|Sylvia Plath's Royal typewriter|
Photograph courtesy of Smith College / Samuel Masinter.
Perhaps one of the best known American poets of the 20th century, Sylvia Plath has captivated generation after generation of readers. But even the most dedicated of Plath fans might not know that the poet's career got an early start, at the age of only eight! On this day, August 10, in 1941, Sylvia Plath's first published poem was printed in a local Boston newspaper. She continued to publish work throughout high school, in popular magazines such as Seventeen, and while a student at Smith College.
When asked in a 1962 radio interview how she first began writing poetry, Plath had this to say:
I don't know what started me, I just wrote it from the time was quite small. I guess I liked nursery rhymes and I guess I thought I could do the same thing. I wrote my first poem, my first published poem, when I was eight-and-a-half years old. It came out in The Boston Traveller and from then on, I suppose, I've been a bit of a professional. Interview with Peter Orr, 1962Photographs and objects from Plath's early life will be on display in an upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. One Life: Sylvia Plath will trace Plath's biography through photographs, self-portraits, manuscripts, and other objects. The exhibition will also explore how Plath constructed her identity throughout her lifetime. In her journals, Plath considers her place in literary history, ranking herself alongside other famous female poets and describes her belief that she might one day become "The Poetess of America." When asked by the interviewer, Peter Orr, what exactly a young poet writes about, Plath had this to say:
Nature, I think: birds, bees, spring, fall, all those subjects which are absolute gifts to the person who doesn't have any interior experience to write about. I think the coming of spring, the stars overhead, the first snowfall and so on are gifts for a child, a young poet. Interview with Peter Orr, 1962As Plath grew up, both as a person and a poet, she turned to her own life as inspiration and subject matter for her poetry, the "interior experience" that she describes. As the interview concludes, Plath's describes the pleasure to be found in writing poetry:
Oh, satisfaction! I don't think I could live without it. It's like water or bread, or something absolutely essential to me. I find myself absolutely fulfilled when I have written a poem, when I'm writing one. Interview with Peter Orr, 1962It seems that for Plath, living life and writing life were almost one in the same.
All quotations are taken from a 1962 interview with Peter Orr.
All links accessed 18 August & 10 September 2015.
You can read more on the exhibit in Dorothy Moss's 29 April 2015 blog post "Sylvia Plath: 'What I fear most, I think, is the death of the imagination.'" and in "A New 'Portrait of Plath': Alumna's Typewriter Among Items in Smithsonian Exhibit" from Smith College's Grecourt Gate from 26 August 2015.