Williams, Plath and Grief

Talking about Sylvia Plath in the BBC Sounds series My Muse, Kathryn Williams recalls the moment she heard Plath laugh on a recording. She describes the way it ‘just bubbled up’ as Plath talked about her life and reflects that ‘it really changed how I felt about who she was’: ‘she wasn’t just this one-dimensional depressive’. 

When someone dies (especially if it’s sudden or traumatic), it is all too easy for the rich and varied complexities of their life to become obscured by the story of their death. Williams’s album Hypoxia (2015) sets out to expand our image of Plath as the tragic melancholic poet into something more complicated and real. Although the title refers to the way Plath took her own life by depriving her brain of oxygen, the music aims to capture her as multifaceted, human and full of life. Williams explains that she considered setting Plath’s poems to music but decided instead to write songs inspired by her only novel, the semi-autobiographical The Bell Jar which tells the story of a young woman’s descent into mental illness. In this way, Williams enters into an artistic conversation with Plath, interpreting, interrogating and responding to the novel as she weaves it into a new creative endeavour.

Williams has released eleven full-length projects, including the Mercury-Award-nominated Little Black Numbers which came out in 2000. She has also collaborated and recorded with artists including Chris Difford, Ted Barnes, Thea Gilmore, John Martyn, Ed Harcourt, James Yorkston, Marry Waterson, Boo Hewerdine and Polly Paulusma, who will support her Good Grief Weston performance. 

Williams met Paulusma at a song-writing retreat and their friendship developed and strengthened during lockdown. Paulusma’s latest album, The Pivot On Which The World Turns (2022), includes the song ‘Snakeskin’ which was inspired by sitting with her father as he died; she explains that the image of shedding skin symbolises eventually having to let go, however much you wish you didn’t have to (‘you floated off, a silver space balloon  up to the ether… and here’s my bent finger,  holding on to the string’).

There are still tickets to join Williams and Paulusma at Loves’s ‘An Evening with Kathryn Williams’ at the beautiful All Saints Church on Friday (5th May), starting at 7.30. Find more information here: https://superculture.org.uk/listings/williams  


To listen to the BBC Sounds programme where Williams talks about Plath, visit: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b07pfc34