Some thoughts inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poetry

Posted on March 30, 2009

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Sylvia Plath had a short life – 1932-1963. She worked at her poetry for a number of years, but particularly in the last couple of years of her life.

Her husband, Ted Hughes, interestingly described her as rarely discarding a poem but continuing to work on it to get something out of it. Quoting Hughes, if she could not get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair or even a toy. The product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity.

I have been reading a lot of Plath’s poetry lately. It is often very powerful in its observations. Consider the following extract from Mushrooms.

Overnight, very
Whitely, discretely,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam
Acquire the air

How can you fail to see mushrooms in your head, emerging, growing, on reading those lines? In my opinion, this is what makes that powerful verse.

To be able to write like that requires great observation of details in what surrounds us – something that every writer needs to be able to do. The writer’s journal or notebook is good for aiding this. I am rarely without pen and paper to hand and scribble down all sorts of things that catch my eye. In theory these notes are all transcribed into my journal although I must admit to having been terribly slack on that front of late.

I was sitting outside as I first began to scribble these thoughts.

A Crimson Rosella (a red and blue type of parrot for my friends outside of Australia) was feeding on the remnants of a sunflower head in the garden, the seeds audibly cracking in its beak with sounds like the clacking of an old-fashioned typewriter. A large, black Chuff swooped down in a smooth glide to land on the edge of the bird bath, to watch me suspiciously before taking a drink. Its strange, yellow eye, looks like a solitary corn kernel in the middle of an ebony plate. A plucky Mudlark – a smallish bird in striking black and white – darted in close to my chair, checking the ground for edibles before darting away again. A Noisy Miner – related to the Asian or Indian Mynah – perched on the edge of a flower pot, glares around. This is his domain! How dare these other birds intrude!

Moving so quickly that the eye is hard pressed to distinguish the actual movements, a skink darted across the pavers, from one bit of shelter to another, its body all sinewy movement in one moment and frozen stillness the next.

All fascinating little observations in only a few minutes. Several poems have resulted from these and I look forward to using those observations in creating a sense of place in a future story.

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