Sunday, 31 May 2015

Guest post: Rehan Qayoom reviews Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath.

Thanks to Rehan Qayoom for sending me on a review of Julia Gordon-Bramer's new book on Sylvia Plath, Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Julia at the most recent Sylvia Plath conference and wish her all the very best with this book. Such an interesting and fresh look at what inspired Plath and informed her poetry. I look forward to reading this book in the near future!

'Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath shows that looking at Plath's Ariel through the lens of tarot and mysticism opens the poems up to amazing new--and quite obvious--meanings. Critics and scholars have long looked at the mysticism in her husband Ted Hughes' work.

Sylvia Plath virtually worshipped her husband, letting him hypnotize her, cast her astrological chart and horoscope, teach her to meditate, and together they visited local witches, regularly practiced with the Ouija board, tarot, crystal ball, and other occult objects. Yet until now, no one has thought to look at Plath's work in this light.

In Ariel, Plath made each of her poems hold up against at least six different-yet-corresponding interpretations in perfect Qabalah/tarot order and meaning, and she did this forty times. If this was an intentional effort, Sylvia Plath was one of the greatest literary geniuses to have lived.

If this was unintentional and subconscious, let's call it "channeling," then we have a divine ordering to the universe laid out before our eyes'.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Still here, still writing..

Writing up a PhD is tough. I'm in the final throes of it these days. Waves of exhaustion, feeling like I'm physically pulling the words from my chest sometimes. Hoping that I'm putting across my points as best I can. I had a 'lightbulb' moment a few weeks ago that has really helped centre my whole argument. For all these years I've been reading the silences in Plath's work and writing about what 'emerges' from these silences. But what I didn't realise until now really is that an equally important aspect of all this is that Plath made the decision to locate aspects of her writing in silence. And so with that clarity, I know that the backbone/tentative title of this dissertation is something along the lines of 'decisions of silence in the work of Sylvia Plath'. It is the perfect umbrella to bring all my chapters in under. I like the thought of having a title that very much says: Plath was the master of her own words. She was not hauled into an abyss because she lost control - no 'murderous art' here, thanks. Every word she wrote (and didn't write) was a decision based on years of hard work and dedication to her craft.

I've worked on my introduction chapter for so long, trying to figure out the place of silence in women's writing, in American literature, in literature and art in general in the post-World War Two years. I hope maybe my findings could be used as a template to scrutinise other poets of this era because it seems to me that silence made up a significant element of the American postwar, pre-second wave feminist bubble. I do believe that a wide spectrum of poets, writers and artists chose silence and reconfigured it from a space of oppression to liberation during this time. The appeal of forging a new type of language unencumbered by the old ways and traditions of the past perhaps? 

The Plath chapters that I have written are interesting, I think. As long as I can get my points across without losing the run of myself, I hope my arguments stand up academically. It is very difficult to get my ideas from my mind onto my page though. Funnily enough, because I've been so reclusive for the past few months, I'm finding it difficult to take ideas from my mind and speak to other people in general. The majority of my thoughts are typed out these days: be it through Twitter or on a Word document. I sometimes feel like my mouth doesn't have the capacity to speak the words I want to! Once I get the dissertation drafted I really must force myself to speak at some conferences even though my confidence is a bit bruised.

Personally speaking, my life has been winding down into a routine of writing, sleeping, working. I saw Judith Butler give a talk down in Dublin earlier in the year which was fantastic. Hearing her speak and watching her hand gestures as she explained her ideas really made her work come alive for me in a way it never has before. I make one small reference to Butler in my thesis so she's not integral to my current work. But I think as a human being trying to make sense of the world, her books and theories are essential. Closer to now, I did have a rough week last week and asked Plath to help get me through this summer. Silly I know. But I did feel her spirit with me when I went for my funding interview back in 2010. I was the best version of myself that day. And I have felt more driven and motivated and more able to accept the personal problems we all face that interrupt us from our own goals and being the best version of ourselves that we want to be. Life, eh? If it isn't one thing, it's another.

My current soundtracks for writing, thinking and the brief reprieve of evening walks are Cat Stevens - Tea for the Tillerman, the new Sufjan Stevens album (his best), Jackson Browne 'The Pretender', Sandy Denny's 'Best of..'. Very folk-filled :-) Nice moments of the last while consist of spending time with my beautiful best friend, beach walks and emails from good friends. I don't know what I would do without such good people who haven't forgotten about me even though I've been horrendously anti-social for so long!

Had the Giant's Causeway all to myself a few evenings ago. So beautiful!

Turned 30 in March. Was suitably spoiled by good friends :-)

Recent walks on the beach.
My best friend on Jake, her horse. Have to say I love this photograph!
Supportive card from dear Zoe: 'Men of Destiny', Jack B. Yeats.