To assume the title of Anne Graue’s work, Fig Tree in Winter: Found Poetry from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is self-explanatory would be a disservice to the poems included within the text. Fig Tree in Winter is an inspired collection of found poetry. Plath’s The Bell Jar, her foray into fiction, is perhaps one of her most recognized works as it is often considered a veiled autobiographical text.
In an effort to simply not recycle Plath’s themes but instead to foster the pages’ reincarnations, Graue’s poems inhabit unique forms and spacing as well as a variety of ways to investigate language. The poems found in Fig Tree in Winter not only give a better understanding into how we can manipulate language; they also illustrate, through Graue’s speaker, how we can find new lyrical opportunities in already canonized works. Graue proves, through understanding the new speaker and poetic forms, we can also can better understand Plath’s original work.
The first instance where Fig Tree in Winter grows from Plath’s narrative is the title. A reoccurring theme of The Bell Jar is the story Esther reads about a fig tree growing on the lawn between a convent and the home of a Jewish man. When the nun and Jewish man pick figs and watch a bird hatch, the back of their hands touch. Due to this encounter, the nun never picks figs again. The story serves as a catalyst for Esther and Buddy’s conversation about their differing professions, a writer and a doctor respectively. When their conversation does not go as Esther plans, she imagines a better debate. Esther daydreams:
Do you know what a poem is, Esther?
No, what? I would say.
A piece of dust.
[…] I would say, So are the cadavers you cut up. So are the people you think you are curing. They’re dust as dust as dust. I reckon a good poem lasts a lot longer than a hundred of those people put together. […] People were made of nothing so much as dust, and I couldn’t see that doctoring all that dust was a bit better than writing poems people would remember and repeat to themselves when they were unhappy or sick and couldn’t sleep.
Much like Esther’s fig tree, Graue’s Fig Tree in Winter sprouts a larger discussion. Graue’s poems are not exempt from Esther’s dust metaphor. As Esther suggests, dust makes up every aspect of the world. The poetic dust found in Graue’s Fig Tree in Winter is transferred to each reader and stays with each reader long after their initial readings. The poems, in Fig Tree in Winter, are the aforementioned poems readers will recite when their emotions turn downtrodden.
Furthering her discussion of poetry and language, Graue creates a found poem entitled, “My Mind.” She writes:
Writing a novel would fix a lot […]
I wrote a page. Jotting
down line after line. The
curlicues blurred into
In a Fig Tree in Winter, writing and discovery are the fixes to the miscommunications of life and the links which fetch reason and understanding from the whirlpool of everyday speech. Like her speaker, Graue’s each and every word found in the source text has a specific intention. Each letter curves and flows to fill a specific need within the speaker’s diction, syntax, stanza, and overall text. The speaker’s need to bend and to manipulate language, to write line after line, falls into a compulsion to express, to be heard, and to find meaning in linguistic impurities.
After reading a Fig Tree in Winter it becomes clear, Graue also possesses the compulsion of writing and unearthing. Her twisting the pages of The Bell Jar are, in way, similar to the twisting winds of a dust storm: the dust imbeds itself in fruitful representations of Plath’s original narrative, while spinning their own completely different perceptions as standalone, unique work.
Sara Pisak is a graduate student earning her MFA in creative nonfiction from Wilkes University. Sara is a Contributing Editor at Helen: A Literary Magazine. She participates in the Poetry in Transit Program and has recently published work in the Deaf Poets Society, Five:2:One Magazine, Glass Poetry, and Moonchild Magazine. When not writing, Sara can be found spending time with her family and friends. You can follow her writing adventures on Twitter @SaraPisak10.