Sylvia Plath

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Which poet ranks as the most confessional of the confessional poets: Plath, Ginsberg, Bishop, or Lowell? Ginsberg: "Howl" and "A Supermarket in California" Plath: "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus" Bishop: "The Fish" and "The Moose" Lowell: "Skunk Hour" and "For the Union Dead"

Even though Sylvia Plath is often called a confessional poet, she actually only writes confessional poems about her father. She has many other poems that are not as confessional. Robert Lowell is the most confessional of the three poets because he writes more about his own life and experiences. Elizabeth Bishop is not a confessional poet because she writes poetry that doesn't focus on herself. Robert Lowell, "Skunk Hour," line 1: "I have never started a poem yet whose end / Was not my beginning." Sylvia Plath, "Lady Lazarus," lines 36-38: "I have done it again.

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Although Sylvia Plath (often along with Anne Sexton) is most inexorably tied with the Confessional movement of poetry, Robert Lowell, the creator of the style, is probably the most confessional of those you mention above. Confessional poets used the “I” and spoke of personal matters such as love and family....

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Lowell’s bookLife Studies, published in 1959, was perhaps the first example of this style. Sylvia Plath was his student, and was influenced by him early on.

One hallmark of Confessional poetry is the naming and discussing of things that had been previously left out of poems, and this is why Plath, so unafraid to speak of even the darkest topics, often carries the mantel of most famous Confessional poet. That said, her most noted poem, “Daddy,” while using an “I” and speaking to a family member, bears only a passing resemblance to her own lived experience with her father and, instead, uses existing, personal emotions and metaphor to create a heightened and personal-feeling space for the reader. She does the same in “Lady Lazarus.” Craft, including sound, language, and metaphor, were, as for most poets, very important tools to the Confessional poets.

Of the poets listed above, only Plath and Lowell are thought to be Confessional poets. Although Ginsburg often used his life and the “I” in his work, and although much of his work was more straightforwardly autobiographical than some Confessional poets, Ginsburg was part of Beat poetry movement of the 40s and 50s, which sought to challenge conventional modes of writing, and which often took on political themes as well as personal.

Elizabeth Bishop was part of neither poetry movement. While Robert Lowell was one of her closest friends, Bishop avoided writing personal poems and wrote more lyrical scenes that looked outward rather than in.

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Lowell (Sylvia Plath's teacher) is noted as the innovator of confessional poetry that has--for good or bad--had such a profound influence upon contemporary poetry. "Skunk Hour" is one of Lowell's confessional poems in which he reveals the "I" of personal feeling and experience within the context of the poem:

I hearmy ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,as if my hand were at its throat. . . .I myself am hell;nobody's here--

However, Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" is viewed by many critics to the best example of early confessional poetry, thus making Plath the most confessional of the confessional poets. In some ways, it may be taken as a metaphor though it was written to her father who died when she was age 8, even though in the poem she says, "I was ten when they buried you." Since his death occurred in 1940 while he was a professor at Harvard, Otto Plath was never a Nazi.Sylvia feels that his early death--which came through his choice for medical neglect--had such a profound psychological hold upon her (she felt that his death was tantamount to suicide since it may have been prevented with medical care) that it was like a Nazi grip upon a Jew, hence the German-Nazi-Jew metaphor and imagery.

Not God but a swastikaSo black no sky could squeak through.

Sylivia Plath's suicide four months after penning "Daddy" raises the question for some critics of the effect of confessional poetry upon poet as well as upon reader.

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Ginsberg, Howl Bishop, "The Fish" Lowell, “Skunk Hour” Plath, "Daddy" In what ways are different poets more or less confessional than others in this lesson? What characteristics allow us to say, for example, Plath is more personal than Bishop? I am trying to rank the poets I read from least to most confessional.

First, you need to ask yourself, what makes a poet confessional?

A lot of times, a poet will write in a voice specific to the poem, not necessarily about themselves. That doesn't mean that the poem can't be intensely personal and confessional, though.

Confessional poetry expresses private experiences or emotions, something that hadn't really been explored so extensively before the twentieth century.

Ginsberg's poem "Howl" is confessional in its topics. There is a lot of content in this poem and a lot of confession. The poem is raw and honest and talks about drugs, sex, and death in a straightforward and powerful way. It doesn't include the word "I" very much, except in the last section, which makes it feel less personal, though the themes are personal and private.

"The Fish" is also a poem with an unusual topic. In some ways the poem is gross, since it talks about the sea-lice, the blood, and the fish's imminent death. However, it's also a victorious poem, as the speaker realizes that they've caught the fish that four others have attempted to catch. I believe the confession in this poem comes with the fish's release and the ideas that this image presents about freedom as a temporary thing.

In "Skunk Hour," the speaker is in search of love and lamenting that he is alone. Nearby, he can see cars likely occupied by lovers, and yet he is alone with a family of skunks. It's a deeply personal poem of sadness and loneliness, emphasized by the image of skunks as company (something usually very undesirable).

"Daddy" by Plath is filled with confessions, though it's hard to tell which confessions are real. I consider it the most personal of these four poems, as it is written from daughter to father, which typically symbolizes a very intimate relationship. There's a larger story as well, and lots of allusions to World War II, but the heart of the poem is the intensity of emotions in this father-daughter relationship.

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