Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Poetry Book Review: "Biographical Poetry"


Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. Your own, Sylvia: a verse portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN#: 9780375837999.


This poetry book details the events of Sylvia Plath's life in the viewpoint of those who knew her best. Stephanie Hemphill comprises these viewpoints and creates poems that illustrate Plath's life. The poems expressed in this book show the events that took place from Plath's birth to her death.

Hemphill uses the technique of viewpoints to illustrate how Plath was viewed. In Your Own, Sylvia the points of view are from Otto Plath (father), Aurelia Plath (mother), Warren Plath (brother), Ted Hughes (husband), and many neighbors, classmates, doctors, nurses, and acquaintances.

By using these different viewpoints, the reader gains a great understanding of how Plath was viewed in her lifetime. The author writes in the style of Plath to show an authenticity. Hemphill researchers thorugh letters, journals and biographies to do so. In addition, Hemphill uses historical information that she learned from those who knew Plath. She uses this information within the poetry to give it more truth.

Another benefit to Your Own, Sylvia are the added annecdotes and information below each poem. These paragraphs show historical information about the poems written. Having this added information helps the reader to understand more about Sylvia Plath's life.

Poem: "Winter's End"

Imagining Sylvia Plath
In the style of "Edge"
February 11, 1963

She is determined, ready as a knife,
Her letters sealed.

The hall light smiles, a halo calling her
To flame. She wings into the kitchen,

Spreads mustard on their crustless bread,
Pours two pure white glasses of milk.

She kisses the children's foreheads,
Folds over their sheets.

The streetlamp clicks off.
She opens the window to dawn,

Wedges a towel under the children's door.
Righteous, happy as a rose,

She knows her place in the garden.
Her black petals curl underground.

She tidies her desk, leaves her manuscript,
Ariel and Other Poems, to the moon,

To the world of bone. The sun breaks
Like yolk. It is time.

She unlatches the over door. The gas
Fills her nostrils, sweet as blood, pungent as a sword.

Introducing the Poem:

This poem is a rendition of Sylvia Plath's "Edge". "Winter's End" is very similar to the last (rumored) poem that Plath wrote before ending her own life. The above poem shows the motions that she took in the last hours of her life.

This book is more suitable for young adults. I would introduce this poem to the class after showing "Edge" by Sylvia Plath. Next, I would open the classroom up for discussion about the two poems to talk about similarities and differences.

I would follow up with the students picking a particular poet that they are interested in and pick a specific poem. Finally, the students would be assigned a task to produce their version of the poem in the way they would view the particular theme. This follows a similar path that Hemphill took.

By introducing the poem in this way, students will be able to see how the poem can change with a different perspective. They will also be able to relate to a particular poet. This biographical poetry book is beneficial for students to read because it opens them up to the life of poets.

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