Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath

by Stephanie Hemphill

“Who are you, Sylvia Plath? . . . Something shimmers out of your chasm. / Your... read more

“Who are you, Sylvia Plath? . . . Something shimmers out of your chasm. / Your language feels like words / trapped under my tongue / that I can’t quite spit out on my own.” (from “Owning Sylvia Plath”) Stephanie Hemphill undertook a daunting task when she set out to explore the life of Sylvia Plath through poems, including those that reflect Plath’s own work stylistically and thematically. The result is an uncommon biography and remarkable achievement. Hemphill has succeeded in not only in revealing the depth of Plath’s talent but also the arc of her illness, one that saw Sylvia move between uncontainable energy and paralyzing despair. Hemphill’s finely crafted poems share perspectives on Sylvia from a host of people in her life: mother, brother, neighbors, teachers, doctors, friends, and others. She drew from many sources—published letters, biographies, interviews—to create accessible poems of extraordinary insight, providing readers with a keen, uncompromising portrait of Plath’s life and death. The beauty of Hemphill’s poems illuminates the brilliance of her subject even as she minces neither words nor facts. Notes accompanying many of the poems provide additional factual information, while black-and-white photographs, and a wonderful author’s note detailing her research and sources (which are listed) complete this astonishing work. Teen readers who already know of Plath will revel in Hemphill’s words, while others may discover Plath through them. Many will undoubtedly be inspired to read—or reread—Plath’s own words. (Age 15 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2008

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