Writer's Diary: Claire Meadows—Editor, After Nyne Magazine

Oxford Writers' HouseEssays2016NovemberWriter's Diary: Claire Meadows—Editor, After Nyne Magazine

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Writer's Diary: Claire Meadows—Editor, After Nyne Magazine

I’m close to finishing Mad Girl’s Love Song (Scribner, 2016), Andrew Wilson’s exploration of the early life of Sylvia Plath, billed as ‘Sylvia Before Ted’.

It’s an absorbing read, whether for Plath devotees or casual observers like myself seeking to enhance their knowledge of this truly unknowable lady of letters.

My reading has been coloured by a question that’s pertinent to any female writer, and perhaps I’m not even doing justice to the scope of the question. But I was left wondering:

Do female writers have to have suffered to become relatable?

Did Plath – in moving us from the comfortable pastoral – set a benchmark in readers, and the literary establishment come to expect a certain degree of suffering behind the work of female poets, and authors in general?

Did Plath – in moving us from the comfortable pastoral – set a benchmark in readers, and the literary establishment come to expect a certain degree of suffering behind the work of female poets, and authors in general?

Are we gratified as readers by knowing that Anne Sexton met a tragic end? Does the suffering lend legitimacy to the reading experience?

Viewed down the barrel of this theory it could very well be that the fragmentary nature of the poetry reading experience is lent extra clout and due reward by having the drama of a suicide, a break-up or a breakdown behind it.

My own life has been a life of two very different halves. Born into a working class family in Hull, plunged into a council estate due to my parent’s divorce, I experienced most shades of deprivation. I had the chance of escaping, seized it with both hands and never looked back. I now have the kind of stability that was sorely lacking during my formative years.

Yet my work is mired in these early experiences, and I often feel that it is better received by the reader when given a context of triumph over the odds. Yes, but also by knowing that the tragedy of those early years was there at all.

Is my work only legitimate when viewed through a prism of deprivation, abuse and exploitation? Are the experiences of those who have only known comfort any less valid?

Is my work only legitimate when viewed through a prism of deprivation, abuse and exploitation? Are the experiences of those who have only known comfort any less valid?

And what of men? Seamus Heaney’s lofty reputation was tempered by candid remembrances of the death of his brother Christopher in poems such as Mid-Term Break. But the presence of suffering was not a precondition for any reader of Heaney’s work.

There are certainly poets who stand outside of this paradigm. But it’s an issue that’s going to be on my mind when approaching the work of female authors, and will have me questioning my own eye for suffering in the works I read.


Claire Meadows

Claire Meadows

Claire Meadows is Editor in Chief and Founder of After Nyne Magazine and author of Blood Season (Urbane Publications). Her next collection for Urbane, Leaving Long Shadows, is published in Spring 2017. She lives in Faringdon, Oxfordshire.


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