A grad student at Virginia Commonwealth University has unearthed a previously unpublished sonnet by Sylvia Plath. The poem was apparently written in Plath”s senior year at Smith College, and was written in reaction to the poet”s reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald”s “The Great Gatsby”. Entitled “Ennui”, the poem will be published by Blackbird, VCU”s online review. The AP release about the discovery and publication has some interesting quotes, among them the one that starts off this post. Gregory Donavan, the co-editor of Blackbird, stated that this shows how much Plath worked with her workingat her craft early on as a student. Plath biographer Linda Wagner-Martin wouldn”t be surprised to find more early, unpublished work by Plath, whom she says was a prolific writer.
The discovery, and a number of other similar discoveries of previously unpublished works by other poets earlier this year, has me pondering the question of writers and their letters again. I can”t help thinking back to the years in high school and college when I was writing constantly, trying on new forms, playing with ideas and themes in poetry, and the dozens of notebooks and scraps of paper and letters and napkins that I left here and there as I moved from apartment to apartment to dorm room to apartment again. Would I really want those poems discovered in fifty years in the unlikely event that my poetry is ever taken seriously? Putting aside considerations of watching someone”s art develop as they practice their craft, and mature as they do – do I really want the general public – or at least a few grad students – poring through one of those steno books I used to love to write in, examining my self-pretentious and self-conscious notes on my poetry? Or worse, dissecting the hearts and doodles and scribbles that adorn the margins of those early notebooks?
I confess to a bit of voyeuristic curiosity. Part of me wants to sit down and go snooping through Plath”s notebooks and textbooks from her high school and college years to see.. did she scribble boys” names in the margins? Doodle pictures of eyes and puppies, draw skulls, circle page numbers with little flowers? If I ever have the luck to pore through the personal papers of a famous poet, those are the things I”ll be looking for – the unconscious remnants of mindless doodles and long-forgotten dramas. Given that, I suppose it”s a good thing that I”m NOT the one poking through Plath”s old journals and notebooks. I probably would have put the poem aside unread to read her mash notes to friends.
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