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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Sylvia Plath on poems and novels

How I envy the novelist! I imagine him – better say her, for it is the women I look to for a parallel – I imagine her, then, pruning a rosebush with a large pair of shears, adjusting her spectacles, shuffling about among teacups, humming, arranging ashtrays or babies, absorbing a slant of light, a fresh edge to the weather, and piercing, with a kind of modest, beautiful x-ray vision, the psychic interiors of her neighbours – her neighbours on trains, in the dentist’s waiting room, in the corner teashop. To her, this fortunate one, what is there that isn’t relevant! Old shoes can be used, doorknobs, air letters, flannel nightgowns, cathedrals, nail varnish, jet planes, rose arbours, and budgerigars; little mannerisms – the sucking at a tooth, the tugging at a hemline – any weird or warty or fine or despicable thing. Not to mention emotions, motivations – those rumbling, thunderous shapes. Her business is Time, the way it shoots forward, shunts back, blooms, decays, and double-exposes itself. Her business is people in Time. And she, it seems to me, has all the time in the world. She can take a century if she likes, a generation, a whole summer. I can take about a minute.

Extracted from Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath, published by Faber and Faber in 1977.

3 Responses to “Sylvia Plath on poems and novels”

  1. Paul says:

    Novels – People in time.
    Poems – Freeze-frame moments in time.
    Say’s it all really.
    But historically, weren’t poems often narratives?

    jb says: Hi Paul. I think she explains later in the same essay that she’s talking, not about epic poems, but about the smallish, unofficial, garden-variety poems.

  2. Alight the passion, John. 🙂

  3. Thomas says:

    Words, they work magic for me.
    Thanks for this post.
    I think that often the mind comes up with ideas that excite and inspire. These moments can last only seconds but still help in day to day life. Someone who writes can revisit many of these ideas one hour later, or the next day and indeed the rest of their life. Writing is a compost for ideas.
    Ideas without writing can be like a seed in the middle of the Sahara desert.

    jb says: Hi Tom, yes and writing is often a distillation of an idea or a collage of many ideas. A kind of progression.