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Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath Hardcover – March 13, 2007
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From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—Through a series of skillfully crafted poems, Hemphill has pieced together a collage of the life and work of the American writer. Arranged chronologically from Plath's birth to the month of her suicide, the poems are written from the points of view of people involved in her life. The voices of Plath's mother; her poet husband, Ted Hughes; and other intimates are interspersed with those of more fleeting acquaintances, each chosen to underscore a unique aspect of the subject's fiery life and tumultuous literary career. Hemphill rises to the challenge of capturing the life of a poet through poetry itself; the end result is a collection of verse worthy of the artist whom it portrays. Form is of paramount importance, just as it was to Plath herself. Many of the selections were created "in the style of" specific Plath poems, while others are scattered with Plath's imagery and language. While the book will prove an apt curriculum companion to Plath's literary works as touted on the jacket, it will also pull the next generation of readers into the myth of Sylvia Plath.—Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* As in Margarita Engle's The Poet Slave of Cuba (2006), this ambitious portrait uses poetry to illuminate the facts of a famous life, in this case, Sylvia Plath's. Although classified as fiction, the book draws from numerous nonfiction sources, including biographies and Plath's journals and letters, and each poem is accompanied by footnotes grounding Hemphill's imagined scenes within the facts. Rather than write in Plath's voice, Hemphill channels the voices of those who knew the poet in chronologically arranged poems, written from the perspective of family members, friends, colleagus, even Plath's doctor. Plath's own voice is evident in the poetic forms, though, with many of the poems written "in the style of" specific works. The result is an intimate, comprehensive, imaginative view of a life that also probes the relationships between poetry and creativity, mental fragility, love, marriage, and betrayal. Some readers may be slowed by the many poems that chronicle the bitter dissolution of Plath's marriage, and readers who know the Plath poems Hemphill references will have an advantage. But Plath's dramatic genius and personal struggles, particularly the difficulties of reconciling the writing life with the roles of wife and mother, have long attracted teen interest, and this accomplished, creative story may ignite new interest in Plath's original works. A bibliography of sources is appended. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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It surprised me how much I learned while reading Your Own, Sylvia. Many of the poems mimic poems written by Plath in style or form and were informed by the reports or writings of those who knew her. It's clear that the poems are fictional accounts created by Hemphill, but, for me, each had a clear ring of truth and feasibility. It's clear Hemphill spent much time researching Plath and those in her life before composing the poems that make up the novel. Some of them are better than others, that is, some felt more aesthetically pleasing, but they all contributed in an important way to the overall narrative.
After each poem, Hemphill added factual information or a short explanation of the poem. Given the personal nature of the poetry, the information included often had a personal tone as well. I never felt that I was being force fed dry bits of factual information, rather, each fact gave additional depth and meaning to Hemphill's poems and created a more vivid portrait of Plath.
I highly recommend Your Own, Sylvia to readers with a particular interest in Plath, as well as those who generally enjoy poetry and verse novels. Hemphill's novel is unique in that it focuses on a real person and weaves facts into the verse novel format, offering readers something new and notable. I'm looking forward to Hemphill's upcoming verse portrait, Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. This novel, which focuses on author Mary Shelley, is scheduled for an October 2013 release.
But the poetry isn't that amazing. It's interesting for the story. But not astounding poetry.
And Plath fans (like me) are always eager to get their hands on anything about Sylvia.
I know much, much more about them now.
Dr. Ruth Barnhouse Beuscher, Sylvia's therapist
"Repression cuts off
circulation like a tourniquet,
and Sylvia throbs with desire.
"I advise Sylvia to experiment,
to stop fretting over a white
wedding dress. Does this shock
the patient? Not really.
Sylvia has been slicing at her arm,
waiting for someone
to grant her permission. "A junior in college,
she may be ready for this.
'But what would Mother think?'
Sylvia snickers. She wraps a mink stole
of secrets around her shoulders,
luxuriates in playing foul
behind her mother's back.
"Perhaps when she holds back
her desires, her mind
splinters into madness, into deadwood
that we must burn away by electric shock.
I encourage her to release her idea
of the bad girl, punishable for physical contact.
"I ask her to think about herself, not her mother,
about how Sylvia represses Sylvia.
I want to tell her to do what she wants.
I need to help her to let go of her fears."
"Dr. Ruth met with Sylvia for daily psychotherapy sessions, during which Ruth explained to Sylvia her methods and techniques and why she was using them. Sylvia responded well to this sort of inclusion and respect. Dr. Barnhouse Beuscher employed fairly orthodox Freudianism, which entailed leading analysis and discussion about Sylvia's childhood. At the time of the above poem, Sylvia and Dr. Ruth met at McLean Hospital for inpatient treatment, but later they would have sessions at Dr, Beuscher's private practice. They were in contact via phone, letters, or in person every week until Sylvia's death ten years later."
Through inclusion of a book-long series of artistic images, the creators of a graphic novel provide readers with a second dimension -- a visual dimension -- to a story that is also being told with words. In those cases where the images work harmoniously with the text to create an exceptional graphic novel, the reader experiences a piece of literature that is greater in its impact than the sum of its textual and visual elements.
In crafting YOUR OWN, SYLVIA, a striking portrait of the poet who took her own life at an early age nearly half a century ago, author Stephanie Hemphill has similarly provided a second dimension. That second dimension in this case is not visual but textual.
Some may believe that Hemphill's poems, which are conveying the story on one level, constitute the second dimension that adds depth to the factual information appearing throughout the book. Others would propose that, on the contrary, the factual information is the dimension that supplements the poems which are written with the guidance of primary source materials and from the points of view of an amazingly large cast of family members, friends, colleagues, and mental health professionals who knew this a poet who, like a shooting star, burned brightly and was then gone.
What cannot be argued is that, like a graphic novel done to perfection, the author has intertwined these two integral textual dimensions of the story in a manner that makes this portrait of Sylvia Plath consistently intriguing and compelling with all the power and edge of the best tragic, contemporary verse novel.
In fact, there are events within this tale that are so horrific that it is sometimes necessary to remind oneself that they took place in the real world.
Interspersed with the poems from the various points of view are several which are co-titled "Imagining Sylvia Plath," and are each written in the style of one of Sylvia's better-known poems.
"...She blocks Ted out, the rake, her children's
Unfaithful father, invisible as the man who draws
The stage curtain, who ties up the show.
She doesn't need him
To tell her when to begin, when to end.
"Poetry taps beat after beat
From her typewriter keys.
She studies the page, astonished
At her maniac poems, buzzing real as an ear.
She cannot send them back.
"She cannot remember writing them down.
She can only remember the way
The words felt, honest as a morning moon.
And she is their creator,
Standing alone in her laurel crown.
"She escapes this way.
Her early-morning pen
Breaks the kill hours, cleanses her in blood,
Burns the wrinkles from her face.
She radiates language.
"She will not be shut up, will not be eclipsed."
Sure, at times it is like staring in fascination at a terrible accident happening in slow motion, but there is no question that YOUR OWN, SYLVIA will be responsible for bringing the words of Sylvia Plath to the attention of a new generation. It is a haunting and true story that certainly grabbed and held my attention.
Most recent customer reviews
Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill received a Printz Honor...Read more
I find her fascinating.Read more