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Reading and Writing Plath: an Interview with Lauren Davis

by Writing Workshops Staff

5 months ago

Reading and Writing Plath: an Interview with Lauren Davis

by Writing Workshops Staff

5 months ago

At, we're thrilled to offer a captivating new 6-Week Poetry Workshop titled Reading and Writing Plath, led by the talented writer Lauren Davis. Lauren's course promises an immersive exploration into the life and literature of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sylvia Plath.

In this weekly workshop, writers will encounter Plath's work in new and interesting ways, from her early poems to the timeless masterpiece "Ariel." Each session delves into different facets of Plath's writing, culminating in a celebration of her enduring legacy. Davis's approach is not just about studying Plath's works but also about extracting inspiration from her profound insights into the human condition.

This class offers a unique blend of literary analysis and creative expression. Through close examination of Plath's prose and poetry, coupled with engaging discussions and constructive feedback sessions, students will hone their poetic skills and develop a deeper appreciation for Plath's work.

By the end of the workshop, participants will emerge with a portfolio of newly drafted poems, a better understanding of Plath's writing process, and a lasting reverence for her timeless artistry.

WW: Lauren, your new 6-week workshop, Reading and Writing Plath, offers a unique blend of reading and writing focused on Sylvia Plath's work. What inspired you to create a workshop centered specifically on Plath, and how do you believe her writing influences aspiring poets today? 

LD: Collectively, culturally, there has been an unshakable fascination and appreciation of Plath throughout the decades. And for good reason. Her writing shows us what poetry is capable of when we loosen up and allow greater emotional depth into our work.

WW: Incorporating the study of Sylvia Plath's journals and letters alongside her poetry and novel suggests a holistic approach to understanding her as both a person and a poet. How do you anticipate this comprehensive exploration will influence your students' approach to their own writing, especially in terms of authenticity and emotional depth?

LD: I think it's profoundly important that poets read a bit of everything, not just poetry. We learn as much from prose as prose writers can learn from poetry. My hope is that by looking at all of Plath's writing, students will gain a deeper appreciation of her use of language in all forms, as well as her (sometimes slippery) relationship to the factual truth versus the emotional truth.

WW: Sylvia Plath's writing is often discussed in the context of her biography. How do you plan to navigate the intersections between her life experiences and her literary output in your workshop, and why is this important for understanding her work?

LD: There's the rub. If you are taking a deep dive when studying a writer, of course you want to know the context of their lives. It helps us to understand their work, challenges, and approach better. But, with Plath, the scales often get tipped much too far in the direction of her biography, especially her suicide. My plan is to talk about emotional truth versus factual truth, which is an important conversation particularly in the context of the Confessional Poetry movement, which she was a part of. It's easy to take for granted how writers in this movement paved the way for much of what we read today.

WW: You’ve planned for the workshop to culminate in students producing eight newly drafted poems and four workshopped pieces. What is your approach to fostering creativity and encouraging students to find their voice through Plath’s influence?

LD: We'll look at Plath's thoughts and habits around writing, which some students may find helpful to adopt, adapt, or experiment with. We'll also spend some time exploring how to create a safe and constructive workshop environment. I don't take workshopping lightly. Anyone who has been in a bad one knows how much damage can be done, and though some people benefit more from different approaches (we're individuals, after all) there are some philosophies and methods I strongly believe in and always implement.

WW: Your own published work, such as When I Drowned and Home Beneath the Church, show a profound engagement with emotionally complex themes. How does your personal approach to writing about difficult subjects inform the way you'll guide students in exploring Plath’s often intense and challenging material?

LD: Thank you. One point I try to drive home is that the speaker of the poem is not the poet. It's so easy to conflate the "I" of the poem as the writer. When we do this, we do a disservice to the poet and the poem. Much of my poetry is confessional, but facts have sometimes been changed. The emotional truth has not.

WW: In the workshop, students will also read essays about Plath and poetry inspired by her. How do you believe these secondary texts complement the direct engagement with Plath's own writing, and what unique insights do they offer into her legacy?

LD: My goal is that students will see the world of possibility that is available when we open ourselves up to the legacy and direct influence of other writers. It's important to me that students know that we always, always have something to write about, and we always have someone to learn from. We only have to pick up a book.

WW: Feedback and constructive criticism are pivotal in any writing workshop. What is your philosophy on providing feedback that is both supportive and critical, especially when dealing with the deeply personal and often vulnerable act of poetry writing?

LD: Nothing shared in the workshop leaves the workshop, and we treat the "I" of the poem (if there is one) as fictional, not autobiographical. Feedback is balanced. We learn just as much, if not more, from what is strong in our drafts. Additionally, when we give feedback, we offer it as opinion, never fact.

WW: Sylvia Plath has been a polarizing figure in literature, celebrated for her lyrical prowess and critiqued for the intense emotional landscapes she navigates. How do you plan to address the complexities of Plath's reception in the literary world with your students, and what lessons do you hope they take from it in terms of handling critique and public perception of their own work?

LD: One of her most celebrated poems "Daddy" is, in actuality, considered quite problematic. We'll have an open conversation about why. And we'll also look at how this controversy can inform our own approach as we move forward. These are vital conversations. We all have blind spots and insensitivities. We're human. But we have to acknowledge this and take responsible action to ensure we don't hurt others with our writing.

WW: Your forthcoming micro-chapbook, Sivvy, features erasure poems from Sylvia Plath's letters. Could you share how this project influenced your decision to create a workshop focused on Plath, and what insights from working on Sivvy you hope to bring into the classroom?

LD: I learned so much from working closely with Plath's letters. Her word choice and sentence structure are much different than in her poetry, which meant I was able to study a different side of her work that otherwise I may have read more casually. I've taught this workshop in years past, before Sivvy was even conceived. Now I can look back and have greater appreciation for what it means to learn from intense work with a master's text. There really is no substitute.

Write with Lauren:

Learn more about Reading and Writing Plath and sing up now! Join Lauren Davis on this transformative journey into the heart of Sylvia Plath's literary legacy.

Instructor Lauren Davis is author of the forthcoming short story collection When I Drowned (YesYes Books), the poetry collection Home Beneath the Church (Fernwood Press), the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize short-listed When I Drowned (Kelsay Books), and the chapbooks Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press) and The Missing Ones (Winter Texts). She is also the author of the forthcoming micro-chapbook Sivvy (Whittle Micro-Press), which is a collection of erasure poems of Sylvia Plath’s letters. She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars.

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