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Write the Body Bloody: Violence, Gender & Identity in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath & Ai

Poems that hang themselves on the rope of acts, apparitions and assertions of violence, voiced by a fierce ‘I’, are primary modes in the work of both Sylvia Plath and Ai. Their violent ‘I’s burst the boundaries of acceptable poetic expression in moments of crisis, trauma and uncertainty, giving voice to the unspeakable. Yet critical analysis has made a habit of dividing these poets’ violent use of the first person, placing Plath firmly in the category of (naked) autobiographical confession and Ai in the tradition of (masked) dramatic monologue. This thesis highlights the links between the modes in which Plath and Ai inhabit the poetic ‘I’, exploring how they each use scenes of violence to perform and interrogate issues of gender and identity, expose the nexus of tenderness and cruelty and obscure the roles of villain and victim. It argues that neither the category of confessional poetry or dramatic monologue can cage these poets’ seizure of the ‘I’ or explain their emphasis on self as theatre and character as concert. It examines the ways in which selected poems from each writer’s work do violence to the gender and identity limits implicit in both labels. The creative section which follows this legacy of ‘unacceptable’ women’s writing continues to agitate against the gender limits imposed upon women. It does not flinch from conflict and unpicks the body to discover what identity really means. It embodies the ghosts that haunt my writing self, demanding they be given a voice. My poetry is a breathing fusion of my personal and my dramatic selves. Like the poetry of Plath and Ai, my own creative work refuses to be caged.
Type of thesis
Elliott, R. (2014). Write the Body Bloody: Violence, Gender & Identity in the Poetry of Sylvia Plath & Ai (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8980
University of Waikato
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