It’s National Poetry Month Again! If you have been visiting here for a while, you know what that means—it’s our 12th annual round-up of daily doses of verse! If you are new, here’s the scoop. Every day the month I will feature poets and their poems. I aim to be as broad and inclusive as possible to style, subject, period, gender, race, and neglected voices.
I don’t want just a parade of the usual dead white men, but a lot of them did write some damn fine poetry, so they have their place here too. As always, selections follow my own tastes and whims. Yours may be different. But I am open to—eager for—suggestions, especially for contemporary writers. I do not subscribe to dozens of little magazines or prowl the internet for poetry posts. I often only stumble on new and unknown poets and I am sure I miss some great stuff. Please feel free to turn me on to some.
Here is a challenge—Poets, send me your own best stuff be it personal, political, or polemical. I don’t and can’t promise to use everything. E-mail me at email@example.com.Sina Queyras, First Nation Canadian and queer.
Our first piece was just featured on the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day page. Sina Queyras has led an itinerant life, born in 1963 in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Manitoba, Canada. growing up on the road in western Canada and has since lived in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York, and Philadelphia.
They, the preferred pronoun, most recently published My Ariel (Coach House 2017) inspired by Sylvia Plath from which today’s featured verse was taken. Previous collections include MxT (Coach House 2014) winner of the Pat Lowther Award and the Relit Award for poetry; Expressway (Coach House 2009) which was nominated for a Governor General’s Award and a selection from that book won Gold in the National Magazine Awards; and Lemon Hound (Coach House 2006) which won a Lambda Award and the Pat Lowther Award. They are also the author of the novel Autobiography of Childhood (2011), shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. In 2020 they co-edited A Nicole Brossard Reader, and in 2005 they edited Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, for Persea Books. They are the founding editor of lemonhound.com, which ran from 2005 to 2018. Queyras has taught creative writing at Rutgers, Haverford, and Concordia University in Montreal. They have been Director of Concordia University’s reading series, Writers Read, since 2011.
They are “interested in eco-poetics, avant-garde, queer, and innovative women’s writing of all genres—poetry, prose, memoir, essay.”Sina Queyras's 2017 inspired by Sylvia Plath.
Sylvia Plath, of course, was the famously brilliant and beautiful young and deeply troubled American poet born on October 27, 1932 in Boston to a German-born entomologist and a professor of biology at Boston University and his second-generation Austrian wife. She was a virtual poetry prodigy who published stories in grade school and acclaimed verse while still in high school and looked forward to a promising future. But she was plagued by what is now recognized as severe bi-polar disorder and first tried to kill herself by taking sleeping pills and hiding under her mother’s porch August 24, 1953. Despite electric shock and other dire treatments, she recovered enough to graduate summa cum laude from prestigious Smith College. She obtained a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Newnham College, one of the two women-only colleges of the University of Cambridge in England, where she continued actively writing poetry and publishing her work in the student newspaper Varsity.
In 1956 Plath married much better known British poet Ted Hughes. After returning to Newnham the couple came to the U.S. where she briefly taught at Smith before resigning to take a job as a psychiatric hospital receptionist to have more time to dedicate to writing. She found time to creative writing seminars given by poet Robert Lowell which was also attended by Anne Sexton. The couple traveled around the U.S. and Canada staying for a while at the Yaddo artist colony in Saratoga Springs, New York in late 1959. They moved back to England that December and Their daughter Frieda was born on April 1, 1960. In October, Plath published her first collection of poetry, The Colossus.
In February 1961, Plath’s second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. In a letter to her therapist, Plath wrote that Hughes beat her two days before the miscarriage. In August she finished her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, the work for which he is best known and immediately after this, the family moved to Court Green in the small market town of North Tawton in Devon. Son Nicholas was born in January 1962. But Plath continued to struggle with depression and made several unsuccessful attempts to at suicide including an automobile crash. Ted Hughes began an affair with Assia Wevill, a German Jewish refugee of the Holocaust. Plath left him and took a London flat with her children living in poverty.
On February 11, 1963 after meticulous preparation, Plath took sleeping pills and stuck her head in her un-lit gas oven and died at just 30 years old. He posthumously published poetry collection Ariel contained most of her best known verse. On the strength of The Bell Jar and Ariel and her compelling, tragic life, Plath became a feminist icon.
Hughes was widely vilified but spent much of the rest of his life defending himself and preserving Plath’s memory and work.
In her poem Sylvia Plath’s Elegy for Sylvia Plath Sina Queyras channeled the dead poet.Sylvia Plath--the real woman before she became a dead icon.
Sylvia Plath’s Elegy for Sylvia Plath
If you can’t feel love in life you won’t feel it in death, nor
Will you feel the tulip’s skin, nor the soft gravel
Of childhood under cheek. You will have writhed
Across the page for a hard couplet, a firm rhyme, ass
High as any downward dog, and cutlass arms
Lashing any mother who tries to pass: Let’s be frank
About the cost of spurs, mothers like peonies
Whirling in storm drains, families sunk before
Reaching open water. The empty boudoir
Will haunt, but not how you imagine it will.
Nothing, not even death frees mothers
From the cutting board, the balloons, their
Lack of resistance, thoughts, he said, quick
As tulips staggering across the quad.
She heard, I like my women splayed
Out, red. Read swollen, domesticated,
Wanting out. The tulips were never warm
My loves, they never smelled of spring,
They never marked the path out of loneliness,
Never led me home, nor to me, nor away
From what spring, or red, or tulips
Could never be.