This diary entry shows Sylvia Plath’s struggle – both financial and creative – to be a published writer, but also the ‘verve and life-joy’ which she finds in poetry.
In April 1959, Plath and Ted Hughes were renting a flat in Boston, and here Plath records the ‘joyous news’ that Hughes has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship – an ‘incredibly princely’ sum of $5,000 which will allow them to travel and write, with less pressure to earn money. They have also been invited to spend the autumn at Yaddo, an artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York; and Plath has had two poems accepted by the prestigious New Yorker magazine.
40 ‘unattackable poems’
At this time, Plath was suffering from depression and had restarted sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr Ruth Beuscher. In February, Plath had also enrolled on Robert Lowell’s writing seminar at Boston University, where she met another poet, Anne Sexton (1928–1974). Inspired by the raw emotional ‘honesty’ in Sexton’s work, Plath wrote a number of more autobiographical poems, drawing on her responses to her father’s death, her experiences in Cambridge, and her childhood in Winthrop. She now feels that she has managed to produce ‘40 unattackable poems’ with ‘a joy about them of sorts’, and many of these would later appear in Plath’s first published collection, The Colossus (1959).
Writer’s resolutions: Never step outside my own voice
When it comes to prose, however, Plath has writer’s block. She admires the expansive ‘flow and ease’ of prose like E M Forster’s, and she both craves and fears the ‘wide untidy landscape’ of a novel, which ‘would be a certain therapy’. On the flip side, her therapy with Bauscher gives her greater clarity about the writing process, and she ends with a list of resolutions about what she must do: ‘Read others and think hard. Never step outside my voice, such as I know it … By the time I get to Yaddo, three good publishable stories and the Bed Book done’. The bed book, a verse story for children about wild and wonderful beds, was published posthumously in 1976, with illustrations by Quentin Blake.