Hyper Poetry – A project for 12th Grade

November 5, 2008

My 12th grade elective class called “The Novel” is in the midst of reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. We’re supplementing our reading of the novel with some of Plath’s poems – many of which are intriguing and seemingly bizarre. What follows is an example of one project my class is doing with her poetry. It’s called “Hyper Poetry,” a name derived from the act of hyper-linking to other sites on the World Wide Web.

This assignment was partially inspired by this and this, which I saw at the 2008 LILAC Conference. However, instead of linking only to photos, song lyrics, and videos… I also wanted to link to biographical information of Plath and relevant literary criticism of her works. Although some might disagree, I think that a thorough understanding of Plath’s background is essential for fully understanding her work.

The assignment- Take 10 lines of text (per person) to illuminate. This project can be done independently or with a small group (no more than 3-4 people).

Below is a partial markup of Lesbos by Sylvia Plath. It is my intention to connect particular words and phrases from the poem to Internet sources used to assist in its understanding.

Lesbos – Sylvia Plath

Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine,
Coy paper strips for doors —
Stage curtains, a widow’s frizz.
And I, love, am a pathological liar,
And my child — look at her, face down on the floor,
Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear —
Why she is schizophrenic,
Her face is red and white, a panic,
You have stuck her kittens outside your window
In a sort of cement well
Where they crap and puke and cry and she can’t hear.
You say you can’t stand her,
The bastard’s a girl.
You who have blown your tubes like a bad radio
Clear of voices and history, the staticky
Noise of the new.
You say I should drown the kittens. Their smell!
You say I should drown my girl.
She’ll cut her throat at ten if she’s mad at two.
The baby smiles, fat snail,
From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum.
You could eat him. He’s a boy.
You say your husband is just no good to you.
His Jew-Mama guards his sweet sex like a pearl.
You have one baby, I have two.
I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair.
I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair.
We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.Meanwhile there’s a stink of fat and baby crap.
I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.
The smog of cooking, the smog of hell
Floats our heads, two venemous opposites,
Our bones, our hair.
I call you Orphan, orphan. You are ill.
The sun gives you ulcers, the wind gives you T.B.
Once you were beautiful.
In New York, in Hollywood, the men said: ‘Through?
Gee baby, you are rare.’
You acted, acted for the thrill.
The impotent husband slumps out for a coffee.
I try to keep him in,
An old pole for the lightning,
The acid baths, the skyfuls off of you.
He lumps it down the plastic cobbled hill,
Flogged trolley. The sparks are blue.
The blue sparks spill,
Splitting like quartz into a million bits.

O jewel! O valuable!
That night the moon
Dragged its blood bag, sick
Up over the harbor lights.
And then grew normal,
Hard and apart and white.
The scale-sheen on the sand scared me to death.
We kept picking up handfuls, loving it,
Working it like dough, a mulatto body,
The silk grits.
A dog picked up your doggy husband. He went on.

Now I am silent, hate
Up to my neck,
Thick, thick.
I do not speak.
I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,
I am packing the babies,
I am packing the sick cats.
O vase of acid,
It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.
He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate
That opens to the sea
Where it drives in, white and black,
Then spews it back.
Every day you fill him with soul-stuff, like a pitcher.
You are so exhausted.
Your voice my ear-ring,
Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat.
That is that. That is that.
You peer from the door,
Sad hag. ‘Every woman’s a whore.
I can’t communicate.’

I see your cute décor
Close on you like the fist of a baby
Or an anemone, that sea
Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
I am still raw.
I say I may be back.
You know what lies are for.

Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.


She’s got the crazy

October 29, 2008
Do you think the person who coined this phrase had Sylvia Plath in mind?

Do you think the person who coined this phrase had Sylvia Plath in mind?

A question came up in class today about chapter 12 of The Bell Jar and it got me thinking about unreliable narrators. I recall the first time I read the novel… I was in my early 20s, and I picked up the book because I wanted to expose myself to more “classics” in my reading-for-pleasure selections. I read most of it during a family vacation to Orlando, and I was very much distracted by Mickey Mouse, warm weather, and poolside fun. Needless to say, I didn’t give the novel a very close reading, and I let some of those “I don’t get it” moments slide. Now, with a much closer reading, I’m understanding how Plath’s own mental illness comes alive in her heroine, Esther Greenwood. In giving it some more thought, I figured that it would be a good idea to do some basic research on Schizophrenia to present in a class lesson. I referred to an old college psychology textbook that I pilfered from a friend several years ago, and I found the reading on Schizophrenia to be quite extensive. I can’t really cover all of the information about it and then present on some other topics of interest (such as mental institutions of the 1950s, shock therapy, and suicide), so I’ve copied the chapter and I’m preparing it for distribution in class on Thursday.

I guess what I’m really here to say is that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE teaching this novel with seniors! We’re looking at it through critically using both Reader Response and Feminist Literary Theory. As well, we’ve taken a close look at Plath’s biography and applied our knowledge of her life and background to the reading of the novel. I wish I would have known to do this when I read this myself the first time – it would have made a lot more sense to me then.