Arlaina Tibensky Answers: Why Sylvia Now?

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky from FigmentArlaina Tibensky, whose new book And Then Things Fall Apart hits shelves TODAY, writes to Figment about the lasting relevance and profound influence of her favorite writer, Sylvia Plath.

When I was a sophomore at my catholic coed college prep high school my favorite things to do were furiously make out with my Goth boyfriend Nat and write the most disturbing lines of Sylvia Path poetry I could find on my tights with a Sharpie marker.

“The blood flood is the flood of love.”

“Devilish leopard!”

“The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.”

People wonder about her relevance and I must ask- have you read her recently?  She was angry, furious at men, her parents, society, suburbia, conformity, and school. The thing is, she looked normal, like she could be serving pancakes at a Boy Scout breakfast or picking up a rump roast at the market in her kitten heels and pearls.  But on the inside she’s all “I am nude as a chicken neck.  Does nobody love me?”  How amazing is that? She was consistently one thing on the outside and another thing entirely on the inside.

No other writer up to that point in my life spoke to me the way she did.  She connected me to myself and made me aware of feelings I didn’t know I had. Sylvia Plath was the first major writer I ever read that was in the cannon AND subversive. Her modern classic The Bell Jar, a coming of age novel about the pain of growing up, going mad, and getting sane plus her poetry in Ariel and Colossus rocked my world.  Before Sylvia I wasn’t fully alive.  After Sylvia I wanted to be a writer.

The very elegance of her prose made me feel like I could do it myself.  That I, Arlaina Tibensky, could write JUST LIKE Sylvia Plath if so inspired.  But of course I couldn’t- who could?  She was the most singular of talents.

The syntax in both her poetry and prose is punk rock.  The way she juxtaposes images and emotions rattles your brain before seducing you with its odd beauty.  Her work whispers truth to that raw emotional nerve that is most attuned to listening to such things when you are 13-18 years old.  At any age, reading about feelings from a writer who takes feeling seriously makes life (and high school) seem better somehow.  Or at least survive-able.

And that husband of hers was a grade-A non-organic jerk.  Knowing about the particular romantic cruelty of Ted Hughes makes you totally sympathize with her.  Who hasn’t been in love with the wrong guy or passionately loved a boy who didn’t love you back in the way you deserved?  ANY GIRL WHO EVER LIVED, that’s who.

And although it is a ridiculous thing to consider and do and taps into all the tired clichés of the Doomed Tortured Artist, don’t underestimate the powerful impact of her suicide on her appeal.  Honestly, it lends a sexy element of rock star pathos and celebrity that eludes even the most prizewinningest authors. Think of the morbid glamorous allure of Marilyn, Kurt, Dean.  Plath died when she was 30, people.  She is forever young. So there’s that too.

You never forget your first love and although Nat and I have moved on, I am still a little bit crazy about Sylvia Plath.  The pain and beauty inherent in “coming of age” is eternal whether it happens in 1955, 1985 or 2019.  The powerful work of a writer who helps you become yourself is never irrelevant.  Sylvia then, now, tomorrow- forever!

Arlaina Tibensky is the world’s oldest teenager.  She lives in NYC where she curates the Pen Parentis Literary Salon at the Libertine Library. Her debut YA novel And Then Things Fall Apart, about how Sylvia Plath and an old typewriter usher a reluctant virgin through the worst summer of her freaking life, is out July 26, 2011 with Simon & Schuster.  Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @ArlainaT.



4 thoughts on “Arlaina Tibensky Answers: Why Sylvia Now?

  1. It may be a little bit of a cliche for a teenage girl to identify with The Bell Jar so much, but it will never stop being relevent. “There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room”? That’s being 17, right there. And Sylvia’s poetry is amazing in so many different ways.

  2. You really said it. Sylvia Plath’s writing is like literary punk (is there a thing like that?). I’ll never get over the way The Bell Jar spoke to me. I love that book so much I could eat it.

  3. Okay. I get that she identified with Sylvia Plath. I think Plath is a goddess, too, but…

    Ted Hughes is a fantastic poet, and he wasn’t a jerk. He loved Sylvia – the movies got it all wrong. Go and read his poetry. She married him after all! His poetry isn’t as spooky as Lady Lazarus, but it’s just as lovely.

    Sylvia, while being a great muse, is also extremely dangerous. To be mentally ill, reading the poetry of a mentally ill person, is extremely dangerous. I just want to make that clear. Don’t go read the suicidal musings of Plath if you yourself are suicidal. It just doesn’t work like that. At least, it didn’t for me.

    And if you really love Sylvia Plath, then go read Stevie Smith. Sylvia Plath LOVED Stevie Smith’s poetry, and she is just as fierce as Plath, but with a sense of humor. Sylvia was just too serious sometimes! Stevie Smith is absolutely hilarious.

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