The Plath Cabinet
The literary fate of Sylvia Plath brings into high relief the process by which a writer—a person—becomes
an icon, frozen in time, reduced to a definitive set of contours. The Plath Cabinet, inspired and driven both
by Plath’s published work and by the hundreds and hundreds of pieces in the Lilly Library at Indiana
University’s Plath archive, houses a suite of poems that exhumes, examines, and ultimately troubles our
preconceived notions of “Sylvia Plath.” Fueled by the ephemeral—a lock of hair, paper dolls, childhood
To-Do lists—as well as the monumental, The Plath Cabinet is by turns analytic, whimsical and ecstatic as it
takes out and re-arranges the pieces of our collective understanding of Plath and re-introduces us to her as
a living, breathing force.
Bowman here plays off Plath’s place in the cabinet and the canon. This collection is an homage to,
exploration of, and conversation with the work and myth of Sylvia Plath—an obsessive Virgilian expedition
into the ways Plath and her legacy inhabit us. Creating a book that acts as a pseudo-archive, Bowman
examines objects kept protected under lock and key: Plath’s wedding invitations, her passport, her
instructions to her nanny. The Plath Cabinet presents several ekphrastic poems responding to the enchanting,
voluptuous paper dolls Plath painstakingly designed when she was a young girl. Elsewhere, Bowman creates
an original bestiary out of animals in Plath’s poems, including, hauntingly, the “zoo-keeper’s wife.”
The Plath Cabinet is not simply an unparalleled biography: it is a memoir in poems, telling the story of
Bowman’s relationship to Plath and to poetry. The Plath Cabinet turns to forms and wordplay that work
against Plath’s dense, highly crafted style in order to create tension and to explore Plath’s work in the
context of larger cultural and social constructions—the poetic, the everyday, the domestic, the feminine.
“It has always been about the ferryman,” Bowman writes, and one leaves this book newly aware of the
urgency that lies behind Bowman’s poems. The Plath Cabinet is a must-read for Plath-lovers, for anyone
interested in memoir and biography, and for all readers of contemporary poetry. Bowman raises new
possibilities for our relationship with the acclaimed writers whose words we inherit and revere.