sylviaplath

Poetry Nights and how they put everything back in perspective

Sometimes I love cancelled plans, ironically they come to me with a great feeling of adrenaline rush and countless opportunities. I am an introvert by default – it is evident from my need to catch a break for a day or two after spending a lot of time closely interacting with other people for a while. It doesn’t mean they are not dear to me, I just need a small escape gap to give me a chance to recharge my batteries, and then I’m ready to socialize again and be a happy, functional human woman.

Like most of us, I enjoy being around people I like and who I’m comfortable with, talking is of course the main part of the deal so a healthy cocktail of chit-chattery, gossip, simple topics mixed with something new or more challenging is always the unintentional goal. One of the parts of being a social being in general is no matter how long you know someone, if your relationship is solid, you’ll always manage to discover new subjects, learn something and finally, get excited about things you didn’t even know they excite you.

So, cancelled plans. This week is the best time to be alive for all of us chronic cancellation and postponing loving assholes. It is the middle of a summer, the time when I usually turn into someone who is not a very good person, someone who doesn’t have the greatest conversation starters or any creative ideas whatsoever, someone who will talk about mosquito bites and suicide 90 per cent of the time. I would most likely team up with your grandma and present everyone with the data about the horrible effects of sun exposure and how you should, if possible, avoid it throughout the day. Going to the beach happens only from 6 to 7 AM or after 7 PM, there’s no in between. Literally. I will even casually throw in the word ‘cancer’ just to keep the party going, totally unaware how I’m being a bit of a hypocrite since I used to smoke a pack  a cigarettes a day and no one could say a word about it.

giphy

Back to cancelled plans. The past couple of days the heatwave made everyone act like me. They are postponing work, public events – no open movie projections, even some theater plays got cancelled! Since nothing is going on, all we hear in the ‘news’ is: extreme temperatures, the worst summer ever, hell on earth… I read a title that went like this: Our readers experiences: ‘I went to the store today and died’. The whole article consists of random statements delivered by anonymous Croatian citizens (a.k.a. invented by the author) worrying about how to survive the heatwave. My absolute favourite comes from a brave female reader from Zagreb:

I drink water and pee all day, I can’t eat and I usually love to eat. If I put my clothes on, I’m hot. If I take it off, I get sticky. And the worst part of it all – the coffee doesn’t taste good.

What do I do when plans get cancelled and I’m lying naked in a pool of blood sweat next to the ventilator, but don’t want my brain to go into a complete shutdown? I read poetry – no matter if it’s going back to old gems or accidentally discovering new authors, it’s the best cure. Tonight I’m once again hanging out with my queen, Sylvia Plath.

One of her poems that leaves the greatest impression is called Mushrooms and although I didn’t pay much attention to it because of the title that seemed bleak (seriously?), became important to me right after I read it for the first time.

Mushrooms

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

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

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

Sylvia Plath, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960)

 

When I read it now, I could swear that this poem is precisely what first inspired Margaret Atwood to write The Handmaid’s Tale, just look at the last verse. Sylvia Plath is an icon of feminism, a real one, not just a ‘one line pony’ as I like to call them nowadays. She lived in the 50’s and was, in a way, forced into accepting a role of a simple housewife, go after society’s rules, although her mind was way beyond that ever since she was a young girl.

if-i-could-just-see-you-from-up-here-prints

If I Could Just See You From Up Here by Norman Duenas

This is a poem about oppression and how it will not last forever. I don’t think it’s necessary to limit to the equal female rights problem only when oppression is not just gender based problem (what an understatement in lack of a better word), it is everywhere, it is evident, hidden, sometimes comes in layers, sometimes directly in your face. Oppression is the word I would use to describe what Plath was fearing the most during her young and later adult years, the fear of not being able to express herself and live freely without having to answer to anyone’s expectations deteriorated the state of her mental health leading her towards the tragic ending.

Mushrooms speaks to everyone who has ever felt isolated, misunderstood, underestimated or ignored and although it comes in a depressive tone, it is actually a positive, hopeful poem.  It provokes the thoughts of a revolution that will help restore the balance between the greedy oppressor and the underdog. It is in deed a revolution, but not the roaring, powerful kind, it is subtle and quiet, it comes on its tiptoes while you think everyone on the planet is asleep. Nothing is sure except that in the morning the sun will rise and deliver a surprise on its rays.

tumblr_o3bu9jVIhA1spnyg9o1_500.jpg

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.

 

 

Advertisements

Thank You, Sylvia Plath

The poems, quotes, letters, photos of a beautiful blonde woman with a wide smile were all over my news feed yesterday. A mother, a wife, a talented poet – ‘she had it all’ as they like to say in the west, but somehow it wasn’t enough.  And now on October, 27th we celebrate the unfortunately too short but important life of a woman who was equally impressive as an author and as an individual – Sylvia Plath.

plath2

Sylvia Plath on the beach, summer 1953 (photo from the Gordon Ames Lameyer Papers)

Ever since opening the Bell Jar for the first time, I remember how I couldn’t believe it’s real. I read it while staying at my grandma’s house during the endless, annoying summer 12 or 13 years ago. I didn’t know what to do with myself until I found some books randomly stacked up in the ugly living room cupboard. Some of them were cookbooks, foreign fairy tale editions, cheap crime novels, and two other books who, at the time sounded a bit familiar but I had no idea they will leave such an impression on me. Both controversial in their own way, one on the each end of a spectrum – Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

belljar

Up to this day I have no idea who brought the particular book to that house and how it ended up in that cupboard. Back at home we always had big piles of books everywhere, I didn’t have to go to the library for a long time because we had all the important titles on our shelves. But The Bell Jar never belonged in that collection, it’s not well-known in my country, it’s not even mentioned in school literature classes. Today I am finally aware why that is the case and why her work was marginalized. The thing is, it took me a while to realize that women and men can’t suffer the same way when it comes to public perception of mental problems, or just problems in general. Men’s demons and self – destructive behaviour augment their artistic substance while women should suffer in silence and hide, or even worse, they are expected to at least pretend to be happy most of the time.

Unfortunately, the part that made Plath (in)famous was her depression and the way she ended her life a short while after her only novel was published. I’m ashamed to admit that was what made me like her even more after I learned those information from the author’s biography at the back of the book. That is, I suppose, a normal  reaction for an overly sensitive teen who is looking for idols in all forms, contemplating life and, naturally, idealizing ‘tortured artist’ syndrome. On the surface it seemed like Sylvia fits right into that imaginary mold I’ve created. As soon as I started reading I could sometimes imagine myself in her shoes, I was still too young to  understand the struggles around college life, almost being  an adult, sexual relationships, finding a purpose, etc., but the general tone tinctured with insecurity felt surprisingly close. Many years later I still remember some of the lines from the novel and think how they seem relevant to me.

In her semi autobiographical novel, Plath speaks through the main character  Esther Greenwood and refers to her time at college where she showed great talent and gained success. Just like in real life, after some disappointment, she started to have mental issues that grew bigger and made her feel like an outcast in comparison to people her age, although she tried to understand their interests, goals and behavior. Nothing is left for her but frustration and confusion. As a reader I felt the most frustrated at the parts when Esther is given shock treatments to help her deal with depression and insomnia.

sylvia-plath-writing-quote

The novel also deals with  a topic that is, although common, pretty much under the radar – a  typical problem for  exceptionally good students is the question about the future. Of course, everyone has anxieties about what happens next, but what are those students supposed to do after they leave school? Leaving an environment where they were considered smart and capable to start from the beginning where they are considered to be nobodies. They may continue to educate themselves in some form or another, but are expected to get a job, start a family, long story short – they get thrown into the adult world and simply have to fulfill their role in society. There’s no time for complaining. Esther can’t imagine herself enjoying the, at the time, typical female role of a wife and a mother who doesn’t pursue a career, and that is making her feel lost and trapped.

sylviaplathquote

Sylvia Plath tried to commit suicide many times, the first time it was documented in 1953 after taking sleeping pills but was found alive in her mother’s cellar after three days. The final attempt which turned out tu be successful  happened after a depressive episode in 1963 when she was found with her head in the oven with the gas turned on. She was only 30 years old.

Who knows what she could’ve wrote next? Not long before her death she had just finished The Bell Jar and had a creative period that left us with  numerous poems and short stories  who represent a testament to her genius, tumultuous mind. Breaking the taboos, being candid about personal struggles  and the recognition of female rights are finally getting the necessary attention which is making Plath’s work contemporary and more and more important and influential. Little girls wanting to be poets or writers have someone to look up to. Thank you for being an inspiration to us while we’re getting involved with art or going through our personal struggles.