regan’s is public and humiliating. But it’s okay if Rafe just privately recites the four lines of Shelley it took his dumb ass a week to memorize—because it would be embarrassing for a man to recite some sissy poetry in front of anyone but the woman he intends to marry.

Oh, and the sex scenes are boring. I know this isn’t erotica, but come the fuck on (pun intended? ew). If the love story made any sense, maybe I could get behind the more romantic-as-opposed-to-erotic inclinations. But then I mean, Charlotte Brontë has written some prose that makes my hair stand on end and my soul ache.

Also weird: not that many sex scenes even occur, especially if you think about the instances of antique/decorating talk in the book. Here’s a passage:

Her nerves strained as she stopped by the settee. It was a gorgeous piece, and it had had a price to match. However much she coveted it, she would never have made the bid if she hadn’t had a customer in the wings.

Now, she thought of that customer—the scarred boots, the ripped shirt, the potent aura of man. What had she been thinking of, she wondered frantically, imagining Rafe MacKade approving of an elegant, curvy, and decidedly feminine pieces such as this?

“Ah, it’s walnut…” she began, running a suddenly icy hand over the carved arm. “Around 1850. It’s been reupholstered, of course, but the material is very much in keeping with the era. You can see the double-shaped backs are centered by a circular upholstered panel. The workmanship is first-rate, and the seat is surprisingly comfortable…It’s sixty-nine inches wide, and well worth the expense.” (82)

Um…yeah does anyone else need a new pair of underwear after reading about this couch? I mean, clearly Regan is thinking about the settee as a metaphor for herself, seeing if she’s worthy to hold up Rafe MacKade’s bad boy butt. But then the details again get oddly specific. So let’s read part of a sex scene:

The climax slammed into her, a bare-knuckled punch that knocked her senseless. Reeling from it, she sobbed out his name. And, shuddering, shuddering, hungered for more.

He gave her more. And took more. Each time she thought he would end it, must end it, he found some new way to batter her senses. There was only him, the taste, the feel, the smell of him. They rolled over the floor in a wild, glorious combat, her nails digging ruthlessly into his back, his mouth searing hers. (110-111)

Remember, these two characters are supposed to just be naturally drawn to each other through preternatural sexual chemistry (hereafter referred to as PSC). I know more about that damn 1850s couch than I understand how they connected or what the hell was going on during their incredibly abstract sexy times (wait, did he actually punch her? no? maybe?). I also threw some major shade on those really violent metaphors through my yawning (if they are metaphors).

The Pride of Jared MacKade

So once Bad Boy Rafe gets his happy ending, it’s time to tell the tale of Lawyer Jared (the second twofer book in the series relays stories of Sheriff Devin and Farmer Shane, if anyone is interested). Jared gets in a tizzy because of a defiant, independent single mother who, like all women, apparently wants nothing more than to just be dominated and then taken care of. And I shit you not, her name is Savannah Morningstar, which is okay because she’s part Native American and therefore “exotic.” She’s also an artist and he is a boring lawyer with the worst color scheme of all time in his office (this is a major plot point).

The Pride of Jared MacKade wasn’t as awful, but the bar is set pretty damn low. This story is less about the “bad boy” trope and more about the persistent approach. It’s cool that Savannah is independent and all, but again the plot is really pretty sexist. Jared gets his undies in a wad because she used to support herself through exotic dancing and “he has a right to know” if she was ever a prostitute. He also gets mad at her secretiveness surrounding her past. Savannah gets upset by the perfect appearance of Regan as an ideal she can never measure up to. And I’m not sure either of these plot points would even be unbearable as they are if they were handled differently, i.e., not in a ham-fisted, unimaginative, melodramatic way that doesn’t seem to have much root in the characters. Or if Jared even really changed at the end. But even under his “heroism,” his possessiveness and obvious dominant position in the relationship as “the man” stay the same.

So yeah. Bad just bad. Boring and awful, so much so I can’t turn on the critical, lets-unpack-these-tropes part of my brain. Just crap. Crap I say.

Okay, now that I’ve had my temper tantrum, I’d really like anyone with anything to add to step in and help me understand the popularity of novels like this and Roberts as an author. Granted, I’ve read one book from the 200 she’s produced in the past 30-plus years. Are there any people in the audience who have more to add about things like theory or the perception of the genre? Are all romances this bad? Is this one even bad or is it relatively good to those familiar with the genre? I’m just baffled. Please help.

I Read an eBook and I’m Not Sure How I Feel About it

One of my favorite videos out of the past couple years is “B*tches in Bookshops,” a parody of a Yeezy/Jay-Z collaboration that contains the line: “You use a Kindle? I carry spines.” These are words I live my life by. I don’t really care how the technology has changed so you can highlight, annotate, not get as much eye fatigue, whatever.

But. To complete the staff reading challenge I’ve been participating in, I had to read an eBook. Part of working in a library means evolving with technology, so the idea is to understand all the resources we have available to patrons. My mother lent me her iPad.

I chose to check out a children’s book, which may have been cheating. I picked more or less at random from our online catalog and settled on one with a beautiful cover illustration, Emily Winfield Martin’s Dream Animals.

I was disappointed in my experience, and not because of the content of the book. I specifically chose to read a picture book to see how the transfer of the images felt to me . I don’t really like kids, but I loved to read when I was young and I’m still astounded by the beauty of some of the illustrations I see in the genre. And even with a zoom feature, that teeny little iPad screen simply cannot compare to having a bound copy in my hands that’s huge and where I could see the brush strokes. Maybe if I had one of those iMacs the size of a TV screen the experience wouldn’t have been so alienating…but I wonder. Maybe I just need to get over myself on this matter, but my thought as I turned those e-pages was, “Just….no.”

I don’t think I can realistically stay a Luddite forever. And maybe it is unfair to have tried to read an eBook with little text. And as someone with a strong interest in writing, I can’t deny the possibilities the eBook revolution could afford me. But as someone who has watched her favorite local independent bookstore get smaller and smaller every year and seen the big box comforts of my suburban adolescence shrink and vanish, I’m not sure I’m there yet.

I always welcome comments, but in this case I actively solicit them. I want to know where you stand on the issue of Kindles vs. Spines and where I’ve got it wrong.

For Hers is the Power and the Fury: Sylvia Plath’s Ariel

Earlier this year I listened to the audio version of The Bell Jar and it unleashed a whole can of worms that I posted publicly. If you don’t want to revisit it, the bottom line is that after years of being a little ashamed of my admiration for Sylvia Plath, I say fuck the haters and Sylvia Plath is awesome.

In high school, we read “Daddy” in one of our poetry units and it knocked the wind right out of me. I wrote a paper on “Lady Lazarus.” In a college class, we read “Tulips.” I loved all of these poems, and all of these poems come from Plath’s posthumous collection Ariel. Most of the poems written in Ariel came from a creative burst in the last six months of Plath’s life. In fact, the anniversary of her death—February 11—just passed.

For my staff reading challenge, I was supposed to read a book of poetry. I chose Ariel: The Restored Edition. This edition re-orders the poems to Plath’s original notes. Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, posthumously edited and published Ariel after her death in two versions: one for the UK and one for the US.

I think perhaps one of the greatest assets of the restored version of Ariel is the introduction, written by Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes. Frieda wasn’t yet three when her mother died, so she’s mostly had to live with her mother’s legacy. She argues that her parents were human beings, instead of the public’s preferred casting of her father as a villain and her mother as a saint. It can be hard to remember to think about authors as people and not as archetypes. Here’s a quote from her Foreword I found especially compelling.

I did not want my mother’s death to be commemorated as if it had won an award. I wanted her life to be celebrated, the fact that she had existed, lived to the fullness of her ability, been happy and sad, tormented and ecstatic, and given birth to my brother and me. I think my mother was extraordinary in her work, and valiant in her efforts to fight the depression that dogged her throughout her life. She used every emotional experience as if it were a scrap of material that could be pieced together to make a wonderful dress, she wasted nothing of what she felt, and when in control of those tumultuous feelings she was able to focus and direct her incredible poetic energy to great effect. And here was Ariel, her extraordinary achievement, poised as she was between her volatile emotional state and the edge of the precipice. The art was not to fall. (xix-xx)

But then there’s the poetry in the collection, too, of course. And Ariel is like a good blow to the solar plexus.

Someone told me that Plath’s poetry in particular is very autobiographical—to the point where someone not privy to certain details is unlikely to understand them. I read in the introduction, for example, that the poem “Lesbos” was omitted from the original British publication because the people Plath spends the poem scorning would recognize themselves. Part of me thinks that’s fair because “Lesbos” contains some of the most scathing language I’ve ever read. Before I knew more about Sylvia Plath than that she had committed suicide, I kind of thought of her as a wilting flower. Now I view her as one of the Furies.

Mostly, after reading this collection I wish I’d taken more than my required Intro to Poetry and Poetics. I’ve always been afraid of poetry and I still kind of am. I had an amazing professor for that class (and for my Renaissance lit class, which involved a lot of sonnets and whatnot), so it wasn’t the instruction. I see my anxiety as two-fold: first, most poetry I’ve read just hasn’t spun my wheels. Every once in a while, a poem will grab me. For example, I got really stuck on “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” in a crazy way. But I have also enjoyed Thomas Wyatt, John Donne, and Frank O’Hara.

So there is poetry out there for me. Mostly, though, I often see poetry is scary. It’s dense, it’s rich, it goes deep. I’m much more comfortable with a lot of text to chew on. With poetry, it feels harder mine the riches just from the page. Sparse stanzas and profound metaphor give me headaches. One of my friends took a class on poets like Wallace Stevens and just hearing about it was rough. I’m not smart enough for poetry and I’m not a person who does well outside my comfort zone. (Which then brings me into a bunch of stuff I don’t like about myself that there’s not even enough room on the internet to talk about.)

I’m ashamed to be as undereducated on the subject as I am. But I would also eat Sylvia Plath if I could, even though at best I understood about 50% of what these poems even could possibly be about. I still felt drawn to them because Plath’s diction is so exacting and precise (the sign of reading too much nineteenth-century lit?), but I felt really stupid for not understanding them. It wasn’t just not understanding them…it was feeling like I was looking for gardening tools in the kitchen.

But the power of Plath is that I relate to her work with so much of my heart and soul. Is it her confessional mode? Is it the moods she invokes? Is it that the critics are right, that I am a depressed piece of shit wallowing in my depressed shittiness in any way that I can?  I don’t know. I really don’t. What I know is that when I read Ariel I could see things I’ve felt but beautifully on the page before me. And what I know is I want to read more poetry. And I know I want to know more.