April 12, 2016

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Source Poems: "Daddy"

For National Poetry Month 2014, I have invited 17 authors and poets to guest post about source poems. In this series of essays, each writer will describe a single poem's significance in his or her life.

Poet Renee LaTulippe of the blog No Water River is with us today, writing about how receiving a book of poetry as a gift can change one's life.
Renée M. LaTulippe

Sylvia Saves the Day

I did not have a terribly literary childhood. There was definitely no poetry beyond nursery rhymes. But my mother did always have a book going and my father sang constantly, so perhaps something sunk in and made me write my first poem at age seven. It’s a night I remember vividly and that I wrote about here. I guess poetry was just in me.

And it stayed in me through high school; or rather, it kept coming out of me, free verse tumbling down page after page. It was the only time in my life I was prolific. But I wasn’t very good at it, this poetry thing, despite Mrs. Musser’s enthusiasm as my creative writing teacher. And despite the reams of juvenilia, she made me the youngest editor of the literary magazine; she encouraged me and praised me; she held me up. And when I graduated, she gave me the complete works of Sylvia Plath. The woman knew me; who knew? The book is a prized possession.

When Laura announced this blog series, I knew immediately the poem I would choose. I didn’t have to riffle through my bookshelves or my memory for The Poem, because it has been there for thirty years.

Would I have preferred a more positive poem, something full of innocence or beauty or peace? Yes, but that would have been dishonest.

My source poem is “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath and there’s nothing I can do about it.


You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.   
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   
Ghastly statue with one gray toe   
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic   
Where it pours bean green over blue   
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town   
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.   
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.   
So I never could tell where you   
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.   
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.   
And the language obscene

I opened this book and read page after page until “Daddy” stopped me in my tracks. I could not make head or tails of the poem at the time, but no matter. I knew what it felt like, and it felt like liberation. It had crazy sounds and German and a bad word that were like bonbons in my mouth. How I loved the Panzer-man and the brute, brute force of a brute like you and that glorious bastard! I loved the persistent low moan of the long U sounds, the sounds of a poet doubled over from the violence of it all.

You do not do, you do not do   
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot   
For thirty years, poor and white,   
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

I loved it not because I loved the suffering, but because I loved the exit from suffering. I loved the anger of it. I loved the anthem of it. It was a poem full of viper bites. Speaking it was powerful and cathartic. It was better than breaking dishes. It roiled and soothed all at once. Like singing, it lifted me up, even in its negativity. The rhythms and phrases entered my memory and have been there ever since.

I saw, and still see, the poem as a reinvention of self, a rebirth – a concept I’ve always liked, perhaps because it’s what my name means: reborn. Renaissance. A poem of possibility. Negative but hopeful.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart   
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.   
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through. 

Perhaps “Daddy” resonated because it came to me when I most needed it, at a time of breaking out and becoming and trying not to explode in the process. And Sylvia was there to give me what she had: An exquisite anger. A spitting release.

Ah, Sylvia. Ach, du.

Sylvia Plath
from Harper Collins
Renée M. LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a collection of children’s poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new for All About Learning Press, where she is also the editor, and has poems in the Middle School and Science editions of The Poetry Friday Anthology (ed. Wong and Vardell). She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and blogs on children’s poetry at Renée earned her BFA in acting/directing from Marymount Manhattan College and her MA in English Education from NYU, and taught English, theater, and public speaking in NYC. She lives in Italy with her husband and twin boys. Website: Follow Renée on Twitter: @ReneeMLaTulippe

Previous posts in this series:
Diane Mayr on a haiku by Basho


Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

Loved this post, Renee! I think many of us who discovered poetry in our formative years perhaps did not fully understand those poems that struck us so, but we knew what we liked and we knew we were affected by them, somehow. (For me, it was Shelley's "Ozymandius")

And Laura, I've enjoyed your series - haven't had a chance to read all the posts or comment, but it's been very enlightening.

BJ Lee said...

All I can say is, omg, Renee. It's so interesting that Plath's poem got to you, you who I think had a loving relationship with your father.? That a poem you didn't fully understand could affect you on such a deep level - it's amazing. I had the same experience growing up. I used to read way above my level, not because I understood it, but because of the language, the language - maybe it's the sign of becoming a poet!

Plath is powerful and this is a powerful post. Thank you!

Margaret Simon said...

Love this line, "I loved it not because I loved the suffering, but because I loved the exit from suffering." The exit from suffering! Isn't that the power of poetry, a way for us to process, get through, and come to the other side? To share our experience so that others can relate and be with us in that moment? This is a beautiful post about more than the gift. It's about the love of language that transforms us.

iza said...

Oh Renee, I can just imagine you reading that poem and falling in love with the language. Such biting words, but the rhythms and the sounds are so beautiful and powerful. Love this post!

Renee LaTulippe said...

Matt - so true! I remained in blissful ignorance until my women's lit course as an undergrad. Sometimes ignorance is better.

BJ - haha! No, I don't have daddy issues. I respond to the sound and the anger in the poem, which can be applied to just about anything. :)

Margaret - Yes! I am a sucker for beautiful language and sound. It really can be transformative.

Iza - thank you! Sometimes we need a little bite, don't we?

Linda B said...

You are lucky to have received such a beautiful gift from your teacher, Renee, and although you deny it, I imagine she saw the spark of a poet in you, and with Plath, gave you a nudge to poetry that breaks one apart and reinvents. So great to hear your story of this connection to that poem.

Anonymous said...

pretty nice blog, following :)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Great post, Renee! And what a powerful poem! I think it's wonderful that you had a teacher who encouraged you so. Everyone should have a teacher like that!

Teresa Robeson said...

I don't know that I could ever explain why a poem affects me as beautifully as you just did, Renee. How wonderful that your insightful and caring teacher not only nurtured you through school but also left a gift with you that would help guide you through poetry and shape your sensibilities in this art form.

Thank you for sharing this with us; it has touched me and made me appreciate Sylvia Plath a bit more (because I knew so little about her poems, though plenty about her tragic and sensational life).

Elaine Kiely Kearns said...

Thanks for the awesome post, Renee. I have never read that poem before, and it really pissed me off.

So, yeah, thanks for that.

Love you! :)

Laurie F. said...

Love the thanks to Mrs. Musser - what a classy teacher she was!

Alayne Kay Christian said...

I find it so interesting how you connected with a poem you didn't even understand. That is the power of good writing and the power of your love for the writing. I enjoyed popping over to No Water River and reading about your first poem "Hairy Bear" and your childhood path to poetry. Thanks for sharing, Renee.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

I'm so glad you re-posted this, Renee! I read it yesterday, but was called away by a whiny child and never got back to leaving a comment.

I can so clearly visualize a young Renee in her bedroom, getting sucked into the raw emotion of this poem like it was a secret diary calling to you from the page. Helping you to be reborn and fulfill your name's destiny... even if you didn't yet know what that meant.

What a wonderful post.

Renee LaTulippe said...

Thank you for the lovely comments, everyone! I'm so glad Laura gave us this opportunity to share our poems.

Anonymous said...

Great post. It was very interesting to know what poem inspired you, Renee. I think of you as the Renee that recites DRAGON'S PICNIC over at No Water River! But look where you started :-)

Julie said...

Wonderful post, Renee. For me, it was a teacher named Jim Ernst, and the book was Leave's of Gress. When I got to Whitman's line, "I sing the body electric..." It was like lightning went through me.

Julie said...

that's "Leaves" of course....

Julie said...

..."of Grass"
Oh, my....proofread, Julie!

LesleeAnne said...

And now you're the encouraging teacher, Renee! I hope Mrs Musser finds out what an inspiration her gift was to you.It would make her day!And that reminds me, Happy Birthday to you!

GatheringBooks said...

So so powerful, Renee. Thank you Laura for featuring the eternally-beautiful and immensely talented Renee. I adore Sylvia Plath, but I love the way Renee describes Daddy in this fashion:

"I loved it not because I loved the suffering, but because I loved the exit from suffering. I loved the anger of it. I loved the anthem of it. It was a poem full of viper bites."

The mixture of vulnerability, darkness, despair and deliverance is all there - so perfectly captured. Beautiful.

Renee LaTulippe said...

Wow, thank you so much for the kind words, Myra. I'm so pleased the post spoke to you, fellow Plath lover! :)

Leslee Anne - I did contact Mrs. Musser not too long ago to let her know that her influence on me has been a life-long gift. :)