I recall reading, in the first installment of Meg Cabot’s lauded Princess Diaries series, a letter from the protagonist to Carl Jung. Mia, our beloved everygirl-turned-princess, asks Dr. Jung if writing to a dead person makes her crazy.
That series was my first proper introduction to diary-style writing, fictional or otherwise, and here I am, ten-odd years later, and your Unabridged Diaries is one of my most worn paperbacks, and should I ask you if I’m crazy? Because I can’t top you. I probably couldn’t even top Mia Thermopolis, who is fabulously and lovably neurotic.
You’re the first person who ever made me wonder if I wanted to be crazy. If it could make me more interesting, maybe in an internalized why am I not as beloved as your average John Green manic pixie dream girl character? sort of way. If the fierce flames amid which it can be planted are what make the golden lotus special, to riff on your tombstone (Did you laugh? I know you like black humor).
“The blood jet is poetry” — a blood jet necessitates a wound. I have feared not being wounded enough. You dredge up the dregs of my Catholic upbringing, the idea that suffering brings saintliness. Brings poems. Brings eternal life. Once, in a makeshift confessional, i.e. an empty classroom during CCD, the priest told me I needed to think of more sins to confess when I trailed off, unsure what more I could express contrition for. Even to the Catholics, I made no great Confessionalist. Was I not crazy enough?
An abridged CV of neurotic habits: I have a substantial personal history of assigning magical qualities to inanimate objects. Or to intellectual property. At its longest, my list of songs I couldn’t listen to because they were cursed and would surely invoke the wrath of the gods, i.e. intestinal illness, numbered around one hundred. Miley Cyrus’ hit single “Party in the USA” still makes me want to flee buildings. I still make sure to acknowledge the possibility of my imminent death in a freak accident before a given event is set to transpire when I make plans with my friends. They find this eccentric. My former therapist called this “likely obsessive compulsive disorder” and referred me elsewhere. Meanwhile, I haven’t written a poem in weeks. My journal is dusty. My room isn’t quite Hoarders-level bad, but give it time. Why is it not enough?
Let me take a moment to quote Morticia Addams: “I’m just like every modern woman trying to have it all. A loving husband. A family. I only wish I had more time to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade.” This is you, is it not? You and me both. Your journals, your novel, your poems, they reek of ambition, of wanting to have it all (dark forces included). Sometimes I resent you because you were so open about ambitions I’ve been ashamed to quietly foster. And then I remember I’m reading your diary. Add voyeurism to my list of sins. I hope that when I die, someone will care enough to read mine.
I love you. I resent you. When I read your poems, I get the tingles, not just from the assonant, chanty sort of cadence that reminds me of saying the rosary or reciting the Nicene Creed in church, but from the sheer power of your voice, of your holy rage, which is what everyone says, but with good reason. Your voice is like a wine stain slowly widening across a white tablecloth — brilliant, moving outward, outward, until it’s everywhere you don’t want it to be. Those BBC recordings get stuck in my head. You’re a bee flying next to my outer ear, poised to burrow inside it.
I’ve lost count of how many times my workshop partners and friends have called my drafts “Plathian.” Is that a reflection of me wanting to be like you? Wanting to be worse off than I am? Or a better writer? Still can’t find my own sins to confess. Not beautifully, anyway. My rage has no handholds. And it irritates me that you found what I can’t seem to locate. My brand of crazy is not fruitful. Unable to find my own shoes, I walk around in yours. They don’t fit quite right.
Did you know that one hallmark of OCD is measured repetition? A prominent feature in your poems. Love, love. Empty? Empty. I like it.
Your work makes me question the relationship between happiness and success.
You didn’t have it all. You could’ve had it all. But you’re dead. Some speculate about whether you did it as a sacrifice to your art, anticipating the sensation. No one talks about you without talking about suicide. One of my neurotic habits is rumination. Specifically about death, how I fear it. I am not willing to sacrifice myself at the altar of art. Not yet, when I like to presume I have a good amount of time left (provided I don’t perish in a freak accident in the near future to join you in the Great Beyond).
Tactile, I cling to the world physically, always touching something, like the pages of your Collected Poems. You’ll never know you won that Pulitzer, will you? Did you anticipate it? Would it have been enough to comfort you?
By now, I’m coming to my favorite of your poems, one I find woefully underrated: “Poppies in October,” its last stanza: “Oh my God, what am I / That these late mouths should cry open / In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.” You, with your notorious contempt for life, remind me once again of the beauty that surrounds us, a beauty that makes it hard to breathe sometimes.
I must confess, I have a quote of yours tattooed to my wrist. “I am, I am, I am.” I got it when I was 19. Probably unadvisable. In the context of this letter, probably creepy. It’s blurry now. I got it as a small encouragement to myself to stop ruminating about death, to actually see the world I’m so eager to touch. To take note of my heartbeat, evoked in the rhythm of the quote itself, before it stops.
To treasure life over posthumous success. To write from life. Because what makes your poetry beautiful, what makes me envy you, is not your famous pain, but the immediacy of your expression. Your words aren’t moored in time and place. They’re everywhere. They’re immortal. They’re movement: “in blue distance the pistons hiss.”
I think it’s time to close this letter, step over the mess on my floor, and spend some time looking out the window.
Wish you were here and sorry you had to miss out on goth music.
Your not-so-secret admirer,
Claire Dockery is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Dortmund, Germany. She was the 2017 recipient of Tulane University's Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Madcap Review, Tulane Review, Helen Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. In her free time, she likes to hide from reality via Sonic Youth and Stardew Valley.