It was 54 years ago today that Sylvia Plath took her life. I know no poetry more haunting, visceral, raw, and surreal than the restored edition of Ariel, much of it written in the weeks before her death.
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
A former female fiction professor of mine once said to our class: “When I was young and wanted to be a writer, I soon realized many of the most famous female writers had killed themselves: Woolf, Plath, Sexton. I got the message.”
A male poetry professor of mine had said when he was a boy, he’d build a blanket fort with his friends and then they’d read poems like Lady Lazarus by flashlight, as if they were scary stories.
When I was first getting the idea for The Great Chaining of Being, I knew there’d be a Plath-like character. A tortured female artist who’d been held down way too long by a male-dominated avant-garde. Whose work had been withheld from being published, like Emily Dickinson’s was.
—Master of the em-dash—
Who’d had to deal with sexist, jealous, and domineering fellow male writers and artists as had the women associated with the Bouzingo, the Surrealists, and the Beats.
“Outside the avant-garde community, George Sand was one of the most notorious avant-gardists of the mid-19th Century, and within it was one of the most divisive. Her cross-dressing, her unabashed sexuality, her ambiguous relationship with nascent Feminism, and her outspoken socialist propaganda novels made her a catalyst for the exploration of gender and its malleability within the Romanticist avant-garde, analogous in many ways to that of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in the Dada community.” From: Resurrecting the Bouzingo
In my novel, reincarnation is a physical phenomena of the multiverse scientifically proven by the transhumanist future. So my three main bohemian characters have lived many lives in many times. Their names change somewhat but usually follow a similar pattern. Mathilda Lund from 1950s New York is Mathilde Esmond from 1830s Paris is Maxine Lancaster from 1960s San Francisco.
The following poem was written by Mathilde Esmond in 1830s Paris. I cut it from the novel and have replaced it with a full chapter detailing her life among the Bouzingo.
Is this his?
A man creates his art because he is small,
we all well know the littleness of kings.
He creates it for his meaning
which he think is his
for he thinks he owns all things.
The hilltop in the sun is his.
The castle in the clouds is his.
The paint that paints, the ink that writes,
the woman who dances—all belong to him.
But then what is this—
this voice that rises from the dirt
at the bottom of all things, glaring
at Jacob climbing his ladder
his eyes wanton for the lord,
the image Narcissus craved
and Achilles killed.
that has been raped
burned at the stake
taken for a cow
and sent to the slaughtering house.
This voice from a vase
in a comfortable home
bent over the oven
wherein she cooks lost children
when suddenly she remembers
the fate of Hypatia.
What is this voice
that owns itself?
It could not be an artist,
for only the privileged sex
has the power by nature, and instinct
to live out an adventure in poverty.
For who really wants to be a leader:
not the bouzingo.
No, it is enough to rule half the world.
Though she is as bitter and enraged as Plath was in Ariel, this will not always be the case. Not to give too much of the story away, let’s just say 1960s San Francisco suits her much better than 1830s Paris.