Firstly, I would like to dedicate this blog post to my friend, and fellow survivor poet, John Hirst, who passed away recently.
John and I discussed this subject via Facebook, not so long ago.
Speaking as someone who has been deeply inspired by the works of Sylvia Plath, I don’t find it acceptable that people refer to Sylvia as a “suicide poet”.
For a start, many of the writers whose works we still enjoy, are no longer with us – and yet, how many of these are referred to by their causes of death?
You don’t hear them spoken of as “heart attack novelists” or “stroke poets”. Why, then, define Sylvia by her cause of death? It is often assumed that she wrote mainly or exclusively about mental illness, suicide and death, but that just goes to show that many are judging, without having read much, if any, of her actual work.
The most dangerous aspect, for me, is the glamorization, for want of a better term, of Sylvia’s suicide.
Anyone who has actually read her, heavily autobiographical, novel, “The Bell Jar” – and, yes, that does deal with the subject of mental health – will not come away with the impression that there is anything glamorous about mental illness.
And that ties in with my final point – that Sylvia was a writer, and not exclusively a poet.
“The Bell Jar” is a fine example of moving, and beautifully written, prose. I would imagine that Sylvia’s mental health was a factor in why she was not more prolific, and this is definitely something to which I can relate. She was so much more than a “suicide poet”.
If this was of interest, I would recommend reading another of my posts, in which I explore the subject of mental illness, and my approach to the issue, in my own fiction. Also, my piece about the challenges, as well as blessings, associated with being a writer, whilst struggling with both physical and mental health issues.