Back in Junior College I was slightly obsessesed with the poems of Sylvia Plath.
The visual imagery of:
Nigger eye/Berries cast dark/Hooks—/Black sweet blood mouthfuls. (Ariel)
The lovely onomatoepia in:
Viciousness in the kitchen!/The potatoes hiss. (Lesbos)
The hatred for her father expressed in childlike rhyme:
They are dancing and stamping on you/They always knew it was you/ Daddy, Daddy, you bastard I’m through. (Daddy)
The subject matter of death and suicide:
Dying/ Is an art, like everything else/I do it exceptionally well. (Lady Lazarus)
It’s no wonder that at the time I kept writing poems like that, channelling my inner depression to come up with the most disturbing imageries (I still find myself writing like this). My Literature teacher used to let us listen to tapes of Plath herself reading her poems, and her thin, stark, somewhat matronly voice made the poems all the more powerful. I remembered thinking that listening to those tapes was like that moment in a depressing movie, that quiet, still moment where you just know something bad is going to happen ( The Royal Tenenbaums, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, American Beauty, Virgin Suicides..if you watched the movies you know what I mean.)
But I remember one poem that was not very “Plath-esque” at all. You’re was a poem dedicated to her baby son, Nick, and I remember thinking that it was uncharacteristically hopeful.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.
And it is at this point that I read with sadness that Nicholas Hughes committed suicide by hanging himself on March 16, at age 47. I have always wondered if we follow in the footsteps of our parents, and this was a tragic case of “like mother, like son” (and also “like stepmother”, as it turns out). According to his sister Frieda Hughes, Nick had been battling depression for a long time. It must not be easy to live with the fact that your mother gassed herself in the oven while your sister and you, a baby of just a year, slept in the next room. The suicide note was pinned to their perambulator.
I may not be a parent, but I have thought about things such as how we can rise beyond our personal tragedies, screw-ups and our failures to actually bring another living being into this sometimes terrible world. Such sobering thoughts for a Tuesday.
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