My Ariel by Sina Queyras

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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.

Adèle Bar­clay

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