Jun 26, 2011

Sylvia Plath's "Mirror," Conrad Hilberry's "Tongue," Six-Shooters, Walking Naked

'Mirror' by Sylvia Plath

I'm offering Sylvia Plath's "Mirror" again because of a recent visitor comment about the poem at my June 4 post. Mr. Somewords says: "'I have looked at it so long / I think it is a part of my heart.'  This line, coming from the mirror itself, is one of my favorite lines of Plath, ever. The mirror confuses a wall with its heart. I love the idea of a mirror worrying about losing its own essence because of what it has reflected for so long.”

No argument here, Mr. Somewords. To offer one’s Self as a confusion (conflation?) of mirror, heart and wall—that takes guts, and it would probably be a worthy insight coming from any of us. 

I wonder if William Logan and Sharon Olds have found any walls within their hearts.

Wall.  Mirror?
Stones in water = wall or mirror?

Adolescent narcissism and self-pity are probably two of the risks Sylvia Plath takes repeatedly, and she’s been heartily criticized for it  (or was all of that criticism after death?).  But I challenge those who smugly condescend toward Plath from their imagined heights as scholars or reviewers.  How about we all reveal what we see in ourselves in our most honest, most naked moments.  Reveal it, force-feed it to ourselves—then share it with a reading public.
Climbing up a wall

Might that lead to world peace?   Some say toting six-guns is a way to keep the peace; some Texan even proclaimed, “An armed society is a polite society.”  Well, I 'spect. Maybe.

Or could it be that all we have to do is walk naked, in every sense of the word, everywhere we go?  Instead of muttering or chirping some meaningless “hey” to everyone, like Yeats’ “polite, meaningless nods” . . . we confess our most recent taboo thought or obsession. 

Would that lead to less violence? Or more? Might it lead to a mass scramble for cover, both literally and figuratively?

There may be a more polite, though brutal version of all that in Conrad Hilberry’s poem, “Tongue”:

   Conrad Hilberry - Tongue       

(my apologies for white on black—it’s the only version I could find—why do it that way?)

And here is Conrad Hilberry reading the poem:   Dr. Hilberry Reads Poem

 The poem involves behavior rather than thought, but I see it as the boy’s being caught unaware, fully exposed, as if he'd confessed to three counties all his puerile dumbness—which looks remarkably similar to adult dumbness. Hilberry’s youngster is King Lear’s “man more sinned against than sinning."

Embarrassment often overrides pain when we’re caught in our most moronic, vulnerable moments, as we all are from time to time. Don’t you think?  I’d love to invite examples, but for now I’m not offering any of my own.
Organic twisting

Thanks, Mr. “Somewords,” for starting this train of thought, which I think has some value. Although I too partake aplenty, I’m sick and damned tired of all our asinine pride and posturing, much of which has a frantic quality, because we’re trying to sprint away from self-awareness instead of swallowing whole the blood of our dumbness, like Hilberry’s kid, who has no choice.

Organic Thrust


Anonymous said...

Remember Lowell's "91 Revere Street," his watershed story that his often described as the first of "confessional" poems? He has a great scene where he betrays a girl in elementary school. I guess this is like the nakedness of Plath; however, you can argue that both writers still create narrative distance (smoke and mirrors) and not just twittering their lunch menus.

I don't have problems with these guys because I don't believe their narrators are writing autobiography. Maybe this issue is that they are using first person and creeping everybody out. It reminds me of the Larry David cringe factor. The relief is that he is shaping a story, too, by confusing people about what is real and full of complaint, or fictitious and insightful?

Kitty said...

thanks Banjo. I enjoyed reading the poem. In my naive eyes, I really like the last two lines, especially 'in me, she drowned a young girl'.

I read a biography about Plath a while ago but it only included a few of her poems. I didn't bother to read her work on my own, since I was more interested in her life story. I was intrigued by what literally 'happened'. I came away with the feeling that one can never know what really happened, or what each person thought or felt.

Banjo52 said...

Some and Kitty, I agree. I've mentioned here at other times, that I think the traditional distinction between author and speaker is essential. It's unusual for visitors here to agree with that.

We just cannot KNOW what's fact or fiction, so we must concern ourselves with the poem or story, not its creator. And of course from that position it's a short, easy step to embracing The New Criticism, at least a soft version of it.

Somewords, I don't know/remember the Lowell. I'll check it out. Except for the closing of "Skunk Hour," he and I have never really connected--I don't know why. Can you suggest other titles?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Prof. Banjomyn, this is a question for the professor in you: since there is 'pastoral poetry', etc., is there a category for reflective poetry? It can't really be autobiographical, can it? Is there a 'narcissism' category?

I haven't had any luck finding "91 Revere St" to read. Off to the library poetry section soon, on the hunt. And "Tongue" - didn't we see that in the movie "The Christmas Story"? Visually painful even in poetry.

I recall reading "The Bell Jar" in high school. I recall a table of girls gathering at lunch, discussing if they would follow Plath's path to death. It seemed a glorious way to die, without looking in the mirror first.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, I think I've heard the label, meditative lyric. And there were the "conversational poems" of Coleridge (AND Wordsworth?), including C's "Frost at Midnight," I think. Can anyone else help on this? And of course, we can google . . . . I reflect; therefore, I google.

Dickens' Christmas Story? I just don't recall--haven't seen it (read it? an outrageous thought) in many years.

Re: Bell Jar, you hung out with MUCH more intellectual kids than I did! Also psychologically more complex or even darker kids? Us guys was purty simple.

But it's chilling to think of teen girls in that conversation. I hope no one took up Plath on the idea? I heard recently that "they" think Plath's final attempt, her third, was also bogus--that she expected the milkman or some such to knock any second, but he was late or she had the day wrong or something.

I have a counselor friend who says CALMLY to young (or all?) clients who bring up suicide, "Tell me, Susie, how long do you think you'll be dead?"

I think that's pretty damned shrewd, and I like it a lot. I think it's one more way of saying, "Go back and look in the mirror one more time--and look a little harder this time."

Brenda's Arizona said...

Sorry, the title is "A Chrismas Story" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Story
by Jean Shepherd. Catch it next Christmas holiday when the movie marathon starts. It is great, including the tongue stuck to the flagpole...

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"Tell me, Susie, how long do you think you'll be dead?"

I think I like that line best.

Banjo52 said...

PA, good! I'm only an armchair psychologist, but the first time the friend mentioned it, I thought it was profound, esp. for young people with a more limited sense of something beyond Today. Shamefully, I don't recall whether Friend made it up herself or was taught to use it.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, I suppose somebody borrowed from somebody. I hate giving in to that, but it happens.

I've softened some on the definition of plagiarism, as I've come to accept the fact that we get so much of our knowledge from other sources without realizing it, much less attributing. It's a sticky wicket indeed.

Just how much of what any one of us knows . . . came from a primary source? Once we factor language into it, the answer might be Very Little. I've experienced the cardinal's red and his music as a primary source. But once I say the word, "cardinal," am I not into secondary sources? Haven't I borrowed that word? Of course, everyone, including me, will reply that "cardinal" is general knowledge and needs no footnote. But where does the line get drawn between primary source and general knowledge on the one hand and borrowing from secondary sources on the other?

What writer or artist is completely original, a wild child Nell from the wilderness? Bukowski? Cummings? Frank O'Hara? Pollock? Picasso? Rothko?

If we dig a little, I bet we'll find shaping influences on all of them in those who came before.

Brenda, I don't think all that was even your main point. But isn't it interesting? (correct answer is yes).

bandit said...

'Instead of muttering or chirping some meaningless “hey” to everyone, like Yeats’ “polite, meaningless nods” . . . we confess our most recent taboo thought or obsession.'

Now that's food for thought . . .

Anonymous said...

So anyone who is not sold on Plath is smugly condescending? That's rather a blanket statement.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Banjomyn, here is my answer, per your advice. YES.

AH, interesting comment on feeling condescending. Talk about looking in a mirror!

Love the "How long will you be dead" statement. Stopped me in my tracks, and I wasn't even thinking of my own death!

Banjo52 said...

Bandit, good. (I guess?). I started to quip, "Can't have too much food." But maybe we can?

AH, What I said was, "Adolescent narcissism and self-pity are probably two of the risks Sylvia Plath takes repeatedly, and she’s been heartily criticized for it (or was all of that criticism after her death?). But I challenge those who smugly condescend toward Plath from their imagined heights as scholars or reviewers."

Brenda, re: the "How long" thing-- I feel stupid for not having thought of it myself. It really jolted me the first time I heard it.

Anonymous said...

Well, thank god. Let me put my comic book down (oh wait, one more page...). You're saying I'm off the hook because I'm not a scholar or reviewer.

Banjo52 said...

I'm saying Plath takes certain risks that other poets don't, but it's easy for readers to take her too lightly because of that--and of course her lurid biography. Was I really that unclear? My apologies.

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