In her book Letters to Sylvia, the Indonesian writer and poetess Maia Aruna addresses no other than Sylvia Plath. This collection of beautiful poetry was published in January 2018. It’s time not only to review this poetry collection but also introduce Maia.
We have published her work before on our website. She writes under two different names: Maia Aruna and Lecriturefeminine. When asked if she considers herself as a poetess or a writer, she quoted Rainer Maria Rilke:
“If, when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing . . . then you are a writer.”
So, Maia considers herself to be a writer. In all aspects of her life, this writing is present. She started writing in English when she was twelve years old. This Indonesian woman was greatly inspired by the books written by Candice F. Ransom. At that time she started reading these books, she had only access to the translated versions. She began to think what they would be like in their original (English) language. She started translating them, based on the amazing fact that she learned her English while watching Sesame Street. From there on, she began to appreciate the English language and realised that she wanted to write herself.
At first, she found her words not suitable to be shared with the rest of the world. Her diaries and notebooks weren’t the only pieces of paper she used. During one period in her life, she even wrote on the walls of her bedroom and grocery receipts. It seemed that everything that she found right to write on, could be used.
There isn’t just one moment to pinpoint as the start of her writing career. Maybe it’s the moment when she quit her job as a university teacher (last year, 2017) and committed herself to start writing fulltime. Or perhaps it was at the age of twelve years when she realized that she needed to pen down her own words, instead of the words of others.
When she studied to become a teacher and worked as a teacher, she also wrote. During this period in her life, she wrote academic and research articles. Something completely different than the words she nowadays writes.
Her publishing career began when she decided to enter competitions for writers. From there on, she decided to share her work on social media. She wants to help others, that is why she also participates in online communities for writers.
As for her inspiration to write, it begins at different moments. Sometimes the basis is those vivid dreams she still remembers when waking up. Her own experiences and memories also play an important role in her work. Take for instance the title of her book: Letters to Sylvia. Yes, Maia writes to Sylvia Plath, but there is more. People began to notice her appreciation and admiration for this poetess and called her Sylvia, instead of Maia.
“I might have appeared so obsessive that my classmates and professors, oddly and unusual as it seemed, called me ‘Sylvia.’ I actually answered to that name. I realized that it was time to write to her. I relate to her in so many ways.”
Everything she writes is based on her belief that everything is written is in fact autobiographical. If it isn’t, the words would come out the way they should and the work is less authentic.
“Some people might say they write from other’s people experiences but their perspectives and voices are always at play, hence everything is autobiographical.”
Her book – Letters to Sylvia
In her book, Maia addresses the writer and poetess Sylvia Plath. Her decision to end her life when she was only thirty years old is considered one of the great tragedies in the modern day literary world. The work of Plath got a mythical status. To take it upon yourself to write to this Sylvia is not only very difficult. It also shows that Maia can rely on enough creativity to do this.
We will let you in on the clue of this book (if you want there to be a clue that is): all the chapters together form a note to Plath:
Dear Sylvia, It’s me, [Dear Sylvia] I am not My Mother, [Dear Sylvia] Poetry’s My Father, [Dear Sylvia], It’s Him, [Dear Sylvia] I Am-I Am-I Am, and Yours Truly, Maia.
Her admiration for the literary legacy of Plath shows. The book is more than that. It is the exploration of herself and a brief way to tell the world, what is on her mind. Fragile at moments, powerful at others. The book is mainly written to have a document for herself. For her future-self. From there on, she wants to reach out to others. Especially girls, who are in the most difficult period of their lives. It all depends on what action they undertake. Some of them chose to end their lives in the same manner that Plath did. With her words, she wants to show that it’s worth not to give up. They need to understand, that their lives do matter.
The book dates back to twelve years ago. She found some of her earlier work good enough to include this in her poetry collection.
Raw, senseless and plentiful
When reading her book, one can only conclude that this is almost like she described herself as a poet. There is one thing that cannot be agreed upon, no matter how hard she tries. Based on her answers why she wrote the book and her poetry, it’s safe to say that the work is anything but senseless.
I wish to write as I love
In her first poem, she shows her admiration for Plath. She also stresses out, she doesn’t want to take her life the way Plath did. She, therefore, lets her live inside and show her how she writes.
i will let you live in me,
and not die so easily
now watch me write
as i bleed your name greedily
As said, this poetess formed her poems based on many memories. In her poem The hysteria of birth, she takes it upon herself to share that beginning of her poetic journey. She compares it with the birth of a child. Splendidly written, since it reads as if she can’t do anything to write. Or: bleeding out metaphors. If this isn’t poetic, what is?
i was born out of words
poetry’s my father
but it was mother nature
who gave birth to me
bleeding out metaphors,
flushing down false myth
i am a child of her universe
i am self-construed,
–the hysteria of birth
There are some people, who take every effort to become famous. Just like their idols, they want to get their share of fame. One must ask the question what comes with this fame? And is it really everybody famous? From a distance, it might seem tempting. Once the spotlights are on, they also highlight the negativities. And let’s not forget the way people look up to those who are famous. With envy and with the willingness to just take this away. Still, there is always this temptation, as you can read in the last stanza of this poem.
everybody wants a piece of that fame
you bring to the table
so they put you on a silver plate at first
but then they feel it’s too fancy for
a hollywood roadkill like you so
they move you to
a wooden cutting board
slice you up real nice into tiny bits of pieces
each to their own but
you’re there for everyone, suit yourself!
chew you up real slow
saving every flavor splattered on
the walls of their mouths their gums they lick
their teeth and lips everytime they got
that fancy exposure
they swallow you and finger the rest
of your blood
on their knives
and I sit there watching
thinking if I should get my share
of that fame
When the fame finally has arrived, it doesn’t take away the pain. Maia realizes this and writes about the last moments (presumably) of Plath in her poem Womanhood part 2. In this poem, the oven that Plath used to gas herself plays an important role. At first, the oven is just that kitchen appliance used and cleaned. Then it changes into that altar or even a weapon. All of a sudden, this poem is about those last moments. When taking into consideration that Plath carefully planned her suicide, this poem reads as if Maia was present at that time. It also lets your own imagination run freely, as the words of Maia read as if you were there in those final moments.
sweep some more
locking self in the kitchen
sticking head in the oven
–womanhood part 2
Not every thought Maia shares with us has to do with Plath. In her poem Girls like me, she describes how she isn’t able to really connect with the girls around her. She asks for some new friends. Friends who she can relate to better.
girls hate me,
no pillow fighting
calling me names
find me some
send me some
other girls–girls like me
–girls like me
It’s almost impossible to not write anything negative about this book. This is the result of hard work, understanding that you have your limitations, hopes and dreams. At some moments, you read the poems quickly, because they are easy to read. At other times, the mind is challenged more. It makes you wonder what this poetess really wants to share with us. That she wants to share more with us: that is more than clear. She thinks she needs to write about those wrongdoings and cases of abuse of women. Something we can only support. It’s giving those oppressed women a voice.
Maia plans to hit the study books again and will become a PhD candidate. She wants to study Digital Writing and Women’s Narratives. Hopefully, she will find the time to write more of her beautiful words.
To conclude this, some of her inspiring and motivational words:
“There is a saying: ‘Be the person you need when you were younger.’ I am trying to be the person I needed when I was younger. I am writing to the ‘old self’ (that is not necessarily me) out there. When I was younger, it was hard to find a representation of how to be a woman and deal with what we have to deal (with). This is not only me. Most women think their stories are insignificant. I want girls out there to know that their stories matter. That they should write their own history. One that is not defined by (patriarchal) society or mainstream (masculine) norms. “
At The Ministry of Poetic Affairs, we do everything to offer a platform for those who feel the need to express themselves through poetry. We don’t exclude based on gender, race or religion. We don’t exclude anyone to get their work shared. We realize that words such as Maia wrote are the basis of this thought. We cannot do this without the efforts of those who write poetry.
Yes, we can analyse poetry written so many years ago by those who are considered famous. When it comes to words such as privileged and honoured, they apply when it comes to poetry written by people like Maia Aruna.