Brita Lindberg-Seyersted, Sylvia Plath, Studies in Her Poetry and Her Personality (Oslo: Novus Press, 2002). Pp. 130. ISBN 82-7099-341-7
Brita Lindberg-Seyersted's study attests to the continuing interest in Plath's legacy both in regard to her poetry and life.
Comprised of seven essays which attempt the range of the poet's many-faceted work ("Dream Elements in the Bee Cycle Poems", "'Poem for a Birthday': Self-Analysis with Surrealistic Elements", "Dramatizations of 'Visionary Events'", "Sylvia Plath's Psychic Landscapes" and "Bad Language Can Be Good: Slang and Other Expressions of Extreme Informality" are among the titles), the book's organization seemed puzzling for the overlap and repetition of information that occurs in the differing discussions.
In "Dream Elements", the first essay, Lindberg-Seyersted suggests the dream structure of Plath's particular brand of surrealism noting its "more orderly and factual" (12) expression as opposed to traditional definitions of surrealism without providing consistent arguments as to what in fact is 'Plathesque' about her contributions to the term. References to Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" tend to confuse the point, since neither author partakes of Plath's modernist time or vision.
While Lindberg-Seyersted's discussion of the elements of surrealism in Plath's oeuvre comes up in other essays (in "Poem for a Birthday" the first sentence asks, "Sylvia Plath a surrealistic poet?"), there seems to be less of a building argument connecting the essays than a sense that the term is being used to address varieties of Plath's poetics: uses of fairytale imagery, slang, dream imagery, and what Lindberg-Seyersted calls her "self-performed psychoanalysis"(25).
The discussion of Plath's cycle of Bee poems, referred to also in "Dramatization of Visionary Events", touches on issues of vulnerability and the dangers of self-exposure developed in "The Bee Meeting", but fails to take the insight further than a summary of the rites of initiation in the poem that both enmesh the speaker and terrify her.
The opportunity for a discussion of the possible surrealism of Plath's unique conflation of 'thingness' with the natural world, (for example, in the quoted lines: "Strips of tinfoil winking like people,/Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers"), is bypassed. Again, in the essay dealing with "Poem for a Birthday", the stipulated aim "to identify devices which can be labeled surrealistic, and to examine how they function in the individual poems seen as parts of a poetic persona's self-analysis" (22), moves tangentially through overviews of Freudian psychoanalysis, Roethkean influences and characterizations of "a surrealism a la Lewis Carroll" (26).
In the conscientious detailing of the various parts of this long poem, one wonders why the author would emphasize that "the sequence as a whole does not give poetic expression to the fuller understanding that would have been the desired effect of analysis " (36) when the poem's urgency lies in delineating the materiality or fickle 'put-togetherness' of selfhood dramatized in the poem's concluding lines: "Ten fingers shape a bowl of shadows./My mendings itch. There is nothing to do./ I shall be good as new."
"Poem for a Birthday" seems, to this reader, to have more to do with the wasteland of industrial modernity ("A workman walks by carrying a pink torso./The storerooms are full of hearts./This is the city of spare parts.") than Lindberg-Seyersted's view of the poem as an embodiment of "classical Surrealist themes: opening doors to the unconscious and disclosing the hidden self" (36).
"Sylvia Plath's Psychic Landscapes" and "Dramatizations of 'Visionary Events' in Sylvia Plath's Poetry" engage two sides of a related question. On the one hand, "the way the poet creates 'psychic' landscapes out of concrete places" (41) speaks to Plath's increasingly "metaphorical" use of nature, while "Visionary Events", on the other hand, addresses moments of clairvoyance and the effort (and cost) of transcendence in her work. The Bee cycle poems are again dealt with in this essay as are some of the later poems in Ariel. Both essays demonstrate the extent and depth of Plath's unique brand of alienation, but again Plath's almost aggressively unredemptive vision, of the natural world in particular, seems to warrant greater attention.
"'Bad' Language Can Be Good: Slang and Other Expression of Extreme Informality", "Gender and Women's Literature: Thoughts on a Relationship Illustrated by the Cases of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath", and "Sylvia Plath and Her Biographers", speak to the particulars cited in the essay titles.
For students unfamiliar with Plath's contribution to 20th century American poetry this collection of essays will serve as a useful introduction to the poet's oeuvre that, 40 years after her unfortunate death, continues to haunt and challenge critics.
The University of LaVerne, Athens