220px-Sylvia_plathThe first Sylvia Plath poem I ever read was Mirror, and I read it out loud in English class my senior year of high school, sometime during those long days between winter and spring. I don't think I ever stopped reading it. I was dying to get out of high school then. I'd long since quit being captain of the cheerleading team; the vice principal had called me and my sister into his office to make sure we weren't heading down a wrong path -- since obviously quitting something as important as cheerleading is a blazing red flag, a sign that we were about to go out big, burning everything in our path -- and everyone was annoying me, with their fake nostalgia for childhood. Like they weren't desperate to escape our tiny town, too; like they weren't equally terrified the way I was.

So I found Plath, thanks to a teacher who passed away last year. She's the same teacher who introduced me to the New Yorker. She was a gem, that lady.

The year of Plath is also the year I became close with a friend who, despite our drifts, despite the bad turns our friendship occasionally took, is still someone I think of often. She, like Plath, marked me in concrete ways. The two are oddly intertwined in my mind; today, the day of Plath's suicide, is my old friend's birthday. It's like some kind of fate.

I think of Plath as a rite of passage; a book of collected poems, a bell jar, handed down between generations of college women. Maybe my friend is, too -- someone you love even though you've both done wrong, even though you communicate by text only once a year or so. They're both treasures in their own way.

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Connections to machines

In San Francisco for work this week, in an old Army barracks in the Presidio, where sheets of mist rained down on a grass so green I had to squint, I thought about Adrienne Rich. Look any good little feminist English major, I read a lot of Rich in college. I have notes scrawled in my copies of her books, the "used" stickers from my college bookstore still yellow, still peeling, and tonight I will pull them off my shelves and page through them, re-reading my favorites, wondering what I was thinking when I scribbled things like "A nostalgic look at her mother" or "A love poem I'll never write, because I have no connections to machines." I have no idea what I meant back then.

So I read the news on a 10-minute break during my conference and thought, this can't be right, what are people talking about, where are the tears? There was no announcement made, no CNN breaking news alert. Then I realized so few of us care about poets, let alone feminist poets, which is not something I'm sad about necessarily, because it's just a thing that is, like my curly hair, like my mom's anxiety over flying.

I lived off campus senior year and have a distinct memory of my Rich experiences. I cut across the campus, and there's that green grass again, only this time in New Jersey, and walked into Bliss Hall, the door landing heavy behind me, the English and Women's Studies offices on my right and left, and carried Diving into the Wreck with me into a class, where I presented on Rich to what felt like, at the time, thunderous applause. And she deserved it.

The New Yorker said it best: "The ringing, defiant poetry of Adrienne Rich, who died yesterday, at eighty-two, articulated the frustrations of women who came of age along clipped paths in the nineteen-forties and fifties, only to discover in the sixties and seventies the extent of their longing to tear up the grass." And if anyone ever needed proof that I'll always identify more with the second wave of feminism than the third, it's right here, in the fact that I feel like a woman in this quote, despite being born in 1979.

A love poem

I kind of hate the month of April, which is mean to say for a few reasons. (Sorry to my brother, who celebrates his birthday this month, and my brand new nephew, just born last night!) I'm just not a spring type of gal, what with the thick air and rain boots and wildly inconsistent temperatures. Also, flowers. What are those about? (Okay, just kidding about that last part. Look at those flowers I found in London last week! Breathtaking. Of course, they're like a month ahead of us, season-wise, so don't get any ideas, East Coasters.) But there is one thing I adore about April. It's National Poetry Month.

I love, love, love poetry.

One day in college I was assigned "Spring Azures" by Mary Oliver. It was fall, and I was curled up on a couch plowing through my work with russet-colored leaves twirling around the windowsill and witches and spiders adorning my walls (it was Halloween, obvs) and I opened up that Oliver poem and read it out loud (it's what I do with poetry) and I started crying, completely unexpectedly. (I just remembered I talked about that here. Geez, Morg. Diversify.) It remains my favorite poem of all time.

Second place, though, is vastly different from Oliver in both theme and style: WH Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts." The poem was inspired by Brueghel's "Fall of Icarus" but I don't even think you need to see that painting to get it; I think you just need to pause over those final five lines and let them seduce you; linger over them for a while and think about humanity. I don't even care if that sounds pretentious. It's what you need to do.

One year I was leading the poetry workshop for Girls Write Now and we were teaching sestinas and villanelles and I found myself falling in love with "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath's "Mad Girl's Love Song," and so many others, so many unexpected others, and spent months afterwards starting and stopping my own until I finally landed on one I was okay with. There's something really freeing in all that structure.

There are others who've made big dents in me. Margaret Atwood. Seamus Heaney. Dorothy Parker. Edna St Vincent Millay. Langston Hughes. My point is, poetry is super. If you're not a reader of it, why not try? April is the perfect month, after all.