"Sylvia Plath’s Poems as Poetic Tableaux"

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Ikram Hili


 With its distinctive poetic forms and themes, Sylvia Plath’s poetry patently epitomizes her personal and artistic struggle as a woman writer to be part of a largely male-dominated canon. Plath encountered many difficulties while drafting her poems, as she wrestled with what to reveal to, or conceal from, the reading public—a literary exertion that is even more visible when we studies the her manuscripts of published and unpublished poems.

The present paper presents some of Plath’s early and later poems as paintings drawn against the backcloth of postwar America’s containment culture. Focusing on colors in Plath’s poetry, the aim of this paper is also to dismiss, time and again, the haunting, bleak, and blank feel very often attached to her poetry. Sometimes the poems themselves display vivid color imagery while, at other times, the manuscripts leading to the final poetic product reveal a different story—a story of an excruciating writing process, a story recorded not only in words that very often do not make it to the poem we now have in print, but also a story painted in tears and blood, as it were. Plath’s poetry is teeming with color imageries but this paper sheds light on white, red and blue—colors that I find very symbolic, again, of the poet’s struggle as a woman artist in the fifties and early sixties and of her endeavor to make her words “go farther than a lifetime,” as she once envisaged them to (Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams 99).

This paper was delivered at the “Sylvia Plath: Letters, Words and Fragments Conference,” November 10th, 2017, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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