Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

The poetry collection is expanding. Worryingly so – I never thought that I’d ‘get into’ poetry, but then William Blake arrives on the scene, blows my mind and I’ve never looked back. Fast forward to a year later and I’m sat on a bus from the seediest part of Somerset trying not to cry.

I was also trying not to yell at the woman sat next to me intent on documenting which relic had been carted into a care home this week. I excused her because she was old and probably needed all the talking time she could get, before she conked out right next to me.

I’m joking, she didn’t die on that bus. She might have done if she’d carried gabbing on any longer, however.

Anyway, the particular book that had been tugging on my (usually rigid) heartstrings was Birthday Letters, a collection of poems by Ted Hughes, the majority of which are addressed to Sylvia Plath. I think that everyone knows who these two writers are, but it wasn’t until I was sucked into a vortex of late-night Waterstones browsing that I discovered this gem. And a gem it is indeed – raw, painful and worth rather a lot.

On second thoughts, that’s the most awful description of a gem that I’ve read. I’m not very good at writing about poetry, which is a shame, considering the fact that I have a rather important exam on it next year. But this collection is something else. Transcendental like the love between Cathy and Heathcliff (had to get a Heights reference in), whatever. Birthday Letters is the literary equivalent of a paper cut – there’s an initial sting, then the tiny adrenaline rush (I’m a wimp with a very low pain threshold), then the ridge that you can’t get rid of. The poems will hurt and linger, and will make you contemplate your existence on an overpriced bus journey between Frome and Bath.

To distract you from my poor quality of writing (I have been up since 4:30), here’s one of my favourites from this anthology:

A Short Film by Ted Hughes

It was not meant to hurt.
It had been made for happy remembering
By people who were still too young
To have learned about memory.

Now it is a dangerous weapon, a time-bomb.
Which is a kind of body-bomb, long-term, too.
Only film, a few frames of you skipping, a few seconds.
You aged about ten there, skipping and still skipping.

Not very clear grey, made out of mist and smudge.
This thing has a fine fuse, less a fuse
Than a wavelength attuned, an electronic detonator
To what lies in your grave inside us.

And how that explosion would hurt
Is not just an idea of horror but a flash of fine sweat
Over the skin-surface, a bracing of nerves
For something that has already happened

That’s my poetic ramble over with. If you’ve got any poems/poets/anthologies that you like, or think that I might like, then please let me know, so I can spend even more money.


2 thoughts on “Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

  1. I’ve been getting into a lot of poetry recently too 🙂 I just love poetry so much – how with only a limited amount of words you can express so much meaning. Like you, I took a browse around Waterstones and found “Falling Awake” by Alice Oswald and on the train journey back home found myself reading it and thinking wow this is literally the best poetry I’ve ever read. So I highly recommend this book! (in particular the poem ‘Flies’) and I’ll definitely check out the one you’ve suggested 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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