• Peter Nickowitz


Halfway through the twentieth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea that the poet is a poem became gospel. Here is an example. In 1998, with flurry and fanfare, the English poet Ted Hughes published a collection of poems called Birthday Letters. These poems marked the first time that Hughes spoke publicly about his long-fabled and mythologized marriage to the American poet Sylvia Plath. Plath married Hughes in 1956, but, at the time of her suicide seven years later, the two poets had separated; Hughes was living with another woman. When Plath died, she became a feminist symbol, a figure of a woman driven to despair by an uncaring husband. Hughes’s long silence on the subject of his life with Plath ended with the publication of Birthday Letters that was excitedly described as a response to, and literary dialogue with, Plath’s Ariel. Indeed, many of Hughes’s poems were written on the back of Plath’s manuscripts, giving rise to charges that Hughes was erasing and rewriting Plath.


Europe Posit Boris Hate 


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  1. 1.
    The publication of Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998, was also heralded by a series of articles in the popular press, including one on the front page of The New York Times entitled, “In Poetry, Ted Hughes Breaks His Silence on Sylvia Plath,” Sarah Lyall, January 19, 1998. See also A. Alvarez, “Your Story, My Story,” in The New Yorker. February 2, 1998. Katha Pollitt, “Peering Into the Bell Jar,” The New York Times Book Review. March 1, 1998.Google Scholar
  2. See also Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1994.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Boris Tomashevsky as quoted in Marjorie Perloff, The Poetic Art of Robert Lowell, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973, 80.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Thomas Yingling provides a model for how to decode implicit instances of homosexual desire in Hart Crane’s poetry. Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.Google Scholar
  5. See also Eve Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.Google Scholar

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© Peter Nickowitz 2006

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  • Peter Nickowitz

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