No matter how casual a relationship you’ve had with 20th-century American poetry, you’ve heard the name Sylvia Plath. Maybe you’ve already dared to experience her dark but compelling literary world, or maybe you just know a few of the basic elements of her life and career: her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, her famously harrowing poetry collection Ariel, her stormy marriage to British poet laureate Ted Hughes, her death by her own hand at the age of thirty. But what better day than today, the 83rd anniversary of Plath’s birth, to get better acquainted with her work?
And what better way than to hear that work read in Plath’s own voice? Sure, you could just pick up one of the many yellowed mass-market paperback copies of Ariel you see on bookshelves all across America and plunge in, but you might first consider turning to our archives, which contain a 2013 post in which we featured Plath reading fifteen poems that would appear in the Ariel collection that, published two years after her death (“left sitting on the kitchen table to be found along with her body,” noted Josh Jones), would raise her poetic reputation to new heights. You can hear the first part of these readings, recorded in 1962, at the top of this post, and the rest at this original post.
We might feel lucky that, in her short life, she left even those performances for posterity, but there’s more: last year, we featured Sylvia Plath reading her poetry, the 1977 record released by pioneering pre-audiobook label Caedmon which contains 23 poems Plath committed to tape as early as 1959. Find all of the readings here.
If these two audio collections give you a taste for the poet biographer Carl Rollyson called “the Marilyn Monroe of modern literature,” have a listen to Credo Records’ album Sylvia Plath, which offers some material you’ll have heard alongside some you won’t have. Having listened to all this, you’ll hardly associate the adjective “celebratory” with Plath’s work — but that doesn’t mean that, on what would have been her 83rd birthday, poetry-lovers can’t celebrate it.
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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.