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After Ted & Sylvia by Crystal Hurdle
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After Ted & Sylvia

by Crystal Hurdle

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People like to write about Sylvia Plath. I've built a blog and a website on the very subject. Lately, people like to speak for Sylvia Plath just as much as they like to speak about her. Crystal Hurdle's 2003 poetry collected After Ted & Sylvia was one of the first poetry collections focussed solely on the poet. When I reviewed Catherine Bowman's The Plath Cabinet in March, I neglected to include Hurdle's earlier book. This was accident, afterall I heard her read some of the at the 2002 Sylvia Plath 70th Year Symposium at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In the area of writing about Plath creatively, I recall being impressed with Kate Moses, whose novel Wintering was well under way, but not so much with either Bowman's or Hurdle's poems. Reading the collection now, after thinking Bowman's work was at least a little unique, I now find that Hurdle was quiet a bit ahead of her. And this unfortunately makes Bowman's The Plath Cabinet slightly less impressive.

Hurdle's poems show evidence of archival research both at the Lilly Library and at Smith College. She also states that she did some research in the United Kingdom, though it is not clear whether or not she worked archives or if she "wandered through each chartered street / Near where there chartered Thames does flow", to quote Blake. There are a few nice poems in this book, but on whole the story of Sylvia Plath works best when based on fact - the imagination of the write held in check - and written in the genre called non-fiction, which is how the once living and the currently living are normally written. As with Bowman's work, there are a number of factual errors which are really inexcusable and taint the work for me. As with Bowman's, it is a biographical book: but unlike Bowman's (or her publicists), the book is not purported to be biographical. Instead, Hurdle states in the Acknowledgements, "This book, while based on the lives of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, is a work of the imagination."

And, it is clearly a work of imagination when once considers the following:

"Laureate I: Blooms"
Page 13
Line 2: 'of two dead wives'
While this is a common enough mistake, Ted Hughes was not married to Assia Wevill - the presumed second dead wife in this poem. Ted Hughes's second wife is Carol Hughes. Let's move on.

"Laureat III: To You, Dear Ted"
Page 18
Stanza 3, Line 5: 'What about wifey #3?'
Broken record here. Unless polygamy is legal in England, or was legal...

"Laureate V: Poem for Sylvia"
Page 27
Stanza 4, Line2 1-2: 'No yew tree in sight / Chalcott Square'
Can't find that on my London A-Z. Chalcot has one 't'. This occurs throughout the book. Consistency in this case is simply annoying. And the yew tree was in North Tawton, not in London, so of course it wouldn't be in site: not even from top the Post Office Tower.

Page 28
Stanza 1, Lines 4-9: 'but didn't you ... /know that gas rises?'
Some gas does rise, as Plath thought her gas would in the flat. However, coal gas is heavier, and sinks, which Plath didn't know or didn't remember. This whole stanza is rotten.

Stanza 2, Line 2: '123 Fitzroy Road'
The poet is clearly leading people to the wrong places in London. The correct address is 23 Fitzroy Road.

Stanza 2, Line 5: 'You only wrote most of Ariel here.'
No. Implying that most of the collection was written at 23 Fitzroy Road (or 123 Fitzroy Road). No no no. Ariel was written in North Tawton, with a few of the earliest poems composed in London at 3 Chalcot Square. Of course some of the poems Plath did write at 23 Fitzroy Road were included in Ariel as assembled by Ted Hughes, but by the time these poems by Hurdle were written, the table of contents of Plath's Ariel was well-known.

Stanza 4, Lines 1-2: 'I had been at the wrong address / Number 3 not 7 Chalcott square'
Again with the Chalcott. And, Square should be capitalized. When I read this I get the feeling she's saying Plath and Hughes lived at 7 Chalcot Square, not 3, which is just wrong. If you were at 7 Chalcot Square then you were at the wrong address. Regardless, it's awkward. Punctuate.

"Laureate VI: Wife"
Page 33
Stanza 4, Last Line: 'longer of the years of the two dead wives'
We've already been through this...

Page 36
Stanza 1, Line 2: 'his two dead wives'
Seriously?

"Milk: Apocrypha"
Page 42
Stanza 2, Lines 5-6: 'He is in Devon with that woman / her name a hot hiss'
In the lines immediately above, it's 'almost Valentine's' in 1963. He is Ted. "That woman" is Assia. Ted, in Devon, around Valentine's, with Assia? Not bloody likely. Try in London and Heptonstall seeing the inquiry in the Plath's death and subsequent funeral.

Page 43
Stanza 4, Lines 1-2: 'one floor above / bodies sluggish from the rising gas'
This is tiresome. The bodies 'one floor above' could not have been 'sluggish from the rising gas' because the gas was heavier than air and sunk.

"Sivvy: Bowdlerising"
Page 98
Stanza 1, Line 1: 'but mostly those four dots'
Ellipses - used for marking omissions, pauses in speech, unfinished thoughts, etc. - are denoted by ...

"Sivvy: Climate Control"
Page 101
Stanza 4, Line 1: 'in Whitsun House in Cambridge'
Whitstead. 4 Barton Road. Plath wrote a poem called "Whitsun", though not whilst living in Whitstead.

"Sivvy: Furlough in Las Vegas"
Page 131
Stanza 1, Line 5: 'I tried for Truro, Wellfleet, even Providence'
Truro and Wellfleet are on Cape Cod... Providence is not. Did the writer mean Provincetown?

Page 132
Stanza 5, Line 3: 'at Chalcott Square'
One more time! Encore!

Clearly a work of the imagination. When all is said and done, there really isn't much poetry to read. The hatred expressed for Ted Hughes 'Get lost, Ted. Go fuck yourself' ("Laureate V: Poem for Sylvia", p. 30) does not make for good poetry. It's more appropriate for a private journal. Nor does a question and answer stanza on the color of urine and semen ("The Sylvias: a Fantasy", p. 30). While humorous if I had a few pints in me and I was in a bar, this sort of stuff is distracting.

Poetry works best when it is imaginative: when it's the poets imagination driven by experience or the mind (or something similar). Poetry about other people, such as this work, simply is boring and, perhaps not surprisingly, uninspired. To bring Bowman back in, whose had the most recent last words in the sub-genre/industry of poetry about Plath, hopes that her poems will inspire people to read Plath and Hughes' poetry. I hope this is an actual outcome because then the reader will get to read real poems. ( )
  pksteinberg | Jul 7, 2009 |
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