Writing Women and Confessions – by Jade Najjar Group B

plath's grave


Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell have between them tested the limits and possibilities of the kind of contemporary poem’.[1]

In his essay, Plath’s and Lowell’s last words, Steven Gould Axelrod explores both Plath’s and Lowell’s refusal to conform.  Axelrod argues that their combined controversial poetry can be deemed both ‘confessional’ yet extremist’.[2] In order to effectively demonstrate how both Plath and Lowell test the limits and possibilities of contemporary poetry, Axelrod draws comparisons between Plath’s poem, Words and Lowell’s poem Skunk Hour which he claims are in ‘genius parallel’.[3] According to Axelrod, Confessional poetry is the ‘autobiography of a crisis’.[4] Crisis are two dimensional, on one hand it can be a psychological crisis yet on the other it can be a social crisis however, in the case of confessional poems Words and Skunk hour , both ‘have been written in the depths of a suicidal crisis. Artistically, they show both Plath and Lowell at their most extreme, their most confessional’.[5] The intimate detail, exchanged through confessional poetry, between reader and poet blurs the lines between public and personal modes of expression.  Confessional poets ‘internalize the moral and political disturbances of our time, and undergo them personally’. [6]This is evident in Plath’s confessional poem Lady Lazarus. Every year Plath escapes her own death. For Plath ‘Dying is [considered to be] an art’ form.[7] She herself is a victim; Plath identifies herself with Jews because she feels that she is also being persecuted by society. Her life has become nothing, but a performance. She is an attraction. The confessional poet ‘assumes that psychological and historical experience, the individual and the general, are related, and even at some deep level synonymous’. [8]


[1] Steven Gould Axelrod, ‘Plath and Lowell’s Last words’, Pacific coast philosophy, 11 (1976), pp. 5-14, p. 5.

[2] Ibid.,p.5

[3] Ibid., p.5

[4] Ibid.,

[5] Ibid.,

[6] Ibid., p.6

[7] Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazurus.

[8] Steven Gould Alexrod, p.6.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Lilly on January 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    I find the term ‘confessional’ poetry quite interesting in the specificity of its implications. To confess, religiously, is to unburden oneself of one’s sins – it implies catharsis, repentance, heavenly afterlife. In his article Axelrod even seems to attribute an almost religiously cathartic power to confessional poetry, asserting that as an ‘intelligible confession’, Lowell’s Skunk Hour proved not a ‘deathrope’ but a ‘lifeline’. Conversely, the ‘failure of the Confessional mode’ exhibited by Plath’s “Words” is associated closely with her following suicide. I find it difficult to comprehend the difference between ‘successful’ and ‘failed’ confessional poetry – surely it can’t lie in the difference between choosing to end one’s life or not. Personally, I can’t believe that Plath’s final surrender to the ‘failure’ of her art and life is less of a confession than Lowell’s poem.


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