Poetry Showcase Inspired by Sylvia Plath from Emma Lee

art by Katy Horan (c) https://www.literaryladiesguide.com/literary-musings/artists-portraits-of-sylvia-plath/

"Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted"  
(quote used on Sylvia Plath's headstone)

Not the pink of a woollen wedding dress,
the azaleas on a cemetery path,
a bandage bloodied by a cut thumb,

nor the hearse-like English cars,
the men in crow-shaded suits
the shadow of Devonshire slate roofs.

Not the blues of the English Channel,
the Atlantic Ocean that tempted
drowning-dreams in her first decade.

Not Spanish terracotta or Devon earth.
Her red was the poppies’ papery skirts,
the lust for poetry in her blood.

Not quite the yellow of her bikini
during that platinum summer
of beaches and babysitting.

Almost the yellow of daffodils,
her first hive of bees (her father
had written Bumblebees and their Ways).

Her yellow was that of the rose –
Victorian symbol of jealousy,
rages that could tip her into self-loathing.

The yellow of a single rose bud
at the point of becoming a full bloom.

Like a child forming itself finger by finger in the dark

My father told me I was love.
My mother said an accident,
grew like a bulb in her cold womb.
The grass would unload its dew on my feet
as I traced the flowers the frost made
and drew a star for my dead father.
Pinched red mouthfuls of berries
knowing sunset would bring punishment
after which I’d look to the black sky,
search for my father’s star.

I envied the magnolia,
drinking its own scent.
Eternity stretched like boredom.
I counted the pills, but not enough
to kill this thinness, light as paper.

And I became a bride. You were real,
handsomely featureless, 
would waste afternoons starting at the sky.
I gave you children. Then
I drew pity from the others on the ward.
I took my ring off. It caught the sun.
I put it back on. This is my finger
touching the photo. These are my babies.
The clouds white as a wedding dress.

I stayed. You’d borrowed the light.
I wanted it back. I wore black.
You’d buy roses, still called it love
as I hid a bruise, another fracture.
The children cried and I
was too small to comfort their hurts.
The pain they wake to is not theirs.

I crushed pills, added water,
watched it turn colourless, tried to drink.
In the ambulance, my heart still beat
so healthily it almost bloomed.
This living doll was mended again
for the gift of my babies’ small breaths,
the smell of their sleeps.

Reading Her Letters

Reading Sylvia Plath's letters gave me a jolt of recognition:
the strained cheerfulness, framing negatives as positives
and accounts for every penny with approval-seeking justification
to a mother who burdened a child with financial difficulties,
who made it clear how difficult it was to be a mother,
the burdens, unasked for self-sacrifice, always the martyr.
She lived vicariously, demanded success to take credit for
- my daughter gets her brains, work ethic from me, she'll go far.

And the subtext: it justifies the pressure I put her under
because I need her to achieve for me be the success I wanted 
for myself, what's hers is mine. Two lives entwined
no boundary allowed between mother and daughter.

The letters showed a way of managing contact, a boundary
of grey rock, reinforced by polite words on pretty stationery.

Crackle and Drag
(i.m. Sylvia Plath 1932-1963)

She did what she set out to do:
secured Yeats' former flat 
with a year's rent in advance,
turned summer in New York
into an intense, glowing novel,
flayed herself into a brilliant poet.

Poetry not written by a dead, white male
that school thought suitable for study.
A rejection was an invitation 
to try again, repurpose her work,
try out a short story, a novel,
create a moment's monument

that lives beyond a punchline, rewards
re-reading, outlives the life.
When some readers insist on dragging
her work with the foreboding of death,
they miss the crackle of static, the spark
that fired her work ethic, that inspired.

A Contemporary Visit to 3 Chalcot Square
(home of Sylvia Plath from 1960-1961)

You’d approve of the red curtains,
but not the lampshade: you weren’t chintzy.
In the window boxes, instead of flowers,
you’d have had fresh herbs for cooking
while Ted was in meetings at the BBC.
You’ve have cut a rose for your dinner table
from the untamed bush you ducked under,
hurrying back from walks 
along Primrose Hill with Frieda.
Whites and yellows would have brightened
your flat, chock-a-block with books
and baby paraphernalia, barely 
room for your writing desk, piled 
with your journal and dictionaries,
plans for book launches, another baby
and a scintillating literary salon that 
somehow got crammed into this, 
with just enough space to paint the sill white
and stencil hearts in a burning red.


Emma Lee’s publications include “The Significance of a Dress” (Arachne, 2020) and "Ghosts in the Desert" (IDP, 2015). She co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea,” (Five Leaves, 2015), was Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, reviews for magazines and blogs at https://emmalee1.wordpress.com. 

Poems Inspired by Prince “A Purple Showcase”  from Emma Lee 

3 poems from Emma Lee 

Poem: Tracing a Love Song by Emma Lee








By davidlonan1

David writes poetry, short stories, and writings that'll make you think or laugh, provoking you to examine images in your mind. To submit poetry, photography, art, please send to feversofthemind@gmail.com. Twitter: @davidLOnan1 + @feversof Facebook: DavidLONan1

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