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  • Writer's pictureNazifa Islam

Sylvia Plath Found Poems in Three Fold

I'm excited to share five Sylvia Plath found poems in the new issue of Three Fold, a literary journal based in Detroit. "A Dangerous Union," "Outside of Help," "The Pen Fell from My Hand," "I Was Nobody to Him," and "His Last Day" were all written using paragraphs from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.


Here are the paragraphs I used to write each poems with the words I selected in red.


"A Dangerous Union"

He would then be selfish - admitting also that he has never loved anybody. Why? Is he as afraid to give of himself, compromise, and sacrifice as I am? Quite possibly. He also, as I do to a certain extent, has a superiority complex ... which often generates condescending and patronizing attitudes that I find extremely offensive. Also, in spite of the fact that he has tried with a vengeance to enter into my appreciation of art and my writing interests - to actually do and not just appreciate, (Is that a sign that he must compete and master me - symbolic, what?) he recently states that a poem "is so much inconsequential dust." With that attitude, how can he be so hypocritical as to pretend he likes poetry? Even some kinds of poetry? The fact remains that writing is a way of life to me: And writing not just from a pragmatic, money-earning point of view either. Granted, I consider publication a token of value and a confirmation of ability - but writing takes practice, continual practice. And if publication is not tangible immediately, if "success" is not forthcoming, would he force me into a defensive attitude about my passionate avocation? Would I be forced to give it up, cut it off? Undoubtedly, as the wife of such a medical man as he would like to be, I would have to. I do not believe, as he and his friends would seem to, that artistic creativity can best be indulged in masterful singleness rather than in marital cooperation. I think that a workable union should heighten the potentialities in both individuals. And so when he says "I am afraid the demands of wifehood and motherhood would preoccupy you too much to allow you to do the painting and writing you want... "The fear, the expectancy is planted. And so I start thinking, maybe he's right. Maybe all those scared and playful stream-ofconsciousness letters were just touching again and again at this recurring string of doubt and premonition. As it stands now, he alternately denies and accepts me, as I silently do him. There is sometimes a great destructive, annihilating surge of negative fear and hate and recoiling: "I can't, I won't." And then there are long talks, patient, questioning, the physical attraction, soothing again, pacifying, lulling. "I love you." "Don't say that. You don't really. Remember what we said about the word Love." "I know, but I love this girl, here and now, I don't know who she is, but I love her." There is always coming again strongly the feeling as frantic in another way - really, what if I should deny this and never meet anyone as satisfying or, (as I have been hoping) better? To use a favorite metaphor: It is as if both of us, wary of oysters so rich and potent and at once digestively dangerous as they are, should agree to each swallow an oyster (our prospective mate) tied to a string (our reserve about committing ourselves. Then, if either or both of us found the oyster disagreeing with our respective digestive systems, we could yank up the oyster before it was too late, and completely assimilated in all its destructive portent (with marriage.) Sure, there might be a little nausea, a little regret, but the poisoning, corrosive, final, destructive, would not have had a chance to set in. And there we are: two scared, attractive, intelligent, dangerous, hedonistic, "clever" people.


"Outside of Help"

Absolutely blind fuming sick. Anger, envy and humiliation. A green seethe of malice through the veins. To faculty meeting, rushing through a gray mizzle, past the Alumnae House, no place to park, around behind the college, bumping, rumping through sleety frozen ruts. Alone, going alone, among strangers. Month by month, colder shoulders. No eyes met mine. I picked up a cup of coffee in the crowded room among faces more strange than in September. Alone. Loneliness burned. Feeling like a naughty presumptuous student. Marlies in a white jumper & red-dark patterned blouse. Sweet, deft: simply can't come. Wendell" & I are doing a text-book. Havent you heard? Eyes, dark, lifted to Wendell's round simper. A roomful of smoke and orange-seated black-painted chairs. Sat beside a vaguely familiar woman in the very front, no one between me and the president. Foisted forward. Stared intently at gilt leaved trees, orange-gilt columns, a bronze frieze of stags, stags and an archer, bow-bent. Intolerable, unintelligible bickering about plusses & minuses, graduate grades. On the backcloth a greek with white-silver feet fluted to a maid, coyly kicking one white leg out of her Greek robe. Pink & orange & gilded maidens. And a story, a lousy sentimental novel chapter 30 pages long & utterly worthless at my back: on this I lavish my hours, this be my defense, my sign of genius against those people who know somehow miraculously how to be together, au courant, at one. Haven't you heard? Mr Hill has twins. So life spins on outside my nets. I spotted Alison," ran for her after - meeting - she turned, dark, a stranger. "Alison", Wendell took her over, "are you driving down?" She knew. He knew. I am deaf, dumb. Strode into slush, blind. Into snow & gray mizzle. All the faces of my student shining days turned the other way. Shall I give, unwitting, dinners? To invite them to entertain us? Ted sits opposite: make his problems mine. Shut up in public those bloody private wounds. Salvation in work. What if my work is lousy? I want to rush into print any odd tripe. Words, words, to stop the deluge through the thumbhole in the dike. This be my secret place. All my life have I not been outside? Ranged against well-meaning foes? Desperate, intense: why do I find groups impossible? Do I even want them? Is it because I cannot match them, tongue-shy, brain-small, that I delude my dreams into grand novels and poems to astound? I must bridge the gap between adolescent glitter & mature glow. O steady. Steady on. I have my one man. To help him I will.


"The Pen Fell from My Hand"

Tuesday morning: February 4: To continue where my pen fell from my hand & I fell asleep: "The Island of The Dead", read about in Strindberg's "Ghost Sonata" - an island, chunks of marble, angular pale stone, set in the pale wash of a sea, and tall, black-dark cypresses rising like steeples of death from the center of the island - a shrouded figure, standing, swaddled from head to foot in white, being rowed just to shore, outined, a white ghost-form, against the vibrant darkness of the cypresses. Strange visions. A lonely island - some One buried there, or the island of all, invisible, essence of air in the dank caverns of cypress boughs. O gothic. I listen to Arvin, & shall go presently, out in the soft-falling dry slow snow to listen to him this morning, pretending to Ted I've taken a taxi. Will my Jack & Jill story be rejected this week? Now, in time, I know not, but hope. Soon, even in the compass of these pages, shall I know, & hope not? Time has brought this book and my tender spoiled untried unworked vein of life in a leap from the blind sick hell of September & October to the weary but cavalier unpreparation of early February. Six weeks more of snow & sleet. O keep healthy. I breathe among dry coughs & clotted noses. I must, on the morning coffee-surge of exultation & omnipotence, begin my novel this summer & sweat it out like a school-year - rough draft done by Christmas. And poems. No reason why I shouldn't surpass at least the facile Isabella Gardner"& even the lesbian & fanciful & jeweled Elizabeth Bishop in America. If I sweat the summer out.


"I Was Nobody to Him"

- Now I'll never see him again, and maybe it's a good thing. He walked out of my life last night for once and for all. I know with sickening certainty that it's the end. There were just those two dates we had, and the time he came over with the boys, and tonight. Yet I liked him too much - - - way too much, and I ripped him out of my heart so it wouldn't get to hurt me more than it did. Oh, he's magnetic, he's charming; you could fall into his eyes. Let's face it: his sex appeal was unbearably strong. I wanted to know him - - - the thoughts, the ideas behind the handsome, confident, wise-cracking mask. "I've changed," he told me. "You would have liked me three years ago. Now I'm a wiseguy." We sat together for a few hours on the porch, talking, and staring at nothing. Then the friction increased, centered. His nearness was electric in itself. "Can't you see," he said. "I want to kiss you." So he kissed me, hungrily, his eyes shut, his hand warm, curved burning into my stomach. "I wish I hated you," I said. "Why did you come?" "Why? I wanted your company. Alby and Pete were going to the ball game, and I couldn't see that. Warrie and Jerry were going drinking; couldn't see that either." It was past eleven; I walked to the door with him and stepped outside into the cool August night. "Come here," he said. "I'll whisper something: I like you, but not too much. I don't want to like anybody too much." Then it hit me and I just blurted, "I like people too much or not at all. I've got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them." He was definite, "Nobody knows me." So that was it; the end. "Goodbye for good, then," I said. He looked hard at me, a smile twisting his mouth, "You lucky kid; you don't know how lucky you are." I was crying quietly, my face contorted. "Stop it!" The words came like knife thrusts, and then gentleness, "In case I don't see you, have a nice time at Smith." "Have a hell of a nice life," I said. And he walked off down the path with his jaunty, independent stride. And I stood there where he left me, tremulous with love and longing, weeping in the dark. That night it was hard to get to sleep.


"His Last Day"

—Just now, restless, unproductive, I was wandering about the bare clean apartment eating a piece of buttered toast and strawberry jam when, stopping wolfish by the bathroom venetian blind, as I always do, to eye the vista for the mailman, I heard a burst of prophetic whistling and the man himself exploded, as it were, into view with his light blue shirt and beaten leather shoulder-pouch. I ran to get ready to go downstairs and felt him pause, so hurried to the living room gable window. And there, as suddenly sprung up, was Ted in his dark green corduroy jacket waylaying the man and demanding mail. From the window I could see it was nothing, nor was it—a handful of flannel: circulars—soap-coupons, Sears sales, a letter from mother of stale news she’d already relayed over the phone, a card from Oscar Williams inviting us to a cocktail party in New York on the impossible last day of my classes. No news. I feel a nervous havoc in my veins—and am close to starving myself—Ted’s influence here is marked. When he won’t eat I all too easily find it a bother to prepare food for myself and so fail in nourishment and sleep. A dull and useless day, dream-dictated. Went to the library for an office-hour with Sylvie Koval—found myself uttering pompous nothings. Browsed in magazines while hours fled, stomped home bare-legged in the grey cold, rain threatening. Miss Hornbeak a horn beak, cold as dry-ice.


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