For over 16 years I have been reading Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath over and over again. This book is a size of a brick and has always been a source of inspiration for me. When I feel stuck in my own writing or dissatisfied with lack of progress, or disappointed with a constant ‘no’ from editors, I seek consolation in Sylvia’s journal entries. She was astoundingly immune to rejection slips from literary magazines and she had a great sense of humour. There are entries where she writes about her own artistic failures, and the inability to move on with writing. Daily observations, notes for short stories, and this incredible joy of living. Colours, textures, things, interiors, and people who turn into characters in her stories. Sometimes I feel I lead a separate secret life in the 1950s and 1960s along with Sylvia Plath. These times become even more vivid and real when I browse The Letters of Sylvia Plath. Volume I: 1940-1956. I bought it on 27 October 2017 in Aberdeen (I didn’t plan it but it was Sylvia Plath’s 85th birthday!). Beautifully edited by Karen V. Kukil and Peter K. Steinberg, the author of amazing Sylvia Plath Info site, this thick bible is another Sylvia’s book to be read for the next decade or so.
Source: Eye Rhymes. Sylvia Plath’s Art of the Visual. Ed. Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley
Sylvia writes to her mother, brother, friends, editors, and mentors in all possible styles. She can be witty, funny, serious, light, humoured, fussy, fashionable, wry, poetic, nostalgic, romantic, and political, depending on the subject she writes about and the addressee. When I read these letters over breakfast it feels like going back in time: a bold and sunny teenager and a young woman in the 1950s America and England. Food, boys, parties, studying, summer jobs, new acquaintances, writing, crying, failing, winning…
Source: The Letters of Sylvia Plath. Volume I: 1940-1956.
Did you know that Sylvia used to paint and draw? Some of her handwritten letters are visual works of art, others include cartoons! Once she made a picture of her breaking a leg while skiing. She decorated envelopes, too, and drew clothes she had bought in letters to her mother. Somehow it all reminds me of the old times when I was a teenager and used to write dozens of letters to my friends… these were the happy times before the Internet.
Of course I mark quote after quote in pencil… Here’s a handful.
I am basically, I think, a nature-loving recluse. (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 2 September 1956)
The best letter, in a way, was a rejection slip. But this one bore the blissful touch of an editors (sic!) hand, in penmanship and real ink too, and it said “PLEASE TRY US AGAIN.” And guess where it was from….. The New Yorker! (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 4 December 1952)
I looked very nice, and wore high heels for the first time (…), and I Charlstoned in them all night, so that when I took them off I couldn’t bend my feet back. (SP letter to her brother Warren Plath, 6 November 1952)
Poems are hell to sell. (SP letter to her brother Warren Plath, 6 July 1955)
Joy, joy. A woman’s place is in her husband’s bed. We shall be living proof that great writing comes from a pure, faithful, joyous creative bed. I love you (…). (SP to her husband Ted Hughes, 3 October 1956)
Oh, well, it’s only for a summer, and I can maybe write about them all (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 12 June 1952)
I really think in cotton fog, I guess… (SP letter to her mother Aurelia Plath, 2 August 1952)
I am also black & blue from a horse named Sam. (…) never rode a horse before (…) ecstasy (…) such power (…). I am here today. black and blue to be sure, but with a new religion: I mean to marry Sam. any day now. (SP letter to Elinor Friedman Klein, 12 December 1955)
I must face living in a world of midgets and parceling out my big huge crying love in little homeopathic doses (SP letter to Elinor Friedman Klein, 6-8 March 1956)
I hope you don’t hate yellow paper. But I like writing on unique things… like birch bark, for instance. (SP letter to Philip McCurdy, 4 February 1954)
Aw, please, scold me, placate me, tell me your loves and losses, but talk to me, huh? As ever, syl. (SP letter to Edward Cohen, 28 December 1953)
I want to condition myself to hear, and not just to listen; to see, and not just look; to communicate, and not just talk; to feel, and not just touch… (SP letter to Gordon Lameyer, 6 February 1954)