Finding Inspiration Through Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

Posted by Aliyha Gill, Poetry Reader for 8.1

As a poet, I’m always looking for inspiration from other writers. I search for words, images, and techniques that I can borrow and make my own. So when I recently found myself in a writing rut, I dove into the poetry section of Barnes & Noble. Once I discovered Sylvia Plath’s poetry, I quickly noticed how it was riddled with enticing lines. Pen in hand, I jotted down every word or phrase that caught my eye. By the time I was finished, I’d read her poetry collections “Ariel” and “The Colossus” in their entirety. As a whole, her poems have melancholy tones, including “Morning Star,” which was written for her daughter, Frieda. Her stanzas are relatively short and her poems rarely exceed three pages. Plath tended to personify nature in her writing. She writes, “whoever heard a sunset yowl like that,” “let the stars Plummet to their dark address” (“Magi”), “the moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary,” (“Purdah”), and  “by day, only the topsoil heaves” (“The Colossus”) are all great examples of this technique. 

I also noticed that she used the following words/phrases in more than one poem:

  • Bald
  • Eye—
  • Hooks
  • Nike
  • Leech
  • Lozenges
  • Adam (Eve)
  • “At my feet”
  • Veil
  • Cranium
  • Sheets
  • Cheesecloth

Looking at these words on the same list is puzzling. They don’t seem to connect to each other in any way. And yet, they each find a place in her work. I was especially fascinated by cheesecloth, and figured it was a more common item in her life than in mine. Similarly, nike, lozenge, and hooks are scattered throughout Plath’s poetry in unique phrases. Many of these words are obscure nouns which are portrayed in ways that one wouldn’t expect. Take this line from Plath’s poem “Lesbos”: “From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum.” Plath imagined the glossy texture surface of a sweet candy, then compared it to material often used on the floor. Although we were both American women alive at relatively the same time, our vocabulary still differs from one another. 

These words and techniques of Plath’s are irresistible to me. For example, here’s an excerpt from “The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath”:

“Let me come in and suck your life and sorrow from you as a leech sucks blood; let me gorge myself on your sensations and ideas and dreams; let me crawl inside your guts and your cranium and live like a tapeworm for a while, draining your life substance into myself.”

Directly after reading this, I couldn’t help but play around and create my own “version” of her writing, which went as follows:

“I am trapped inside your cranium./ I sink grappling hooks into your cerebrum,/ Hoist myself onto your orbital cortex./ My foot gets stuck in a sticky sulcus./ My struggle to break free has you seeing galaxies./ I stumble through your cheesecloth cerebrum in stilettos,/ Sever neuronal pathways.” 

Still, I expect that my poems will look different from hers. I plan on continuing this project by incorporating some of her quotes and words into my own work and I encourage others to do the same. I’m certain that Plath’s work will teach me quite a bit about my own writing style. 

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