Thursday, January 24, 2008

Your Own, Sylvia; A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath

Hemphill, Stephanie. 2007. YOUR OWN, SYLVIA; A VERSE PORTRAIT OF SYLVIA PLATH. Knopf. ISBN 9780375837999 [Suggested Grade Levels 8-12]

Stephanie Hemphill’s quasi-biography about the poet Sylvia Plath is told through poems and factual footnotes. Each poem is written as if it were from the perspective of someone who knew Plath and echoes the style and form of many of Plath’s own poetry. There is an incredible variety of styles and voices, yet they all fit together seamlessly to create a vivid story. The integration and citation of primary and secondary sources add to the strength of the book as a kind of biography. It provides a historical context that helps us understand the writer and her struggles with balancing the artistic and the mundane, career and relationships, and love and betrayal. It's a fantastic addition to YA literature and a distinctive contribution to the study of Sylvia Plath.

Invite older readers to peruse Plath’s original poetry and writing. They can learn more about her life and her work at the Academy of American Poets Web site ( Fans may want to listen to Plath read her own poetry aloud via “The Voice of the Poet” audio series featuring Sylvia Plath (produced by Books on Tape).

Teens can read some of the poems in a “readers theater” style with multiple readers presenting the different voices and points of view, with a slide show of images (found in the book and on the Web). There’s the film adaptation available, “Sylvia” starring Gwyneth Paltrow that older readers may enjoy as a basis for comparison.

Other poetic biographies:
Bernier-Grand, Carmen T. FRIDA: VIVA LA VIDA! LONG LIVE LIFE! ISBN 0761453369
Engle, Margarita. THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA. ISBN 0805077065
Nelson, Marilyn. CARVER. ISBN 1886910537

By Sylvia M. Vardell

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