Ariel in Black (Smith)

I know only a few Plath poems and just a bit about her biography. I don’t really know Ariel at all. So I wasn’t sure how much I could ‘get’ from Smith’s re-imagining of it. Now that I’ve read Smith’s book, I am inspired to get myself a copy of Plath’s and then return to this again. And again.

Generally, I read poetry slowly, but there’s so much momentum in Smith’s writing that I regularly had to remind myself to pause and reflect. It was hard. There’s so much energy in these well-formed words.

Every once in a while, though, there was a moment that made me stop. Smith’s words demanded more attention than I was giving them. For example, from “Our Men” —

Is it any wonder / I am / following / behind / them / like / a /suicidal / moon /?

Even the question mark gets its own line. And the image of the suicidal moon – and Plath’s own end – will haunt me each time I look to the night sky.

From “Jezebel’s Requiem” –

“Your body /drags / history / after it / like a dark crime —

I have several favorites here. The title poem is tremendous, but I think “The Black Woman Activist OR The Sacrificial Yam” is the one I’d choose to anthologize. It is an excellent example of the momentum and sound of Smith’s words and ends so well:

I stand in a column / Of winged, unmiraculous women –

The juxtaposition of ‘winged’ with the invention of ‘unmiraculous’ is an outstanding way to end this poem dedicated to the founders of Black Lives Matter.

The poems in the final section, ones that are more explicitly (to me) about Plath and her relationships, feature an unrelenting, blunt and wistful tone. For example, Smith has Ted Hughes telling Plath: “I remained a good husband, Tending to the children, Trying to let you die.”

If you’re a Plath fan, you’ll love this. If you’re not, you’ll become one. If you haven’t discovered Smith’s work yet, you’ll be among her new fans.


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