Friday, June 20, 2014

Sylvia Plath and Her Bees

   I've been catching up on reading poetry for the last few months. Birthday, Christmas, and a few personal splurges brought good books to my shelves.  Shopping at my favorite used-book store in the Palm Beach County area, Book Exchange, landed me a copy of Collected Poems: Sylvia Plath.  Edited by Ted Hughes, the collection spans the years 1956 to 1963, including a selection of Plath's early poems.
     I confess here, I was compelled to read poems found in this volume because several focused on beekeeping. For those of you who follow Flying Pages, you know I am a back-garden beekeeper and fascinated by honeybees. Her poems resonated with me.
     Sylvia's father, Otto Plath, had been an authority on bumble bees. His book, Bumblebees and Their Ways, (1934) is still highly regarded today. As a boy in Gerany, he had been nicknamed Beinen-Konig (king of the bees) and when he emigrated to the United States, he became a professor of entomology at Boston University. Eventually, Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, took up the avocation.
     The County Dublin Beekeeper's Association offers an account of Plath's immersion into beekeeping. Mary Montaut writes on this site: "For beekeepers . . . the poems are a treasure trove. They are full of fresh, unexpected imagery about the familiar things we take too much for granted in our craft."
     This, as written by Karen Ford while affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Plath wrote the five Bee poems, which she initially titled "Bees" and conceived of as a sequence, in less than a week in October 1962 as her marriage was breaking up. They are unified by their subject matter, bees and beekeeping, and by their five-line stanza pattern, though each poem works its own unique variation of the general theme and form. They reveal a concern with self-assessment and redefinition, both personally and poetically, and proceed by scrutinizing relationships between the speaker and her world. The sequence moves from community, in "The Bee Meeting," to solitude, in "Wintering," as the speaker settles her relations with others and with her own former selves. This trajectory from an external preoccupation with others to an inward concern for the self has formal reverberations. Plath’s characteristic stylistic excess eases during the course of the sequence as the speaker retreats from the pressures of the external world, especially the world of gender conflicts, to the inner rhythms of her own exigencies. As the influence of the exterior world diminishes, the stylistic agitation seems to abate as well.
     Other Plath poems in this collection offer projections, irony, fate, and several are "Confessional" in tone as was found in America poetry of the '50s and '60s.
     What is your familiarity on the poetry of Sylvia Plath? Have you read her Bee poems?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cowboy Poetry

     "Here," my writing-group compadre, Don, said as he pushed across the table a small book of cowboy poetry. "I thought you might really enjoy this."
     Settled in for the evening that night, I read the front and back blurbs. I read the Introduction, then let the little book fall open to my first cowboy poem. Before the lamp was cut, I'd read a baker's dozen. Two nights later, I had finished Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering.
     I found most poems to be matter-of-fact, some more honest than others, while a few carried a celebratory tone. Some were grateful. None were woe or pity confessionals.
     Hal Cannon, editor of the collected works, commented in his Introduction:
The poems collected here are both old and new, but they all express an honest spirit which is lean and hard; and their form––the printed words, their rhythm and rhyme as transliterated from the oral––is broken, like a fresh horse, into a manageable gait.
     Cannon continued:
At the heart of cowboy poetry is the memorized performance of traditional poems . . . [and] are based in an oral tradition of performance in both the old and new West. Each poem in this book was written to reflect a real voice, and meant to be heard aloud.
While folk poetry and formal poetry are often judged by different standards, they share the same essential literary aim; the poet is always in search of the best language, the most perfect language, for his subject matter and for his personal poetic intent.
     For the last three summers, we have spent vacation in some of the Western states. The last two, we river-rafted the Colorado. The cumulative time spent there brought me up close and personal to that nature-hewn landscape and the people who carved out a living on it––and still do. Reading the collection of these poems refreshed memories and my appreciation of this.
      I grew up with television and Hollywood images of cowboys and their lifestyles. I knew the good guys; I knew the bad guys. Cooks were often drunk, cattle bellowed. And who knew the cowboy? Who knew what took him on his life's journey? Were cowboys hooligans? Toothless civil cast-asides? Were they misfits? Cowboy poetry will dispel all these stereotypes. Cowboy poetry reveals the real thing. No fluff. Generalizations are blown away. These were/are men from ranching families who took pride in their life's job. It continues in some measure to today.
     After a satisfying read spread over a few days, I Googled various cowboy poetry sites. I discovered many. Where have I been all these poem-reading years, I asked myself. What a plethora of wonder and delight awaited me. I provide two links below, plus a brief video. I encourage you to expand your horizons as I did, and enjoy.
 Western and Cowboy Poetry                     Western Folklife