Crossing Paths with the Spirit of Sylvia Plath – Helen Humphreys

“… At the ages of 20 and 21, I only had the company of one elderly and fairly misanthropic person. I saw my cousins sometimes, but mostly I was without the company of anyone my age, and I was still too shy to seek out strangers. But perhaps that was what was required for me to be a writer. Perhaps other writers can work with family around, with people coming and going, with constant interruption. But I have never been that kind of writer. In order to open myself to the thoughts and feelings that are necessary to the work, I have had to turn away from people. Over the years, I have grown used to this and don’t mind it as I used to, but in my formative years as a writer, it was very hard to reconcile myself to it. I was excruciatingly lonely during those years in England, craving the company of people my age, and I can still feel the sting of it when I think back. Because I hadn’t gone to university, I depended on reading for my education, and I read widely and voraciously. Before I went to Britain, I had devoured Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Ariel. I especially loved the poetry, with its sharpness and candor, and so, when Plath’s Collected Poems were first published, I skipped writing for the day and made the one-hour train journey to London to buy a copy. I read the poems slowly and often out loud, saying the words over and over again, like a spell, to ward off the four p.m. darkness, the winter, the acute loneliness. I came to know the poems intimately. The words drilled their way into my brain, and even now, I can quote large sections of them from memory. I finished Plath’s book and my own. My grandmother turned 80 and did not kill herself. I returned to Canada, proud of myself for having finished my novel and resolute in my decision to be a writer. It didn’t matter that the novel was bad and I knew it. The quality of the work had never been the point of my time in England. I had proven to myself that I had what it took to write every day, and I was determined to keep that newly made space open. I worked one lousy job after another, but I wrote hard and published—first poetry, then eventually novels. In my thirties, I applied and was accepted into the arts colony Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. …”
On Sylvia Plath’s Creative Breakthrough at the Yaddo Artists’ Colony by Heather Clark

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