Rediscovering Sylvia Plath

The Community of Writers is honored to present a short course on the Poetry of Sylvia Plath

When we think of Sylvia Plath, it’s easy to see the image of the electric confessional poet who took her own life. Her tragic personal history, including her marriage to Ted Hughes, can easily obscure her poetry. But when we return to the work itself, we see a poet of genius, who mapped her struggles to find a completely original poetic voice.

In this Short Course, we’ll close-read Plath’s poetry, to learn from her singularity. We’ll begin with an overview of Plath’s poetry leading up to her creative breakthrough, then focus the remaining four sessions on close reading poems from her posthumous, best-known book Ariel. We’ll try to understand together where she came from, her essential innovations, and her effect on the poetry that came after her. Was she truly a “confessional” poet? How does she make meaning from the turmoil of her life, and the time in which she wrote? What were her poetic innovations? How can we understand her poems as something more than mere autobiography? What aspects of her poetry continue to influence poems today? In addition to the poems from Ariel and after, we’ll look at drafts of her poems from her archives, to explore her writing process, so that we can learn from her creative process. 

Each session will begin with an hour of discussion between Victoria and Matthew, including background and close readings, followed by a short break. We will then reconvene for our second hour in which we will discuss your thoughts from the chat, answer questions, and offer further insights. We will end each session with an optional poetry writing prompt based on Plath’s poetry.

Testimonies from Merwin Course led by Chang and Zapruder

“I felt the course was as close to flawless as it could be. I wish it was one week longer!”

“I very much enjoy focusing on the work of a poet, especially, as in these cases, someone I’ve read at least a smattering of and liked and so am primed to read more and absorb information about their life, process, development, etc.”

Dates & Times: Online Sundays from April 28 to May 19, 2024 with a Bonus Session on May 22. Main sessions run from 4 pm-6 pm (Pacific) with optional discussion groups to follow.

  • Sunday, April 28, 2024 
  • Sunday, May 5, 2024 
  • Sunday, May 12, 2024 
  • Sunday, May 19, 2024 
  • Wednesday, May 22, 2024 

Note: For those who are interested, intimate Zoom discussion groups (Virtual Houses) will meet after each session and on subsequent Saturdays at 10 AM.

Course Text

Participants who don’t own the text are asked to purchase them, if possible, before April 28. For this course, our text will be:

         Ariel: Poems (Harper Perennial Modern Classics; March 2018 reprint)

Handouts for each session will be posted online. Additional reading materials, including essays and poems will be added.


Photo credit: Jay L. Clendenin /
Los Angeles Times

Victoria Chang’s forthcoming book of poems, With My Back to the World will be published in 2024 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Her latest book of poetry is The Trees Witness Everything (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her nonfiction book, Dear Memory (Milkweed Editions), was published in 2021. OBIT (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)her prior book of poems received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry, and the PEN/Voelcker Award. It was also a finalist for the Griffin International Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as longlisted for the National Book Award. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Chowdhury International Prize in Literature. She is the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Georgia Tech and Director of Poetry@Tech.

Photo credit: B.A. Van Sise

Matthew Zapruder is the author of I Love Hearing Your Dreams, forthcoming from Scribner in September, 2024. He is the author of five previous collections of poetry, including Father’s Day, Sun Bear, and Come on All You Ghosts, as well as Why Poetry (Ecco/Harper Collins) and Story of a Poem (Unnamed). He is editor at large at Wave Books, where he edits contemporary poetry, prose, and translations. From 2016-17 he held the annually rotating position of Editor of the Poetry Column for the New York Times Magazine. He teaches in the MFA in creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California. Story of a Poem is currently a finalist for a National Book Critic’s Circle Award.


What to Expect:

  • Four, two-hour weekly sessions online with assigned reading. The group can be large, depending on the course.
  • An additional two-hour bonus session on May 22 to cover Plath’s revision methods.
  • In the first 60 or 70 minutes, Chang and Zapruder will explore and supply background on the previously assigned readings.
  • In the second part, Chang and Zapruder will address questions and widen the discussion. Participant questions and comments will be submitted in the chat.
  • Optional small (8-10 person) discussion groups will be available to those with the energy and interest after the formal session is over. Discussion guides will be provided.
  • These sessions will be recorded, and will be available for later viewing by registered participants for 30 days following the final session.


  • Registration is currently closed.
  • Email if you would like to join mid-course.

The Writers Annex

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Online, and year-round, The Writers’ Annex is composed of short courses, seminars, workshops, and more. Our vision is to bring the creative insight and experience of our staff poets and prose writers to our community in all seasons, not just in the summertime, and not just here in our Valley.  Our online offerings will address such topics as eco-poetics, translation, and generative sessions. Some will be one or two days, some will be weekend intensives, and some will meet weekly for a month or two. In addition, we hope these offerings will help offset the tremendous expenses we face as an organization for our traditional in-person events in Olympic Valley.   Join our Mailing List