Sylvia Plath

Enemies Of the Every Day

As a writer, and as a person, I grapple with self-doubt, as I'm sure is true for many of you. But Sylvia Plath reminds me to move past this enemy I face every day to find the words, which want to be written. One of the ways I've been tackling my own self-doubt as a writer has been to find my way back to poetry. And the Plath Poetry Project has helped me do just that!


My calling to be a writer did not begin with fiction (unless you count that story from second grade about a turtle becoming king, or the other more fantastical tales I signed in crayon), but instead, began with poetry. I can still recite my first limerick I crafted, and still remember the moment I felt like a real poet.

In middle school, the mother of a childhood friend who lived at the end of my street was killed in a car accident, and the only way I could think to process the news was to write a poem. Now many might think the moment this poem was published was the time I felt like a real writer, and maybe for some the validation of seeing their words in print is that moment. I know all these years later the first time I did see my words published by an online magazine that, yes, it was an incredible feeling.

But the moment when I realized my words could help someone other than myself, is the moment I felt called to the page. That same childhood friend read the poem I'd written at her mother's funeral. I still remember the sound of my words from her mouth, voice so small; too young to have had to deal with such a thing. 

Now fast forward. I am a writer. And while I love writing, really I do, there are some days, which are difficult. There are moments when the creativity isn't there, when the excitement is just out of reach; the times of day when I stare in front of a blank page hoping something will happen. And if I'm being honest, these are the days, which scare me the most. These are the days when I wonder if I am really a writer. For those non-writerly folk out there, this might seem completely nonsensical, and I assure you, it is, but I'm not sure how quite to explain where the writing comes from.

Alas, I digress.

It is in these times when I feel self-doubt more than anything else, which never makes the writing any easier. Sometimes our own self-doubts outweigh our self-worth, but still, we must continue onward. 

While I mentioned writing poetry in middle school, I must also admit I wrote many a melancholic poem in high school as well. When I took Experimental Writing for the first time, however, I abandoned poetry for a new love of fiction! I started a book, which I am still working on today, some eight years later, and I started another book, which I refuse to ever look at again. And sure there were some poems here and there. I took a poetry class in my undergrad. I discovered that I am a writer who cannot resist the trappings of lyrical language. Through all of this, I never felt like a poet, not the way I had all those years before. I didn't feel like I had found my voice as a poet like I had in writing fiction. 

The Plath Poetry Project, however, helped me find my way back to poetry. It helped me find my voice. I've been following along with this writing challenge since April and have completed twelve poems in the past few months. My poem, "Sacrament," was featured in the first retrospective of this project, and you can read that work HERE.

Now you might be wondering what this Plath Poetry Project is all about. The home page asks:

"What is the relationship between discipline, inspiration, and external pressures?"

The project serves to help writers answer this question. By following the writing Plath produced in her last year of life, I have been writing a poem (sometimes more than one) each day Sylvia wrote a poem, taking inspiration from the work she created. Not only has this project helped me feel closer to one of my favorite writers, it also brought me back to poetry. It helped me cultivate a pamphlet of poems, which has since been submitted for a contest, so keep your fingers crossed for me! 

Two nights ago, I finished my latest poem for this challenge, and I was reminded that self-doubt is indeed the worst enemy to creativity. Since I've stopped doubting my ability to write poetry, to have a unique voice, to actually sit and write, I have felt more creative. And on the days when the words aren't quite there, I still find myself drifting toward a line or two that might grow to be something more.  

I am hoping when I check back in at the end of this project that I can say I successfully wrote all 67 poems, just as Plath did in her last year of life. I find myself wondering more and more what kind of work we might've had from Sylvia today. But the thought is wishful thinking. It comes and goes. I open up to a blank page, and I wonder, and I write. 

All best,Kayla King.png

Birthday Letter

Dear Sylvia,

Your once beloved beau wrote a final collection entitled Birthday Letters that I have yet to read. But I read that today it is your birthday, (though it is actually October 27th) and I might never read those poems because I didn't love Crow the way I wanted to, and I suppose this is because your voice, your poetry, has already possessed me. 

Though you're gone, I said a small, "Happy Birthday," just because. But this wasn't enough, because you were a poet and I am writer and I think it is only in the written word that you will feel the sentiments of that birthday wish. 

And I wonder what you might've written had you found a way to bottle your illness long enough to make it to today's medicine. I would say today's understanding, but such a thing doesn't seem to exist now. And I wonder if you would've marched last Saturday, the taste of disgust like the bitterness of pills left on the tongue too long without water to ease them down. Would you have plastered a poster with images of bees because your father was Otto, King of the Bees, and he'd taught you long ago that the Queen was meant to be more? More than rights stripped away and choices provided by men who will never know what it is like to feel the moon of a womb or the wane of loss. Would you sit at your computer and vomit a compendium of poetry about the plight of womanhood amidst today's technology and jarring juxtaposition between all we have accomplished and all we choose to forget?

I've wondered a great many things about you. 

Sometimes, I think I feel your darkness. And maybe it isn't mine to claim, though that sort of depressive darkening runs in my blood from a paternal place. Maybe this is the same darkness, which ran in your veins, like ink that takes more than just black to be created; you add the blues and the purples, the bruises no one will ever see because all they know is black and white. Maybe that substance, whatever you'd like to call it now, floats in the ether of creation before making us into these people, these writers of words and dreams and draconian dependencies that keep us chained to the pen and the promise of splitting our souls for others. Sometimes we call it love or burden or beauty or art. 

Oh, Sylvia, I want to open to the pages I've annotated with my own thoughts, but I've left your work at home in exchange for a new novel, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, and a book of poetry called Beautiful Zero. And I never thought I would miss your collections so much because they have been too many places with me. 

You do not come to people lightly. It is full on obsession and love because there is something within you that we understand. When you took your life, maybe you erupted into particles reincarnated within us all. 

I remember that one poem you wrote, and imagine the people around you as the thoughts filtered in.

I remember my poetry professor from my undergrad who never talked about you, and I wonder why. Because he talked about Dickinson and Pound and recited the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and he brought the works of Spicer into my life, and Spicer wrote about Lorca and Alice, but never about you. But you were there in that collection from the Strand, and the dolphin seemed to resurrect you in writing, and you were there in The History of the Unmarried, and I cried a little at the idea of death in that one poem because Mills is scared of the way it might separate him and his love and their love seems more understandable because he writes about movie theaters and Gap sweaters. And maybe I don't want to understand you and Ted because I don't want to see myself in you. And Ted. And the way that one writer broke my heart with the things he'd text and the way he understood my madness and my mind until one day he didn't. We didn't. We never will, and the what if is poetry he will never understand.

There was another poetry professor I had, and he, too, left you off the syllabus because, maybe, you were too much woman for him to handle amidst the poems of woods and nature that bowed down to men and ignored the sacrifice of Mother Earth. And that same professor had a bit of an accent, and he asked us every class what we had observed that day. He was trying to make us better writers. Better poets.

And here is what I've observed from my seat on this train: the sound of the cards on the table and the love in the sound of the father's voice. (I remember a similar sound, but I don't.) (Not quite.) The young girl sings. I don’t know the song, but the music sounds like the in-between of childhood and adulthood; something she will hear in the car twenty years from now making her remember this trip to NYC with her father. He sings with her, both so off key that the moment becomes perfect in the imperfection.

I think that is what you would write about today if you were here; perfect must be flawed or else our eyes would be burned by the sight of the godliness. The sacrament of a song that is not real could be Holy under the right circumstances. And maybe you would write a poem in which this father tells his girl that she is enough, because she is. Explanation drives the narrative.

Maybe he will discuss the female circumstance of having a voice and not using it, because his wife grew up in a traditional household, and maybe she voted for he who must not be named, but the father doesn't hate her. He can't hate her. But he can't understand her either. And maybe he won't say this to his daughter, because maybe, it is about the things we say and the things we don't. 

When the girl frowns at her thin arms, and the way she can't lift her suitcase into the overhead compartment, admitting this makes her feel weak, the father will explain that being slight is nothing she can control, but that one day she might be filled with enough power to paper her walls in poetry. And dreams. Because in the end those are the same thing. And he will smile at the way she sings her own song because that means she is enough. 

You were enough, Sylvia.

Enough for all of us who read your words. Enough for yourself. And your poetry exists as a reminder of the way "Lady Lazarus" and "Ariel" broke through the barriers to be a force, not a frailty.

In these tumultuous days, with grey skies overhead that look too much like nature in mourning, your brashness is something to bring us back to bone, to remind us we are strong. And maybe they would call you nasty, tweet at you with little regard for the things you've endured. And maybe some would just say, "Happy Birthday." I can only leave these possibilities as wonderings in a post you will never get to read.