Alison's Reviews > Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath

Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill
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Dec 07, 2011

it was amazing
Read in December, 2011

Hemphill, Stephanie. Your Own, Sylvia. Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. 12-15 yrs.

Beginning in 1932, Stephanie Hemphill takes her reader on a journey through the life, and eventual suicide, of author and poet Sylvia Plath. Touted as a “verse portrait,” Hemphill’s work gives a fictional perspective of the main characters in Plath’s life through verse. Plath’s mother, neighbor, husband, boyfriends, brother, psychiatrist, students and teachers are all given a voice. Based on research, letters and other works by Plath and her entourage, Hemphill’s Your Own, Sylvia blends fiction with fact to create a believable and cohesive collection of poetry.
After each poem, Hemphill includes a footnote about the inspiration for that particular poem and also some background knowledge about the content. Many of the poems are also “in the style of” works written by Plath herself. Winter’s End, for example, is in the style of Edge, the final poem in Plath’s Ariel collection. Edge was written on February 5, 1963, and is a “chilling, exquisitely crafted work and perhaps the last poem Sylvia wrote,” Hemphill informs us in her footnote. By explaining the facts behind the poetry, Hemphill provides history and context without bogging down the facts or making the poetry too dense.
Lovers of poetry and beginners alike can find something worthwhile in Your Own, Sylvia. The poetry is not too complex, but also weaves a story and a history of what Plath endured during her lifetime. Children as young as twelve can understand the meaning behind Hemphill’s poetry and learn more about the life of Sylvia Plath that they might have known little of before. Sometimes troubling, but always honest, sharing the life of a depressed artist is difficult, but Hemphill does so in a way that the reader can admire Plath and her works. The central focus is not on Plath’s death, but rather the key events throughout her life, such as the death of her father and her divorce, that lead her to create her famous poetry. Plath’s The Bell Jar is a book that gets read a lot in the junior high and early high school years. Your Own, Sylvia would be a great companion to Plath’s other works or in any poetry, history or psychology class.
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