Friday, July 17, 2009

"Poetry is a type of literature, retard."

From the Aug. 2009 issue of Harper's: A reference to a Sylvia Plath poem causes all hell to break loose on a parenting message board.


From anonymous comments posted in June on the message board of, a website for parents. The term “dc” is shorthand for “darling child.”

Just read a wonderful poem by Sylvia Plath and wanted to share here. It is about a mother’s wishes for her son. “I do not will him to be exceptional./It is the exception that interests the devil./It is the exception that climbs the sorrowful hill/Or sits in the desert and hurts his mother’s heart./I will him to be common,/To love me as I love him,/And to marry what he wants and where he will.” (From “Three Women,” 1962)

Sounds like she was trying to come to terms with putting her son in general ed over gifted and talented.

We all know what happened to Sylvia later. Word to the wise, ladies—

Did you know that her son killed himself a few months ago, forty-six years after she killed herself?

So clearly her twisted view on being average as some sort of protection was internalized by her son as a negative view of himself and of life.

What? Clearly her son suffered from the same mental illness that his mother did, as it is hereditary. Nothing to do with this poem or being “average.” And in case you are not aware, many writers, brilliant ones like Plath especially, suffer from mental illness. I think this is what she is hoping to protect him from—the illness that often accompanies genius.

Can’t take anything seriously from a woman who writes about suicide and freaking kills herself. Sorry.

Do you feel the same way about Van Gogh’s paintings or the works of other mentally unbalanced geniuses?

I can appreciate the man’s art but I’m certainly not going to model my life, or how I raise my dc, based on anything he produced.

Yet you begrudge Sylvia Plath her sentiment regarding her son, and you seem to be bristling, taking it as some form of a parenting commandment.

She certainly didn’t think about him when she slit her wrists, now did she?

No, but she thought about him when she wrote the poem, and I believe, in the moment, she meant it.

Seems like she meant she wanted an average kid because it would be easier for her. I read the poem as quite selfish, to be honest with you.

It’s pretty well known that she stuck her head in an oven. After taping the doorway to seal herself (and the gas) off from her sleeping children. Unlike Ted Hughes’s second wife, who took their child with her when she also stuck her head in an oven.

You are kind of sick to care about so much detail and reiterate it.

If you study poetry (as I did), this stuff is widely known and discussed. I agree the details are sad, but knowing about them is just part of knowing the minimum about Plath and her work.

For me, there’s a difference between art/paintings and poetry. I can appreciate a painting for what it is. Poetry, I think, is more personal, and it makes a bigger difference to me what the person intended and who the author was.

Don’t be sorry. You’re the one who’s missing out.

How in the world is she “missing out”? If she reads what’s written and it doesn’t touch her or she gives it less credibility, that is her call. Just because you are into something doesn’t mean others who don’t share your sentiment are “missing out.”

She’s missing out because she’s rejecting out of hand the work of one of our generation’s great poets because of some preconceived idea she has (and is stubbornly clinging to) about what she should take seriously in literature. That’s reductive and limiting.

Wow. You are pretty freaking judgmental. You are also mistaken. For example, a Claude Debussy toilet may not be art to one person yet another may love it. That’s what makes it art, bitch.

Do you know Debussy’s medium? It is pretty obvious that you are, indeed, not an art lover.

Plath sucks and so do you.

Why can’t you admit you are an idiot?

Do Plath and I suck because we went to college?

Are you kidding? Do you mean Marcel Duchamp? You are an idiot. Debussy was a composer. You just proved that poster’s point beyond a doubt.

What a pompous shitbag you are.

Disliking Plath’s poetry is one thing. Disliking it because she committed suicide is another, and I think that is why everyone seems so taken aback. Most people don’t judge artists’ work this way. If all of the work by womanizers, liars, and opiate-addicts disappeared, there would be very little great art in the world.

Love it. And I’m not sure why we should discount it because it was written by someone who struggled unsuccessfully with depression.

I discount it because I discount it. I am not happy saying that what I want for my children is for them to love me and do whatever makes them happy. I read everything. It doesn’t mean I take advice from poems all the time.

Who said anything about taking advice from poems? You said you discount the poem because you do not agree with it. Most people do not assign literature a value based on whether or not they “agree” with the thoughts expressed by the narrator.

This is not literature. This is poetry. I might be able to enjoy literature if some of the characters have ideals I don’t agree with. But I don’t know why I’d enjoy poems whose theme I fundamentally disagree with.

Poetry is a type of literature, retard. It is so sad that there are people like you out there. You are smart enough to turn on your computer and type words, but you can’t bring yourself to learn even a teensy bit about the world of letters. Why not enroll in an intro Western-lit class? Or pick up a book. One that’s not a best-seller. Even a high school lit textbook, say.

You know what? I think you are obnoxious and I think the point I made above is still valid. But I have to say that you are correct that poetry is a type of literature, so I stand corrected on that.

The writer is wishing for her son to be equal only in her love for him, which is perhaps the one truly simple thing she knows, simple as in without conflict. It makes me think of times when I am with my son and I want to just eternally freeze that moment of mutual devotion.

1 comment:

NM said...

Thanks for typing this all in! I was just reading it in Harper's and cracking up. Now I can show my friends.