The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘sylvia plath’

The Last Word

July 16, 2015 | by

The conundrum of writing about the dead.


Photo: Jennifer Boyer

Recently, I stood in the woods near Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland—the same woods where Jews waited to enter the gas chambers. It was a picnic-worthy spring day. Sunlight filtered through the pine trees. Unable to imagine the horror that had happened there, my thoughts turned instead to a picture I had seen the day before. It was captioned “Sniatyn—tormenting Jews before their execution,” and it shows five naked Jews—four men and a boy—and a handful of Nazis in uniform and civilian clothing holding sticks, apparently gathering before the execution. One of the Jewish men stands looking at the ground with his hands folded in front of him, the Jewish boy is still wearing his hat.

Whenever I see this photograph, I always have the same thought: After all that they have suffered, why should they also suffer the indignity of our gaze? I would not want to be seen in this moment of humiliation. This thought is immediately replaced by another: they are not suffering our gaze. They are dead, they are not suffering anything. And I am looking at them precisely because they were humiliated—without this humiliation, they would have slipped from seen to unseen, as almost all the dead do. They have been chosen for contemporary viewing because this moment tells a larger story that eclipses any squeamishness we have about displaying them in such a scene of degradation. Read More »

Sylvia Plath’s “Nick and the Candlestick”

November 21, 2013 | by


Collage via Flickr.

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

I am writing this while pregnant with my first son, just as Sylvia Plath was when she wrote “Nick and the Candlestick” in 1962.

I wanted him: he was no surprise or trouble at all; he was passion and biology. But I am not happy. No one in smiley U.S.A. is supposed to say this at the news of a baby. An expectant mother is supposed to be ecstatic, full of promise and life. It is true, I marvel; the last thing I ever expected to be good at was creating a small person, that my body could nourish him both inside itself and within the world. He’s evidence that something inside me might work, even if other, less visible things do not.

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

Before him, I would read Plath quotes from one of those ubiquitous Twitter feeds, feel recognition—and feel like a cliché. I do genuinely love her work, but it’s so expected, so reductive—even if, with him, it feels newly vital for me. We all know the narrative: marry a handsome, destructive man, go from one to two, three then four, and then kill yourself at thirty. Like so many girl-readers, I worshipped her and selfishly romanticized the tragedy. As a young woman, Plath sought the whirl and illusion of enchanted, swift New York, painfully unprepared for adulthood, and like so many others, I recognized all those standard youthful Manhattan dreams, darker when you feel everything twenty-fold, when you’re unsure of having any talent or worth, paralyzed by sensitivity, maybe a little weak, easy to dismantle. A cliché, yes, but the mythology, and the work, remain captivating and solid. As a writer and a reader and a human being with dark tendencies, I have great empathy for everything Plath. There is a reason she has endured. We may all fail miserably at love, family, and living, but we can try to be brave, especially in our work. As Plath says of her own womb, my stomach was always crawling with white newts and calcification, a gut that betrayed me, even when I tried to convince it of happy otherwise. Read More »


Mark Twain Designed His Own Notebooks, and Other News

August 20, 2013 | by


  • Twain’s notebooks, Plath’s pens, and other preferred writing paraphernalia of famous authors.
  • Via the minds at McSweeney’s, an invaluable Field Guide to Uncommon Punctuation.
  • An elaborate, book-themed proposal involving a custom children’s book, a library, and a lot of planning.
  • The Today Show has reanimated its book club, and kicked off with The Bone Season, by twenty-one-year-old Samantha Shannon. (“The next Rowling?” asks Today, unfortunately.)


    Close Reading, and Other News

    April 19, 2013 | by


  • A sly French literacy campaign wins international plaudits. (Look again: that’s it right there!)
  • Writers mobilize to save Venice’s bookshops.
  • Sadly, Portland’s Murder by the Book is meeting an unkinder fate.
  • “When she went to New York [from Boston], she wasn’t thinking about the work she was going to do—she was thinking about the clothes she was going to wear.” Sylvia Plath’s month at Mademoiselle, an experience that would figure in The Bell Jar.
  • Well, this was clearly never going to bother anyone: “10 Talented Female Authors I Wouldn’t Kick Out of Bed for Writing About Crackers.” (He has a type.)


    Dear Enemy

    February 11, 2013 | by



    “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ―Sylvia Plath


    “A Reverse Fahrenheit 451,” and Other News

    February 11, 2013 | by