My Ariel by Sina Queyras
My Ariel by Sina Queyras, Coach House Books, 88 pages, $19.95
My internal monologue while reading Sina Queyras’s My Ariel progressed from “How could she do this?!” to “Why don’t we do this?!”—and my capacity to share this reaction with you now proves Queyras’s own interrogatory impulse. My Ariel is an autobiography of Queyras’s relationship with Sylvia Plath’s lauded Ariel. First published in the U.K. in 1965 and then published in the U.S. (with a slightly different arrangement of poems) in 1966, Ariel is a striking poetry collection cloaked in the cloudy auras fans and critics project onto it.
I wasn’t skeptical upon approaching My Ariel —I was scared. How do you plumb Plath and survive? As a Plath scholar, I’ve always retreated into formalism, pointing to the poet’s linguistic majesty. But even this seemingly neutral attitude is a tactic to validate Plath and my own tastes before the eyes of academia. In contrast, Queyras executes the full range of emotional, critical tactics upon re-writing Plath. She transposes Plath’s poetry—often deploying exact titles of infamous poems, such as “Morning Song,” “Daddy,” and “The Applicant,” as well as riffing on them: “I Am No Lady, Lazarus”—while engaging with literary history, biography, criticism, letters, institutions, gossip, tropes, and her own personal and literary experiences.
Channelling Plath opens up Queyras’s vocal chords and her language expands sonically: “What a lark to be this loose / And loud with life.” But more patently, Queyras’s vision swells as she absorbs Plath—“I just want a poem as memorable as the dance sequence in Singing in the Rain.” My favourite sojourn in this collection, however, is the long poem “Years”; the poet plants dynamite in each stanza. As Queryas queries her own life and career as a queer woman writer, “Years” becomes a web that ensnares family trauma and looming figures such as Sappho, Anne Carson,
Virginia Woolf, and Elizabeth Bishop. The long poem argues that literary and living interactions are direly interdependent:
Anne Sexton, thinking enviously of your exit Might exclaim, who knows, had you remained In Boston, Sylvia, we might have become Good friends.
“Years,” like the rest of My Ariel, isn’t so much a erudite tome of references, but a breathing organism that inhales and ejects molecules as it moves through a rutted and shifting environment. Queyras processes how poetry trespasses neat lines between the private and public, fiction and non-fiction. And so Queyras’s My Ariel enacts a living archive.