With a “nothing but the poem” approach – excluding most authorial context and external criticisms from the discussion – the Scottish Poetry Library’s latest subject was the work of Sylvia Plath. While Plath is a poet whose distressing life story is hard to completely ignore when discussing her work, the discussion was mostly focussed on her words, not her personal fight with depression.
Upon arrival to the 90 minute discussion, refreshments were provided and light conversation commenced which created a relaxed and social atmosphere amongst the group. A few biscuits later and the group were encouraged to begin the discussion. In an attempt to each take turns to read the poems aloud to the group; this made the experience more interactive and revealed some subtle differences in each person’s interpretation of the text at hand, be that in the pronunciation or inflection of their reading.
A broad range of themes were addressed in the discussion and each person felt free to express which one was the most significant to them. It was a space in which all opinions were welcome, whether they were well-developed and backed up with peculiar knowledge or not.
In this lovely, sociable environment the discussion turned to the ‘Black Rook in the Rainy Weather’, ‘Blackberrying’ and the famous bee poems ‘The Bee Meeting’, ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’ and ‘Stings’. The group, between them, provided knowledge about birds and their connotations, the growth of blackberry bushes and, interestingly, beekeeping itself. Of course, this exact same group knowledge base may not be useful for following discussions but it demonstrates the calibre of discussions that can be provided by the Scottish Poetry Library’s monthly meetings.
As with most literary discussions, each person’s interpretation was different. As each individual came from a different background of life experience and education, there were different levels of interpretation and different angles taken. Some identified great metaphors within her work while others recognised Plath’s almost hidden rhyming scheme, such as in Black Rook in the Rainy Weather in which each line in each stanza rhymes with its counterpart in the rest of the stanzas.
There was an obvious passion for her work and the topics she touches in her work among the group. Indeed, the aforementioned “nothing but the poem” approach in an all-inclusive method triumphed in not pushing away those who are less familiar with Plath’s or any other poet’s work. I, for one, have only looked at her work in Literature classes: as much as I appreciated her work then, I had not considered exploring it outside the classroom. However, despite my initial lack of passion, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Their next topic: Haikus.
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