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Life Among the Poets

By admin Published: April 21, 2008

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
(Photo from Smith College Web site)

After a hectic week and some chores on Saturday, the bride and I hit the wall in a big way. Much sleep resulting, a little bit of Cavs and Indians on TV, and time devoted to reading on Sunday.

My reading matter: "Her Husband," the biography of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Diane Middlebrook. ...

Just reading a biography of two poets sent me down memory lane. It wasn't only that I studied their work in college, and still have some collections of their work. It was also that in those younger years I fancied myself a poet as well.

A pretty bad one, I have realized with the passing of time and the getting of some wisdom. But in those college years, I wrote a lot, took creative-writing courses, tried to learn from the likes of Theodore Weiss, a gracious and encouraging man, very patient with young people. Some of us were too full of self-righteousness about our art, and skeptical of our young counterparts who were too often seen as competitors. And there were some real artists in that crowd, at least one or two who went on the real writing careers. And I don't mean of the newspaper kind.

I also went to readings by Ann Darr and others. Was, in fact, a big fan of Darr. My modest collection of books of poetry, many of them dating back to those college years, include a couple of her collections.

Getting back to "Her Husband," I had also read Middlebrook's biography of Anne Sexton, and so was drawn to the Plath/Hughes book. Also, I remember arguing in college with a friend about who was better -- Sexton or Plath. (I was in the Plath camp.)
But this is a formidable book in its consideration not only of the people but of their craft -- especially the way they molded other art into their work, including each other's writing. The description of what went into their poetry made me feel slack-jawed and foolish about my own feeble attempts all those years ago -- and all the more impressed by what Plath and Hughes wrought.

Weiss, Hughes, Plath, Darr, Sexton -- all gone now. Diane Middlebrook, for that matter, has passed away, although she reportedly left behind a biography of Ovid to be published sometime this year. But we can still study their art, and wrestle with their ideas.

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