Saturday, April 6, 2019

2019 Post #23 -- They Have Some Confessions to Make: Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" as a Mentor Poem

by Oona Marie Abrams

After my AP Literature students do the “heavy lifting” of examining Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” with critical theory in mind, I ask them to try their hand at writing confessional poems. A low-risk way of trying this is asking students to write a confessional poem from the point of view of a literary character. I model the process by showing students a confessional poem of my own based on a recent novel I’ve read. Students genuinely enjoy writing confessional poems, engaging in voice-filled analysis and taking new compositional risks. Take a look at these three student poems, posted with permission.

Barbara to Violet (August: Osage County by Tracy Letts)
By Lily B.

It’s not like you’ve ever loved me.
Stop; I won’t believe you when you say that it’s not so.
I won’t believe you with those pills in your mouth.
You are my mother,
But I wouldn’t know it.
I would never guess it,
Except I grew up under your reign.
I would not believe you are a mother to Ivy or Karen,
Except for the undeniable DNA you share.
You’re not my mother; you’re an addict.
Barely a sister, a friend, a wife.
Years with my father eased by the comfort of those pills.
Osage County burns as hot as hell in the presence of the modern devil—
I thought I had made it out alive.

You can not show love,
Even if you feel it somewhere deep in your sour soul.
I wish to drown my own daughter with affection,
But I’m afraid I don’t know how.
You never taught me.

You made me like this,
So I’ll leave like this.

Honey (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee)
By Kaley S.

You Think you control me
You Think you don’t love me
You Think I don't know

the way you look into her eyes,
her big green eyes.
Then you look at me…
ashamed when I dance,
or drink, or speak
of my “pregnancy.”
and how I Love You,
but you not me.
I knew it was wrong…
I never said I didn't.
But, Nick,
I Love You 
with my whole, plain heart
and I needed you to see,
I needed you to stay with me.

I Love You Nick.
Always have, Always will.
I Love You. I Love You.

Biff to Willy (Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller)
By Vincent L.

I do not carry the genes of success,
But I wish that I did.
Lost as I am,
My devotion for you has not diminished.

What happened to me?
I remember when you encouraged me
with your passionate voice
About my bright future
And how I
Believed in the severity of your words,
As if they were inscripted in the bible.

I cannot once again sink away
In the lies of your making.
I resist.

My words, though earnest,
Turn to poison as they enter your ears.
Even as I try to fulfill your fantasy,
I realize plainly
that I could never live.

You made me this way, 
A dime in a dozen,
Same as you.

Lily’s poem is an astute distillation of Letts’ play, in which she summarizes the plot and offers a clear characterization of the protagonist. Beyond this, she interprets the play’s ending and articulates her understanding of the playwright’s intent. Kaley tries her hand at using capitalization to identify theme development in Albee’s text, but the capitalization also reveals her character analyses of both Honey and Nick. Vincent uses consonance, assonance, and intentional line breaks to illustrate Biff’s paradoxical sentiments of resentment of his father and longing for validation. I was also intrigued by his deliberate breaking up of the cliché, “a dime a dozen” to show Biff’s perception that he is always falling short.

I like to think of confessional poems as “twofers,” in that students can practice the skills they themselves need to analyze in poetry, and see how poetic conventions emerge on their own (I didn’t “assign” consonance, assonance, capitalization or any other intentional strategy). Upon completion of their point-of-view confessional poems, they’re more likely to try their hand at writing poems from their own perspectives, confessional or otherwise. And that makes this writing teacher very happy.

Further Reading:

Oona Marie Abrams (@oonziela) is one of the co-organizers of NerdCampNJ. She lives and teaches in northern New Jersey.

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