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Sylvia Plath

On St. Patrick’s Day morning you would not have found me knee deep in green beer like some of New York no doubt was doing, especially the revelers I passed near Grand Central that morning. Instead I decided to get up early for some sunshine and vicambulation. It was rather sunny and I remember feeling like a dog being led by his nose around a city I didn’t know — I don’t usually frequent that part of town — and I found myself in a library. I picked up some Gertrude Stein, Emile Zola, and Sylvia Plath. I have enjoyed the words of Sylvia Plath ever since Ariel and The Bell Jar, her mind and heart seem to find words that play harmoniously with my heartstrings, and I was excited to read what she had to say in Letters Home, an extensive record of her correspondence from 1950 to 1963. I spent much of the time just opening it up wherever and pouring through letters like opening a little pocket of time, being a flea on the post office hound, sneaking into each letter at night when the day sorters were gone for the evening and the delivery trucks had yet to arrive. She does include plenty of “snatches of verse” especially when writing her mother, at one point saying, “tell me what you think of these poems . . . any resemblance to Emily Dickinson is purely intentional.”

Within this set of the Dickinson-esque she included on April 30, 1953 there was one entitled “Verbal Calisthenics”; I was hooked by its first line:

My love for you is more
Athletic than a verb,
Agile as a star
The tents of sun absorb.

Treading circus tightropes
Of each syllable,
The brazen jackanapes
Would fracture if he fell.

Acrobat of space
The daring adjective
Plunges for a phrase
Describing arcs of love.

Nimble as a noun,
He catapults in air;
A planetary swoon
Could climax his career.

But adroit conjunction
Eloquently shall
Link to his lyric action
A periodic goal.





I wrote a song to it. I included a little chorus from a young man who misses someone he loves. The chorus I made up is a simple riff any cowboy with a guitar would make up around a campfire, I sort of imagined a young poet writing about the beauty of words and their prolific power, and during his song getting carried away in his reverie of “Love, sweet love”…

Words can take you a world away and right face to face with beauty unimaginable. And for every poet, I think it is our “periodic goal” to lay down words on paper as adroitly or eloquently as we can, as we see fit. Aside from all the Romantic aspects I’ve wrung from it, the words themselves fall out so freely but not without some doing, Sylvia Plath combines some mouthfuls. And her repetition of sounds, alliteration and internal similarities to other words, moving from dental labial fricatives unvoiced then voiced, plosives hard and soft…. try it! Read it out loud and really focus on the internal movements in your mouth. Your tongue does cartwheels!

Anyway, it’s with great respect that I submit these songs inspired by her writing.

The first three being reincarnations of: Verbal Calisthenics starting with the most recent. The final is a Facundo Cabral treatment on one of her poems called “Doom of Exiles”.


Theatre Maker. Teaching Artist. Student of Life. Poet from way back.

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