Iconic poetry for all in times of lockdown

People in Hastings and St Leonards are doing all sorts of things to keep occupied… one of the strangest, perhaps, is Greg’s Pandemic Plathcast. Ben Bruges asked Greg Mulhern the creator of the Plathcast and self-confessed Plath admirer – what is his ‘Plathcast’ about? 

 Sylvia Plath

‘Why do I stay at my ink-stained desk / From the dim grey dawn to the dusk of day? / Why do I linger in the loneliness of this bleak place / When I could be bathing in moonlight, stardust / Or the spilling gold of the sun?’ (from Neither Moonlight Nor Starlight, Sylvia Plath at 16, unpublished). 

Greg Mulhern, a teacher at the local college, has long had a fascination for Sylvia Plath, the American poet who moved to England, married Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes and, famously, committed suicide at 30. Greg’s ‘Plathcast’ is a weekly email of poetry, texts and art work from and about Sylvia Plath intended for parents and their children and anyone else who may be interested, and which he plans to develop into a podcast. 

But isn’t Plath a bit depressing for these pandemic times? Greg pushes back at the implication of my question: “Obviously the way that Plath died is tragic and there’s no avoiding that. But at the same time, she was an incredible poet; for me the most visceral, prescient and powerful poet of the 20th century. I feel that looking at her work from the perspective of her death is quite reductive. Plath was an addict of experience. She loved life.” 

Greg quotes the poet and critic Al Avarez, whose study The Savage God did a lot to promote Plath’s reputation: “There’s more life and liveliness and appetite in Plath’s writing about death than there is in the collected works of Phillip Larkin writing about what a bitch it is to be alive.” 

Greg finds Sylvia Plath inspirational in many ways, and hopes that the enthusiasm might rub off on other people. But is she really suitable for children? 

Greg explains that a thread of the Plathcast is aimed specifically at children. He’s looking at why poetry is important, as well as at introducing Plath and her life, including her early works. Plath’s earliest surviving poem comes from when she was five, being incredibly prolific and productive from a very early age and a talented artist as well as writer and poet. “Her early poems explore mythological creatures, the natural world and her friends and family. All of which are relevant subjects for people today.” 

Greg’s enthusiasm is catching: “One of the things you can say declaratively about Plath is that she was never bored. Even as a little girl she was drawing, writing, painting: she documented her life meticulously and so hopefully that enthusiasm she had for existence might rub off on other people.” 

It’s shocking that Plath’s early poems – about 50% of her output – remain unpublished and languish in dusty archives. As Greg says, “Considering her stature and the power of her work, I think this is bizarre, and frustrating.” In his ‘Pandemic Plathcast’ Greg dips into those dusty archives so you don’t have to. 

At 16 Plath answers the question from above: ‘I write only because / There’s a voice within me / That will not be still.’

Send an email to [email protected] if you wish to join
in with the celebration of Plath’s life and work.

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