Ted Hughes and writers block: “dull as an empty house”
My not writing to you has been little sister to my not writing at all, anything, since July, as if my head and hands were off. So I keep my hands in my pocket except for the five seconds during which I blow my nose (assuring myself both head and hands are still extant), and in my thought I invocate water. Floods. Black rivers. By these means, within five years, I shall compose a line. Perhaps.
Ted Hughes in a letter to Lucas Myers, October 1957
In the mid 1950s, Sylvia Plath tirelessly submitted her work and that of her husband, Ted Hughes, to a variety of magazines and prizes. When Hughes won the Poetry Center’s First Publication Prize for his collection of poems The Hawk in the Rain (Harper & Row, 1957), Plath delighted that he should receive such honours first. The newly married pair sailed across the Atlantic in June so that Plath could take up a teaching job at Smith College, where she had studied as an undergraduate. Ted was to spend the coming academic year writing poetry.
He describes the early months in America in this way:
Sylvia is teaching. At present I am doing nothing — I sit for hours like a statue of a man writing, no different, except that during the 3rd or 4th hour a bead of sweat moves on my temple. I have never known it so hard to write. I have never, of course, tried to write before. Since I came I’ve got about 4 poems which seem to me an improvement. Publishing all the poems I had has done one thing — made it impossible to go on writing in that fashion.
His book had not yet been properly reviewed, though he had caught a snippet of gossip: Edwin Muir was said to think that Hughes’ poem ‘The Jaguar’ was better than Rilke’s panther. Rather than take delight, Hughes figured such a remark was likely to provoke more “derision than curiosity’.
In this state–adrift in America, frozen, anticipatory–Hughes begged for a letter from his friend, Lucas Myers: “You cannot be too detailed. Until I can fasten some associations into this place my days are dull as an empty house.”
For a later look into this fascinating creative life, see Quoting Ted Hughes.