Tuesday 8 June 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Neil Fulwood: “Collected Poems,” by Sylvia Plath

It was the mid-80s. I was thirteen. My Nan was housebound. Every couple of weeks I’d go to Bulwell library and take out some books for her. I remember borrowing a scattering of classics and regency romances, but her tastes predominantly ran to poetry. As can be imagined by anyone who knows the area, Bulwell library - back then far smaller than in its current incarnation - didn’t exactly offer the broadest selection of verse. Nor did I, at that age, have the broadest frame of reference. My literary horizons were bounded by the Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley thrillers on Dad’s bookshelf, plus the odd well-thumbed James Herbert paperback doing the rounds at school.

I knew Nan preferred what I’d heard referred to as the Romantics, so it was a pretty safe bet that if a collection or anthology had a woodland or river scene on the cover - or a reproduction of an oil painting with some dude in a silk shirt looking all moody with a quill pen - it would be the right kind of thing. Failing that, flick through a few pages and check that most of it rhymed. Even with these safeguards in place, though, it didn’t take long to exhaust their stock of Nan-friendly poetry. Which is how I came to take a punt on Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems

Nan approached the book with some scepticism. She opened it at random, read one poem (I later found out it was “Daddy”) and asked me to return it. I did, but not before reading a fair few poems. I didn’t understand many of them, but the images, the immediacy, and particularly the white-hot fury of the final works struck a spark in my mind. Poetry can do this? I thought. I want in! When I finally returned the volume, I immediately checked it out again on my own library card. And renewed it over and over until the librarian started eyeing me suspiciously. I asked my folks for a copy for my next birthday. It was probably for the best that neither of them perused it before they got stuck in with the wrapping paper.

It’s because of Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems that I read poetry, let alone write it. My third collection is out in July, and it’s all because I choose a book at random in Bulwell library when I was thirteen.

About the reviewer 
Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. He has published two full poetry collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere; his third, Service Cancelled, will be released on 29th July 2021.

You can read more about Neil's work and his collection Can't Take Me Anywhere on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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