Channeling the Canon: An Interview with Sylvia Plath

The Bureau presents “Channeling the Canon,” a new series of interviews with past literary voices. In this inaugural installment, Jordan Barber chats up clinically depressed writer Sylvia Plath about life post-suicide, modern household odor eliminators, and new forms of poetic expression.

Sylvia Plath was best-known as a poet from the mid-20th century, although her novel The Bell Jar can be found on the bookshelves of feminists to this day. In spite of the depression that led to her suicide in 1963, Ms. Plath appears to be in higher spirits of late.

The Bygone Bureau: If you could sum up the shift in your lifestyle since putting your head in an oven in the 60s, what would you say?

Sylvia Plath: The differences… [pause]…are so small, so small. Except for cleaning—What a loathsome bore that was in the 50s. Scrub scrub scrub. But now there’s some assistance to relive the hellish tedium that dusting always bestowed upon me. I probably wouldn’t have ended my life in an oven if Febreze had been available.

That’s terrible. I hear Febreze is just water and scent in a bottle.

Irrelevant nonsense. Do you know their Scentstories?

What?

Scentstories. They’re plastic discs that circulate in a player, and then slowly release different scents that progress into some sort of story. The one that comes with the scent player is called “exploring a mountain trail.” I think it’s quite interesting, and I’ve considered how I could enhance my work using scents. For example, my poem “Daddy” would probably begin with the scent of black shoe leather, slowly progressing into the distinct odor of vomit. I would end with a dirt smell–a cold, grey dirt smell, perhaps with an intimation of rusted nail.

That would be appropriate, but probably not very popular. But it’s good you’re embracing new forms of expression beyond confessional poetry. I hear you’ve also taken to Youtube.

Chris Crocker.

To remind our audience, Chris Crocker is “That Britney Guy” famous for his teary Youtube defense of Britney Spear’s VMA performance.

He’s strange, and—I say this with immense intimacy—likely homosexual. Deeply mentally deranged.

Well, yes, homosexuality isn’t that big a deal now. And you yourself were classified as mentally disturbed once and a while.

That’s true, though I was always sane enough to write. I was quite taken by his painfully infantile blubbering; I could not help but be inspired to write another poem cursing the colossal idiocy of men. Here we are, it is entitled “Inadequacy.”

Black tendrils sloshing
Back, forth, back, forth,
The convulsion never stops
Amidst wails of gutted fury.
But the dying protestation lies
Graying on the floor,
Buried.
“Please,” the seaweed-haired
Creature cries, “Please.”
But the whore-moans blacken.
Pitiful embers.
Realization fires his eyes like the touch of Satan:
No one is listening.

And there we have it. Nothing quite destroys humanity like a poem from Sylvia.

It’s deserved.

Thanks for talking with us.

It’s a momentary pique from the otherwise vast grayness spanning out on all sides of my vision. So thanks.

Jordan Barber is proud that the internet allows him to criticize, admonish, and irritate people from his own living room. And though this immense power only comes to the few, he promises to wield his hammer of judgment with a standoffish, thoughtful outlook.