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When you hear the word "poetry," do you think about depressed folks sitting around in black turtlenecks, writing about their horrible and depressing lives? If you answered "yes," then you may very well have Sylvia Plath to thank for this stereotype. Plath was one of the leading "confessional" poets, a group of writers who drew from their personal suffering in their writing.
Sadly, Plath had plenty to draw from. Her father died when she was only eight, and her marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes was no bed of roses, either. She poured all of this darkness into her poetry, but it's not just doom and gloom for the sake of being mopey (or as an excuse to rock black turtlenecks). Plath's poetry is filled with wild imagery and delicious language. "Mushrooms" (1960) is just one yummy example.
First published in The Colossus and Other Poems, the poem (and the book in general) was received well, and most critics agreed that Plath was a poet to watch out for. The most popular interpretation of the poem is that it's a feminist rallying cry, showing the struggles of women to assert themselves in a male-dominated society. Some have even theorized that it's inspired in some part by the way Plath felt overshadowed by male poets like her husband. In 1982, nineteen years after Plath's death in 1963, Hughes published his wife's Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. "Mushrooms," along with the many other poems in the collection, is still seen as one of most haunting and beautiful pieces in the history of American poetry.
Maybe you're not a housewife living in the '50s. Okay, we're almost completely positive you aren't, unless you turned your washing machine into a time machine or something. Even if you aren't one of these stereotypically disempowered ladies that many say "Mushrooms" speaks for, we're pretty sure you can get into this poem.
Everybody feels oppressed and unappreciated sometimes, right? Maybe, you feel isolated because of your ethnicity or social class. Or maybe you feel like the kids at school don't include you like you'd want. Or it could be that you're super-popular with everything going for you, but you feel like nobody appreciates or notices the real you.
Whatever your particular situation is, Sylvia Plath's "Mushrooms" works as one big pep rally—albeit kind of a moody one. This poem declares that those who are shunted to the side and unappreciated are on the rise. The people in charge might not notice now, but one day everybody will appreciate just how much these "mushrooms" are worth.
This site has lots of great snippets from top critics on The Colossus.
Plath on Poets.org
Find her biography and links to her poems on the Academy of American Poets' website.
"A Celebration, this is"
This site, made and maintained by Plath scholar Peter K. Steinberg, has lots of information on Plath's life and work, as well as numerous photos.
Plath on Modern American Poetry
The University of Illinois provides commentary on a variety of Plath's poetry, as well as biographical information, photos, and an interview.
Plath, the Documentary
Learn all about Sylvia in this flick.
Tribute on Piano
Here's a very… interesting interpretation of the poem.
"Mushrooms" Out Loud
Hear one reader's interpretation.
Listen to the poet herself read this poem.
Plath and Hughes
Here's a 1956 photo of Plath and her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes.
Check out a portrait Plath painted of herself in the early 1950s.
Here's a classic portrait of the poet.
"You Could Say She Had a Calling for Death"
This is a New York Times article about Plath's life and Pulitzer Prize-winning Collected Poems.
The Collected Poems
Behold: Plath's poems, in chronological order. This collection won Plath the Pulitzer Prize.
The Unabridged Journals
Plath wrote in journals from the age of twelve until her death at age 30. The Unabridged Journals offer all of Plath's uncensored journal entries for the first time.
The Colossus and Other Poems
Check out the collection where the poem was originally published.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia Plath to Daniel Craig's Ted Hughes in this recent movie.