The Plath Obsession

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My tiny Sylvia stack.

 

My encounter with Sylvia Plath was something of an accident. I had heard of her but had never bothered to read her work. But when I did read her work (a few of her most popular poems), instead of reading other poems, I settled onto my beanbag with a fresh sheet of foolscap paper and addressed a letter to her.

I don’t do that often, write to dead people, I mean, but I wrote a letter to Sylvia Plath; a woman who has been dead for decades. This was in September 2011. It is February 2013 now and I have a notebook full of letters that will never be read by whom they were written for.

I wrote to her at first because I was intrigued by her life, her poetry, her death. What had she gone through to make her write like that? And then die the way she did? I knew I wouldn’t get answers to these by writing to her, but I still did.

She became my ghost, someone who didn’t exist for others but was there whenever I felt the need to vent, my 50+ letters to her are testament to that. I wrote to her because I knew she wouldn’t judge me (she wasn’t alive, how could she) but no, it wasn’t that. There was a connection. From what I know of her, she would have understood me and that is all that counts.

 

What sylvia taught me

#1

 

23rd September, 2011

Miss Plath,

 

This is the first time I am writing a letter that I know won’t be read, acknowledged or replied to. I’m still writing this because sometimes there are things that you just have to do, no matter how crazy and pointless they seem. I don’t know much about you, but I have a feeling you would understand what I mean by that.

It’s not always that I need to address my writings to a person in particular, but reading parts of your biography today, I knew I should write to you. I have yet to explore my jumbled maze of thoughts to find a reason for that, but I will, and when I do, you’ll be the only person I’ll care to share it with.

If only you had lived for another fifty years or so, I would have actually posted this abysmal piece of writing in the hope that it would reach you and you’d find it in your heart to reply. Even a tiny note would do, any sign that you received and read it. But why would you read it? If you were still alive, Miss Plath, you’d be a celebrated poetess, someone who obviously wouldn’t have time to go through a delusional letter from a girl halfway across the planet who has just been introduced to your world, your world of poetry that is haunting to the extreme. You wouldn’t, I’m sure. Maybe there is comfort to be found in your death.

I read about you in a literary forum that I have taken to visiting quite often since the past month or so. It said there that you were a woman poet at a time when women poets weren’t respected and given credit for the great contributions they made to the literary scene of the time. That, somehow, has wound up being a cliché. Poets and authors are almost always revered when they have passed away.

And then I saw your name in, (I beg your pardon) a section titled “Neurotic Poets”. That piqued my interest enough to want to read your work. I searched poetry archives online but your work seems to have copyright issues and is not widely available. This was two weeks ago.

Yesterday, I decided to give it another shot. And I got lucky. Apparently Stanford University’s Literature program has an entire module devoted to you and your husband. There I found most of your poems.

I read a few, gave others a cursory glance and then decided to read up on you. You, Miss Plath, intrigue me in a way no other poet has ever done. I, for instance, have never had the inclination to go through every article on World Wide Web about Emily Dickinson or Tennyson, or Edna St. Vincent Millay; the three poets I admire over all else.

And there’s just one thing that I’ll say right now. I see a lot of me in you.

 

Regards.

 

#2

 

24th September 2011

Miss Plath,

 

Please accept my apologies for having left off so abruptly yesterday. The slightest things have begun to overwhelm me. By the time I ended my last letter to you I had come to the realization of the reason behind this seemingly eccentric act of writing to a woman, long dead, who had absolutely no connection with me. I relate to you. Maybe not by blood, culture or any other relation two individuals might have. But reading about you has made me see how much like you I am in person.

Many would frown upon that, I know. But what you are, were, shines through me. Many would object to the word ‘shine’ too. I don’t care. So what if people don’t think of you as role model material. I don’t need to make you my role model. I’m already too much like you for my liking. I would, without doubt, want to have even a quarter of your poetic prowess, as an aspiring poet there’s nothing more that I could want.

I’m going to start reading more of your work today. I hope to find books, reading on the computer gives me splitting headaches.

Best

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16 Replies to “The Plath Obsession”

  1. I stumble across her work about two years ago and it was life changing.

    After reading this post, I feel like reareading some of her poems… Which one would you choose as your favorite? (Hard question, I know… )

      1. Mad Girl’s Love Song and Lady Lazarus are one of my favorites too! I pick Tulips, Spinster and Ariel.
        There are so many great ones that is impossible to be really sure of my choice 😉

  2. I’m so happy to read this… 🙂
    A timed visit, for Plath balances my notebook of doodles and mandalas, where ink survives to be nurtured by her. I have found her in an unbound book, and obsession is a world of poetical union with her.
    We do live in such acts, dear..
    I loved your words. Be blessed with love.

      1. I have never published them here….I’m afraid to open the dots and layers of last two years, but I have some of them, which were influenced by her spirit. They are living silently on my blog. 🙂

  3. Loved your post. I have never thought about writing to someone I know I could never get a response from. I think we all find those authors that just truly speak to us through their writings. For me, it has been Hemingway. The way he was able to convey such extreme emotions and ideas through simple, yet eloquent stories. I have actually never read Plath, but have been wanting to for a few months now. Which work of hers would you suggest I start with?

    1. I agree, everyone does have that one author with whom they can relate.
      If you want to start with prose, I’d say read The Bell Jar and then tackle her journals and letters.
      For poetry, you can read her Juvenilia first, and then work up to her later poems. You’ll see the growth that way.

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