Derek Walcott’s Harry Dernier and Sylvia Plath’s Three Women, two little-known, midcentury radio plays, cultivate characters who sound like the speaker of a lyric poem, even as they foreground the invisible bodies behind the voices. In offering us voices that both invite and obstruct lyric reading, Plath and Walcott make manifest a tension present in all lyric poetry—between the embodied individual, on the one hand, and the lyric speaker, on the other. Harry Dernier parodies prominent instances of poetic address, dramatizing the inadequacy of the Western literary tradition in the face of a real catastrophe. Three Women invites the audience to interpret its speakers lyrically, but then undermines the possibility of such interpretation by pointing to the ways that these voices belong to specific, gendered bodies. In this way, Plath highlights the ambiguity in how the term “voice” is used in relation to lyric and, in this, shapes a critique of lyric voicing.
(Re)Embodying the Disembodied Voice of Lyric: The Radio Poems of Derek Walcott and Sylvia Plath
Sarah Berry is assistant professor of English at the University of Dallas. She studies twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature in English, focusing especially on poetics, theater, and genre theory. Her current book project is a study of modern and contemporary verse drama in English.
Sarah Berry; (Re)Embodying the Disembodied Voice of Lyric: The Radio Poems of Derek Walcott and Sylvia Plath. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2022; 68 (3): 295–322. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-10028083
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