Image: Elizabeth Bishop
I’ve been reading Sylvia Plath’s journals for the first time. Oh how self indulgent! I’m glad I burnt my earlier journals; I couldn’t bear for anyone to be going through them. They are so THEN, which you may think is a good thing but I’m not sure. Teenaged angst! Bluurk! I see some similarity between her and Elizabeth Knox – not in the angst but rather they both seem so self assured, on a deeper level, that they are destined to be great (even though SP was depressive). Perhaps I’m too humble or self doubting to be a great writer. I certainly feel I must be too down to earth! I am what I am. I can’t produce an air of fey writerlyness from the earth.
I’ve been reading Elizabeth Knox’s personal essays The Love School. I’m enjoying them, probably more than her fiction, which I sometimes find a bit self indulgent. Even as I write this last statement, I know this is actually a statement about my upbringing and my parent’s dislike about anything remotely resembling indulgence.
In her essays EK is so sure of herself, so determined, resolute, certain. It makes me realise how, all my life, I’ve undermined my own certainty. Perhaps it’s the influence of science on me. You can only disprove things, theories are always being challenged, improved, nothing is set in stone, few things are certain apart from the laws of physics and morals according to my parents. In EK’s world Elizabeth is a hero, sometimes frail of health, but always strong in her mind, certain, confident in her opinion and action. Or so she says. I start to realise that I could write my present, re-write my past with that attitude too, if I want. No one questions my authority but me. I had to re-read The High Jump after I read her essays, it added some depth I guess but mostly it was a comfort re-read, it’s my favourite book of hers. And this leapt from the page at me:
The ghost of protestant secret keeping – the notion that all private life is secret and all strong feeling shameful – The High Jump
I’m such a WASP!
I might re-read some of my old travel journals at some point and ask my mother-in-law for some more of hers from the 60’s. I wish Nora had kept journals, at least Dad kept notes of their discussions.
In comparison to Plath, Elizabeth Bishop’s letters are all about what’s not said, exactly like their poetry, I shouldn’t be surprised. Although EB does say a lot more in letters than in her poetry. Then to look at Ted Hugh’s Birthday Letters, well, I partly feel sorry for him, spending so much time trying to say “it wasn’t my fault”. In a way they are as bad as each other (Plath & Hughes). There’s not much space left for their craft after all the personal dramas. Poems as conversation, hmmm.