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Stonepicker and The Book of Mirrors

Her latest collection of poetry proves Frieda Hughes to be a writer capable of standing on her own.

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Frieda Hughes’s new book of poems, Stonepicker and The Book of Mirrors, feels eerily sad and poignant at times, especially since her brother, Nicholas, committed suicide a few weeks ago. His death, 46 years after their famous mother, Sylvia Plath, took her own life, may reopen some of the wounds Hughes tries to heal in the book.

Yet the poems also suggest answers to the questions many readers have asked privately: How has Hughes dealt with yet another tragedy? Will she be OK?

The book, divided into two distinct sections, makes it clear that both Hughes and readers have a choice about how to view life, their personal histories, and other people. We – and she – can cling to the past, recounting and magnifying every loss until we become like the Stonepicker in the opening poem:

... scooped out and bow-like,
As if her string
Has been drawn too tight.

But really, she is
Plucking stones from the dirt
For her shoulder bag.

It is her dead albatross,
Her cross, her choice,
In it lie her weapons.

This Stonepicker, as Hughes explains in her notes, “believes she can do no wrong, only that wrong is done to her.” That attitude contributes to the cruelty and hardships described throughout the section. In the second poem, “Playground,” Hughes recounts a childhood experience where a “small girl” and a group of boys taunted and teased “a big girl,”

Filling up the big girl’s head
With memories of ridicule
That would repeat again, again,
For years inside her brain. She knew
One thing must stop it now

Or face it every day at school.

Dark narratives and taut writing run throughout “Stonepicker,” as do hints of an edginess much like Plath’s. The result is a sense of weight, which neither the reader nor Hughes can lift or escape.

Hughes’s late father, Ted, the British poet laureate, couldn’t escape that burden, either. Many Plath’s fans and feminists blamed her death on his infidelity, even decades after her passing. Hughes makes this clear in “Sisyphus,” where she writes of her father “carrying his wife’s carcass.” Yet when he reaches the riverbank:

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