The Paris Review

On Writerly Jealousy

Illustration from Tacuina sanitatis (XIV century)

Recently, while reading a new book of poetry, I noticed a certain signature of influence: a poem with a macabre playfulness that reminded me of “Daddy.” Plath-y!, I wrote in the margin beside it. I pulled my copy of Plath’s Collected Poems off the shelf (inscribed Merry Christmas, 1994, Mom & Dad; I would have just turned fifteen) and reread “Daddy” for the whatever-eth time.

For most of my life I read “Daddy” quite literally, as a renunciation of Plath’s father: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” She all but calls him Hitler, with his “neat mustache” and “Aryan eye.” As Janet Malcolm points out in , the poem “has had a mixed reception.” She quotes Leon Wieseltier in , 1976: “Whatever her father did to her, it could not have been what the Germans did to the Jews.” Irving Howe, writing in 1973, found “something monstrous, utterly disproportionate” in the metaphor. I think of the Sharon Olds poem “The Takers,” which begins, “Hitler entered Paris the way my / sister entered my room at night.” (My friend Chris, in grad

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