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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea. . .but does it work ?, 7 May 2009
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This review is from: The Plath Cabinet (Paperback)
The Plath Cabinet

Catherine Bowman's THE PLATH CABINET is a book I came to with a great deal of curiosity. Much has been written about Plath's poetry and even more about her life-the two are entwined,obviously-but I don't think anyone else has approached Plath through her OBJECTS. This is what Bowman seeks to do in these poems inspired by her visits to the Lilly Library at Indiana University where a lot of Plath memorabilia is kept.

What objects does Bowman respond to ? Sylvia's dolls, handmade in childhood ; Sylvia's passport ; locks of Sylvia's hair which her mother Aurelia had kept in envelopes and which she donated to the Lilly after her daughter's death. I happen to think locks of hair kept as mementos are a bit creepy, something Bowman tunes into in her hair poem. But I fail to see why a passport, Sylvia Plath's or anyone else's, can be that compelling. Perhaps if I were to hold these things in my hands I would feel differently but here's the rub : I can't. Bowman is a professor at Indiana University so she can, but most of her readers are excluded from this knowledge.

The poems most successful here are the ones which are make use of Sylvia's own words : "Sylvia's Mouths", for example, which opens the collection. Her voice is of course a strong one, whether in her poems or in her journals (also kept at the Lilly), and it tends to render Bowman's voice blander than it would otherwise be. In other words, I feel what we need to know is what we already do know, either from the COLLECTED POEMS (edited by Ted Hughes) or from the complete Journals (edited by Karen Kukil.)

I don't doubt Bowman's fascination with Plath's objects. Objects can be fascinating. And I don't doubt that holding them, smelling them, BEING with them for an afternoon or a day could be an interesting if somewhat surreal experience. But these poems feel too vague, somehow, to do that experience justice. I think part of the problem is we probably already know quite enough about Plath and to want anything else is just nosy, or downright prurient. The Lilly also owns the invoice for the gas cooker SP used to kill herself with-what next, the actual cooker ?
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