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  • Writer's pictureNazifa Islam

Sylvia Plath Found Poems in Smartish Pace

I am so excited to have three Sylvia Plath found poems in the issue 30 of Smartish Pace! "How to Write Poems," "Bohemian," and "Whole and Human" were all written using paragraphs from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.

"How to Write Poems"

Prose writing has become a phobia to me: my mind shuts & I clench. I can't, or won't, come clear with a plot. Must put poetry aside & begin a story tomorrow, today was useless, a wash of exhaustion after the bird. Always excuses. I wrote what I consider a 'book poem' about my runaway ride in Cambridge on the horse Sam: a 'hard' subject for me, horses alien to me, yet the dare-devil change in Sam & my hanging on god knows how is a kind of revelation: it worked well. Hard as my little gored picador poem was hard. But now I can't write as I used to - generally, philosophically, with "thoughts that found a mare of mermaid hair / tangling in the tide's green fall". - I have to write my "Lorelei" - to present the mermaids, invoke them. Make them real. I write my good poems too fast - they are on objects, not themes, thus concrete, limited. Good enough, but I must extend. I must start outlining a story plot: obviously it takes time - I half expect to fly to the typewriter & begin. Central conflict - my life is full of it. Start there. Marriage: Courtship. Jealousy. Settings I know: try Wellesley - suburbia. Cambridge apartment: Lou Healy, Sat Eve Post style. Jealousy: sister of newlywed husband. Poor poet. Couple divided over baby: why fear? Not like other men. Suburban neighborhood. I have fragments. Vignettes. Mrs. Spaulding is a story herself. I must note backgrounds jobs against which my people can move. Plagiarism in college. Young teacher. Decision to make. Start with that: 15 to 20 pages a week. Why not? Ambivalent position. Romance involved. Campus setting. I know this. Make a page of story plots & subjects tomorrow. That's what - a paragraph on each - style & sort. Also several on "The Return". Use Baskin. Ho ho. Everyone here. Aaron's cocktail party. S —, James & Joan triangle. From whose point of view? Think, Think. Study sympathy point of view - emotional center –


Thursday: June 17:" After two days of no-schedule, disrupted by our seeing Baskins, Rodman" & the intolerable stuffy lazy Clark's with their mean, mealymouthed Quakerism, I sit down on a clear cold sunny day with nothing to beef at except the slick sick feeling which won't leave. It comes & goes. I feel I could crack open mines of life - in my daily writing sketches, in my reading & planning, if only I could get rid of my absolutist panic. I have, continually, the sense that this time is invaluable, & the opposite sense that I am paralyzed to use it: or will use it wastefully & blindly. I have all the world's reading on my back, instead of a possible book a day. I must discipline myself to concentrate on certain authors, certain fields, lest I welter, knowing nothing and everything. Across the street there is the chink, chunk of hammers on nails, the tap of hammers on wood. Men are on the scaffolding. I am neither a no-nothing nor a bohemian, but I find myself wishing, wishing, to have a corner of my own: something I can know about, write about well. All I have ever read thins and vanishes: I do not amass, remember. I shall this year work for steady small growth, nothing spectacular, & the ridding of this panic. The windows shake in their sockets from some unheard detonation. Ted says they are breaking the sound barrier. Somewhere I have a vision, not of thwarting, of meanness, but of fulness, of a maturer, riper placidity, a humor to bear nightmare, an ordering, reshaping faculty which steadies & fears not. A housewife - with children & writing & reading in the midst of business, but fully, with good friends who are makers in some way. The more I do, the more I can do. I should choose first the few things I wish to learn: German, poets & poetry, novels & novelists, art & artists. French also. Are they making or breaking across the street there? All fears are figments: I make them up.

"Whole and Human"

The most vital spot in the world for me was today in the rain, in an old gravel parking lot in Marblehead," where, beyond a rusty shack, was the harbor, and the neat upright forest of masts. Houses were close together, and yellow flowers were growing in the wild grass. Somehow, sitting there in the light blue Plymouth, your Grandmother beside you, your mother in back, you cried with love for them because they were your own people, your own kind. Yet not all your own kind, but you were of their blood and bone, and no barriers were between. You talked, and cried a little, as you sat, for the beauty of the wild, lanky yellow flowers, and the rain, trickling down the blurred and wavy windows, rushing in streams down the windows. This hour was yours, to steer through the narrow crooked streets, to sit and talk and watch the rain, to absorb the love of kin, of rain, of the masts of sloops and schooners. And when you swung the car into reverse, roaring out, back to your job, you felt whole and human once again. Someday you will find your way back to that parking spot by the gravel drive, and you will remember how it was, so forever you can carry it in you as it was, giving life and a new sight in the rainy space of an hour.

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