Dear Sylvia Plath, you would have been 83 years old today (it’s my birthday, too) had you not committed suicide because you were tired of fighting relentless clinical depression and bipolar disorder. I note that we share a birthday to cite just one of the reasons why I feel a kinship with you. Other reasons include the fact that I discovered your work when I myself was going through a particularly rough patch in my teenage years; and that around the same time, I started writing poetry.
I must admit that I’d never heard of you before my junior year of high school, and I only discovered you because I was browsing the poetry section of a local independent bookstore (since closed, unfortunately). Up until that year, I’d been uninterested in poetry, pouring all of my reading energy into novels (especially “classics”). Then I was randomly placed in a poetry-writing class for an elective and something clicked in my brain.
Or should I say, something was “unleashed.” I wrote hundreds (yes, I counted once) of (absolutely atrocious) poems, experimenting with many different forms and subjects. I stayed up late writing poems when my parents thought I was asleep. I wrote poems during my most boring classes at school. I was obsessed, but also felt freed, somehow, to express things for which I’d never had an outlet.
And then I came across your collected poems and was entranced by their dynamism, despair, and ecstatic energy. I’d never read anything quite like this collection, and tried to write poems in imitation of your style.
Here’s where I come to my apology. In that same bookstore, I found your Unabridged Journals, a hefty chronicle of your inner life, and read it cover to cover. Only when I was halfway through did I realize what I was actually doing. I was reading your private journals, which, though published, were never authorized for publication by you. It was like reading a close friend’s diary without permission, with that person never even thinking that you’d do such a thing.
I finished the book anyway, seeing in it how bravely you struggled against that which tried to drag you down. No one can escape from her own thoughts, but at least she can use them, even the most painful ones, as fodder for her art. In this way, you took your own psychological pain and produced beautiful things for others to enjoy and take comfort from.
And while I know most people would say that sharing a birthday with you doesn’t mean anything, I believe it does. We were born on the same day exactly 50 years apart, and wrote poetry from the depths of pain and confusion and loneliness. Yes, you wrote masterpieces while I wrote…well…but the underlying drive is the same. You taught me how to channel my thoughts and darkest emotions to create art, and to approach with compassion anyone struggling with inner torment, drawing on my own experiences to empathize.
So happy birthday, Sylvia, and may your poetry be read throughout the ages.