Sunday, May 15, 2011

Keeping Up with the Hugheses

This past Saturday's library visit yielded a treasure trove of new (to me) info that updated me on the latest from the Hughes (and Plath) clan.

Well, now a Clan of One -- just Frieda's left. And apparently there's a lot of animosity (derived from sadness) toward her stepmother Carol, whom Ted married in 1970 (and who apparently, aside from stealing Frieda's share of his money, also made her do an awful lot of pot-scouring whenever the girl was "allowed" to be at home!). Which I discovered in Frieda Hughes's 2003 poetry collection "Waxworks" and her 2006 "45." The latter was an interesting concept: a poem written about every year of her life up 'til that point. (Supposed to be accompanied by 45 paintings appearing on her website, but when I went there, I didn't see the "45"-related paintings.)

While I read these books first and foremost for biographical insight into her parents (and the aftermath of her father's death), I also appreciated the poems. Frieda's not a genius, like her parents were, but she is original and a very GOOD poet. And the concept of "Waxworks" was interesting, too: historical and literary figures ranging from Medusa to Rumpelstiltskin to Vlad the Impaler speaking their pieces. I think I would have enjoyed this venture more purely for its own literary, rather than biographical, merits had I not just read elsewhere that many of the figures were expressing the author's own anger at her stepmother Carol.

Since Frieda Hughes's 1998 poetry debut "Wooroloo," I hadn't kept up with anything about her career. Maybe not completely convinced that she was serious about her writing, I suppose. And maybe still living only in "Ted-n-Sylvia Land," thinking "OK, thanks, Child Of, for letting us know what their first-born's been doing..." The books showed me that she was/is, indeed, serious. And they also reinforced a sense of tragedy that I didn't necessarily want to think still existed in the line: All three of her poetry books I've mentioned here were dedicated to her husband, the painter Laszlo Lukacs. Whom she divorced last year. Her years as a child and young woman didn't seem too happy, so I had been happy for her that her third marriage seemed to have been a stable one... Nope. The 2010 divorce coming after the 2009 suicide of her brother Nicholas. (Like learning from Linda Gray Sexton's new book about her own recent suicide attempts, it just drilled the truth-nail home: Life just keeps on comin' at ya. There are no happy endings. Life, interminably, goes on with its hurts. Until it doesn't.) Ted Hughes's 1998 "Birthday Letters" didn't neatly tie up the Plath/Hughes saga.

Speaking of the man himself, I also Saturday checked out his 1300-some-odd-page 2003 "Collected Poems." I'd already over the years bought most of his individual books anyway so didn't think I needed to even look at the Collected, but... One thing I'd heard about over the years was an extremely limited printing called "Capriccio" about Assia Wevill that he'd released in 1990. All 20 poems from that book were in "Collected"! Plus numerous uncollected poems; I was especially interested in those published immediately before and after "Birthday Letters." Including the goose-bump-raising "The Offers," about his visitations from Sylvia Plath three times after her death. Reading this reminded me that no one writes like him. The complete meshing of the physical and metaphysical. And when he's writing about the metaphysical -- like the ghost of his first wife that he first spots on a north-bound train -- he ain't fooling around with "Symbols of Grief." I fully believe that he saw, all three times, what he saw.

And I also got the nearly-800-page 2007 "Letters of Ted Hughes." Stayed up 'til 7am Sunday morning with them and just got 'til 1970. Another 400 pages to go. I started out skimming, again focusing, pruriently, mainly on the letters to Plath (during their brief separation before she revealed her marriage to her supervisors at Cambridge) and then the letters to Assia in the late '60s... But ended up going back and making myself start from the beginning. He's just a person with an original viewpoint of things around him. Even as a teenager, his letters are fresh and interesting to read.

When I lugged my bag-full o' books home Saturday, I started reading at 7pm and couldn't stop 'til 7am! Ending with Hughes in Vol. III of "The Paris Review Interviews":

"...Every poem that works is like a metaphor of the whole mind writing, the solution of all the oppositions and imbalances going on at that time. When the mind finds the balance of all those things and projects it, that's a poem. It's a kind of hologram of the mental condition at that moment, which then immediately changes and moves on to some other sort of balance and rearrangement. What counts is that it be a symbol of that momentary wholeness."

And then:

"...The great Sufi master Ibn el-Arabi described the essential method of spiritual advancement as an inner conversation with the personalities that seem to exist beyond what you regard as your own limits...getting those personalities to tell you what you did not know, or what you could not easily conceive of within your habitual limits. This is commonplace in some therapies, of course."

Of course! :) Myself, having had only maybe 6 weeks of therapy in my 45 years, have, since age 12 or so, always turned to literary and other artistic seers for knowledge and explanation. And when I've done so, after weeding out the wheat from the chaff, I've hardly ever been disappointed. Ted Hughes has been, for a long time, one of my seers. (The other seers: Plath. Sexton. Rilke. John Lennon. And, yes, Joan Crawford -- as I've said before, one of maybe two or three actors who have ever given me goosebumps because of what otherworldly truths they're channeling and making available to the general public via their own special receptivity.)


Anonymous said...

Sylvia Plath is possibly my favorite poet... male or female. This post of yours reminded me of a poem I'd written that was published in an E-zine some time ago. I've just posted it on my site. I'm doubly sure your New York attitude won't be offended by my words or my dream. By the way, I LOVED your comment on my site! Your critique of the little 'School-girls'that you so unabashedly referred to was classic! What are the chances that you'd email me? I'd love to correspond with you. It would be fun don't you think?

My best

Beth Austin said...

No, not at all offended by your Sylvia poem (see my comments on your site), but it's just that I didn't feel anything of SP's psyche there! Her take on camping: See "The 59th Bear," in which her husband is mauled. No ass-flashing at all! :)

Oh, sorry also 'bout the "schoolgirls" comment. "Blogging While Blotto" is a bad habit of mine. I need to learn to be more, oh, what's the word... contemplative or something? :) Still, though, where in the world did you find a gang o' girls to gush over your every poetic utterance?? :)

Anonymous said...

It's funny you would mention SP's psyche as that was the farthest thing in my mind when writing this. Remember, this poem was a dream I had the night I finished up the unabridged journals of SP. Who knows why the mind thinks the way it does? Maybe I had too many bourbons while reading, at any rate perhaps I too should be more contemplative and more concerned with what others think of my poetry instead of what I feel like writing... on second thought, nope, then I wouldn't sleep at nights and have these cool dreams because I would think myself an 'ass kissing loser' and that doesn't lend itself to healthy self esteem :) I love the word "Gush" by the way in your comment! Haven't heard that in awhile. I'm glad you're sarcastic and seem to have my sense of humor and "Call em like you see em".
My best to you, really.

Beth Austin said...

"gush" reminds me -- you know how there's a "pride" of lions, a "murder" of crows, a "gaggle" of geese, etc... I think along the same lines it should be a "gush" of girls!

Oh, and speaking of dreams/Plath/etc.: I can't remember ever having any dreams with my idols Plath and Sexton, but I did have one important one with Ted Hughes -- I was in a grad writing program and hating its phoniness and emphasis on theory; I dreamt that I was sitting across a wooden table from Hughes and handing him a sheaf of my poems, which he then said he liked! I immediately wrote the man a letter and enclosed some poems, and told him about my dream... He wrote me back! And said -- in real life -- that he liked my poems!! :)

Anonymous said...

No Way! That is something to treasure.

Beth Austin said...

Well, yeah, I've also literally got it treasured: I framed his card to me -- and it's from "Court Green" -- THEIR address!