Results of the Whitbread Book Award in the year 1998.
Formerly Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II, the late Ted Hughes (1930-98) is recognized as one of the few contemporary poets whose work has mythic scope and power. And few episodes in postwar literature have the legendary stature of Hughes’s romance with, and marriage to, the great American poet Sylvia Plath.
The poems in Birthday Letters are addressed (with just two exceptions) to Plath, and were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963. Some are love letters, others haunted recollections and ruminations. In them, Hughes recalls his and Plath’s time together, drawing on the powerful imagery of his work—animal, vegetable, mythological—as well as on Plath’s famous verse.
Countless books have discussed the subject of this intense relationship from a necessary distance, but this volume—at last—offers us Hughes’s own account. Moreover, it is a truly remarkable collection of pems in its own right.
In this collection of poems, the author can be found speaking in the voice of a light bulb, a hungover window-cleaner, a photographer trapped in a condemned block, and a deranged collector of vinyl.
In these resonant, sometimes harrowing poems, Philip Gross grapples with difficult and unlikely subjects: ozone alerts (“In the ultraviolet light of what we know / the future begins to look pale / as the Middle Ages”); a sauna like “some lesser waiting-room / in Hell”; fluffy kitten postcards meant “for sore eyes, eczema’d”; and hotels marked UNSAFE STRUCTURE. All hint at our precarious futures, if not downright apocalyptic doom. The title poem provides a rare glimpse of the daily life of a daughter intent on starving herself, the “last night’s pushed- aside /…