[I wrote this a couple of days ago:]
This powerful poetry is a heart offering by way of Ms. Cruz’s ancestor-sisters Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. In “Kingdom of Dirt” she seduces the reader like this:
Meet me in the love-
Where the beautiful doomed
Meet at last.
This book is her charred orchard.
And, as the reviewer points out, Cruz’s book does seem to be operating under the influence of Sylvia Plath. I just read Danielle’s discussion of Plath and feminism in The Volta, where she quotes Susan R. Van Dyne:
Few critics have liked the tone of “Daddy.” Commenting nearly a decade apart, Irving Howe calls it “monstrous” and “utterly disproportionate,” and Helen Vendler finds it adolescent and unforgiving. Even a sympathetic ear like Margaret Dickie’s hears it as “hysterical.” […] other critics have been embarrassed, as Vendler is, that a woman of thirty reverts to baby-talk in her fury at parental injuries. The critical disapproval of Plath’s tone, it seems to me, indicates doubts both that the speaker’s excesses are altogether appropriate to the occasion and that Plath is entirely in control of her tone […] I grant the tone that critics have heard in “Daddy” is indeed present, but I believe its excesses are part of Plath’s conscious strategy of adopting the voice of a child, of creating a persona who is out of control […] The child persona dramatizes a woman writer’s powerlessness; it mirrors the cultural allegation that woman is child, and it gives form to her experience of being treated like one.
As readers of this blog know, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry from the 60s/70s recently, and criticism of this poetry. Like the “Neo-Surrealists” of whatever they were, Plath is often described as “stunted” (this word appears frequently) – as if there’s an inability to grow up, to transcend her troubles, to give us a pay-off, an epiphany, a failure to make poetry edifying.
A little anecdote: I remember meeting with a professor of contemporary poetry a few months ago at an Occupy Chicago event. A very smart, engaging guy. We started talking about the Rita Dove anthology of modern American poetry, and we both objected to certain startling omissions, such as Allen Ginsberg (Did she really leave him out? That still blows my mind!). But then I said, “Yeah, and she left out Plath.” To which the professor of contemporary American poetry said: “Oh I took her off our Comps list as well because she was more of a mass culture phenomena to begin with and she hasn’t influenced anybody. George Oppen is more important; we have all his books on the list.”
Huh? That’s strange, I explained, because I see her as an incredibly pervasive influence among the poets I’m most interested in – obviously the “gurlesque” vein in American poetry (Chelsea Minnis, Cathy Wagner or Danielle Pafunda for example) but also in other countries (such as Sweden, South Korea etc) – often via radical readings of her work (through surrealism, film, the gothic etc), as opposed to the old “defense,” that she was really a masterful craft-woman (ie “in control”). Iowa Writers Workshop prof Mark Levine’s first book, Debt, has a huge “debt” to Sylvia Plath (he’s even got two “morning songs”). But this professor of contemporary poetry had never heard of any of these poets.
Plath is not “important,” she’s a dead species with no descendants, no future. She has no lineage and is therefore not important. Stunted. Just a degenerate beauty queen, to quote Lana Del Ray.
I think it’s not just in “avant-garde studies” that Plath is marginalized. Very seldom do you see Plath viewed as an important figure of a lineage. She’s a scandal, a one-off, a controversial case. Rather than producing offspring, she produces “glut” – ie “imitators” and bad women poets and tasteless teenage girls. In many ways the problem is that she is too “popular” and that her poems eliminate the kind of critical distance that is seen as a hallmark of tasteful and/or moral aesthetics, an aesthetic that allows us to remain in control, to properly judge it, to remain un-destroyed by the art.
And like my post about Sarah Kane yesterday, we can’t make easy distinctions between Plath’s life, death, iconicity and artwork. Her blacks crackle and drag.