Saturday, October 04, 2008

Brooding, Tortured Madmen

A review in yesterday's Times of a new collection of Ted Hughes' letters made me think about men and poetry.

Hughes, of course, was enmeshed in a passionate and difficult marriage with Sylvia Plath, and spent the last 35 years of his life shadowed by it. When I read Plath's memoir-ish The Bell Jar in my teens, I noted that the men in it helped provoke the protagonist's own madness and despair.

But at the time, I was far more interested in her experiences as a "guest editor" at Mademoiselle, gone now but then my favorite magazine, and her later success as a poet. I saw those men more as accessories, Kens to her suicide-prone Barbie. I didn't even consider their interior lives, thinking of poetry as something you grow out of, as my dad apparently had after writing and publishing lengthy poems to my mom during their college years. After that, life turned prosaic, as he focused on supporting a wife and three little girls.

In the early 1960s, I think many men went through that, admiring the Beat poets like Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, but trapped on the work-to-live beat. In its first episode this season, Mad Men captured that tension perfectly, as Don Draper read from Frank O'Hara's "Meditations in an Emergency."

And that's all the brooding, tortured men we have time for today. Though I'd invite you to consider the resemblance between these two:

(Ted Hughes, 1971.)

(Don Draper, 1962.)

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