I was around 21 when I showed a friend some of the poetry I had written up to that point. We were planning on attending a poetry reading group and I wanted some feedback on my work before going “public”with it. It was a huge deal for me, as before this I had never shown anyone my poetry.
This friend was very focused and silent, whilst she looked through my notebook of handwritten poems…mostly in neat print which at times became cursive. After what seemed like an eon, she looked up at me and said “you write like Sylvia Plath” to which I replied “Who?“, as I had no idea who Sylvia Plath was at the time.
Like I’ve mentioned before – I wasn’t exposed to the best English literature at the working class public schools I attended growing up. For the most part and if I am speaking frankly, I don’t ever recall being taught anything about poetry or poets for that matter. The poets I had been exposed to were the ones I found on my own. These tended to be poets from the Romantic era like Byron, Shelley, Keats and Poe, as I had developed an obsession with the Victorian period as a teen.
Soon after, I found myself borrowing my friends copy of her collection of Sylvia Plath’s work and realized that my poetry did resemble her style. This was completely unintentional and worried me so much I stopped writing for a while. I was so fearful about not emulating that it made me stop creating any work at all!
Then, I finally read “The Bell Jar”. I completely resonated and understood where the protagonist was coming from. Something inside clicked. I released the expectation and worry I had placed upon myself.
I went back to writing poetry and I write the way I am compelled to. Whether it be free or rhyme, flowing or constructed, personal or observational – I don’t care what I sound like. As long as I am getting my feelings out and expressing myself as I feel compelled to, I feel good about it.
Syliva’s style was autobiographical and so is mine and we deal with the same subject matter of depression, disturbances and death. The older I get the more comfortable I get with my poetry and as long as I personally feel something when I write it, I will keep at it.
If you would like to read some of my work, here are a few poems I have written in the last year:
“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.”
― Sylvia Plath
(c) T. Altman 2017