Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sylvia Plath and Nicholas Hughes: Mother and Son

When I heard the sad news yesterday about the suicide of Nicholas Hughes, the 47-year-old son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, I found it difficult to connect the man that had become a successful ecologist—who specialized for more than two decades in studies of salmon behavior and their patterns of feeding or who held a position as professor of fisheries and ocean sciences at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks—with the images of him depicted as the infant son in the Plath volumes on one of my bookshelves. Like many others, until now my familiarity with Nicholas Hughes existed solely from information in Plath’s poetry and her journals.

Frequently, my students and I discuss the ways poets might still moments in their works and preserve timeless images, mostly for beneficial results. Additionally, we often discuss the ethics and consequences of writing about family members or friends, usually engaging in conversations that constantly raise issues never fully resolved, especially when the individuals about whom they are writing might be identifiable in the poetry. Even when the work does not contain material obviously painful or embarrassing, the effects on those who are subjects of the poetry sometimes remain unpredictable.

In the unique case of someone like Nicholas Hughes, whose parents’ poetry and personal relationships have been legendary in the ongoing chronicles of contemporary literature, such a situation must have been extremely challenging. The intimate circumstances surrounding Sylvia Plath’s own 1963 suicide—including the proximity of her small children in an adjoining room and the history of her husband’s blatant infidelities, as well as the eventual suicide of his mistress, who also took her child’s life—have caused continuing conversation and debate now for nearly half a century. Indeed, the life and death of Sylvia Plath were portrayed in a Hollywood film starring Gwyneth Paltrow in 2003.

Nevertheless, upon learning of Nicholas Hughes’s death, I chose to return to those books on my shelves written by Sylvia Plath, hoping to find a moment when she and Nicholas were just mother and son—a time when Sylvia, Ted, and their newborn son provided a degree of joy for one another. In her journal from 1962, Plath describes the birth of Nicholas:

“Here he is!” I heard Ted say. It was over. I felt the great weight gone in a minute. I felt thin, like air, as if I would float away, and perfectly awake. I lifted my head and looked up. “Did he tear me to bits?” I felt I must be ripped and bloody from all that power breaking out of me. “Not a scratch,” said Nurse D. I couldn’t believe it. I lifted my head and saw my first son, Nicholas Farrar Hughes, blue and glistening on the bed a foot from me, in a pool of wet, with a cross, black frown and oddly low, angry brow, looking up at me, frown-wrinkles between his eyes and his blue scrotum and penis large and blue, as if carved on a totem. Ted was pulling back the wet sheets and Nurse D. mopping up the great amounts of water that had come with him.

Then the nurse wrapped the baby up and put him in my arms. Doctor Webb arrived. It had happened at 5 minutes to midnight. The clock struck 12. The baby squirmed and cried, warm in the crook of my arm . . ..

Plath continues in her journal to narrate frankly a hesitancy in her immediate responses to the infant’s presence. “We had a son. I felt no surge of love. I wasn’t sure I liked him. His head bothered me, the low brow.” However, after her doctor explains the baby’s odd-shaped brow as a temporary state caused by the birth process, and she seems relieved, Plath writes: “Everything was beautiful and neat and calm. The baby washed and dressed in his carrycot, so silent I had Ted get up and make sure he was breathing. The nurse said goodnight. It felt like Christmas Eve, full of rightness & promise.”

Writing on the following morning, Plath declares she feels “wonderful,” and she describes admiring her new son: “I felt very proud of Nicholas, and fond. It had taken a night to be sure I liked him—his head shaped up beautifully—the skull plates had overlapped to get him through the boney door, and filled out, a handsome male head with a black brain-shelf. Dark, black-blue eyes, a furze of hair like a crewcut.”

Perhaps the poem, “Nick and the Candlestick,” which appeared in Sylvia Plath’s posthumous collection, Ariel and Other Poems, supplies a better-known piece by Plath concerning the birth of her son. Eileen M. Aird suggests in Sylvia Plath: The Critical Heritage, edited by Linda W. Wagner, that the poem “encompasses the painful world of the creative imagination and the potential dangers of the man-made world but is able to move beyond both in the affirmation of the mother’s love for the child.” She observes the poem’s structure, “where each image, almost each word of the first half, finds its echo in the second half and the joy of the ending does not evade the pain of the first half—baby and mother have not escaped from the subterranean cave, only hung it with soft roses; and the mercuric atoms still drip into the terrible well.”

The poem is read with passion in the video above and briefly commented upon by Seph Rodney, who chose “Nick and the Candlestick” in the Favorite Poem Project begun by Robert Pinsky as Poet Laureate of the United States in 1999.


I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb
Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish—
Christ! They are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses.
With soft rugs—

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.

—Sylvia Plath

Readers are invited to examine previous posts at “One Poet’s Notes” and in Valparaiso Poetry Review concerning Sylvia Plath: “An Elegant Epigraph: Sylvia Plath on the Act of Writing,” “Jennifer Yaros: ‘Nature and the Self: Dickinson, Bishop, Plath, and Oliver,’” and “Sylvia Plath: ‘New Year on Dartmoor.’”


Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing my attention to this sad event. You know it was mothering Sunday on 23rd March.

John Guzlowski said...

What a sad story. I feel so sorry for that family.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rus. Well written piece, and I enjoyed the poem... I haven't read that one. Sometimes I do believe suicidal ideations are genetic. Sadly, he chose to act on it. Sigh...

Lori Williams

Maggie May said...

A good read on a hard subject. I posted about this too. It's a terrible legacy she left.

Anonymous said...

This is probably my favorite poem by Plath. Strangely, the lines were going through my head one morning as I was driving to work(I'm pregnant and the dark/light aspects of the poem resonate powerfully). I learned later that afternoon of Nicholas Hughes's death, and felt devastated.

This was a gorgeous reading of the poem -- hearing it this way made me feel good about it again.