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Library Book Club

Library Book Club : Foundation Events

Friday, Aug 23, 12:30PM–1:30PM

Poetry Foundation
61 West Superior Street

All experience levels are welcome to a monthly book group moderated by library staff. In 2013, the library will ask individuals from varied backgrounds to select a title that has been meaningful to them. Space is limited to 15 participants. Please register in advance by emailing library@poetryfoundation.org.

August’s curator, Tom Junod, selected Ted HughesBirthday Letters for the following reasons:

“A book of poetry that has had a lot of meaning to me—or has at least been an object of fascination—is the book I'm finishing now, Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters. Of course, these are the poems that Hughes wrote after the suicide of his wife Sylvia Plath and published just before his death; they are also the poems he wrote and addressed to her. Now, I'd been interested in the saga of Hughes and Plath since reading about their marriage in Janet Malcolm's Silent Woman, but these poems would still be alive to me even if they didn't satisfy my voyeuristic impulses. For one thing, they are an excavation of an entire short marriage, and so they have immediate narrative appeal; for another, they are the breaking of a silence, and have some of the obsessive force of a man called before a judge to give an account of himself; and, for another, they have to contend with so many ghosts that they're not just "haunting" but rather, literally, haunted. Plath, in the poems, has to contend with her dead father, who becomes a kind of greedy suitor, eager for his daughter to join him in the grave; Hughes has to contend with his dead wife; and the poems themselves have to deal with Plath's Ariel, and its terrible shadow. Birthday Letters is not near the book Ariel is, because Hughes isn't the poet Plath was, at least in her final agonized apotheosis. Indeed, Birthday Letters is a book of "confessional poetry" without the confession. Hughes does not rise above himself, as either as a poet or as a husband, but that's what gives the book its muddled power and its sense of doomed conviction.”

Tom Junod is a writer for Esquire and the recipient of two National Magazine Awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors.


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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